Once upon a time, Nintendo had their holiday plans to counter the Xbox 360 system set in stone. They had one title -- The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess -- ready to defend them from all newcomers, promising the experience of a lifetime for GameCube owners right up there with this year's earlier release, Resident Evil 4. But then, somewhere along the way, the development team called for more time to make it shine, and now it's in the midst of a 2006 release. So where does that leave Nintendo as they combat Microsoft's behemoth of a system? With oddities, ranging from Super Mario Strikers to Fire Emblem to this, Mario's first dancing game.
I'm serious. Mario now has a dancing game, courtesy of the good people at Konami. Dance Dance Revolution Mario Mix puts the plumber right in the middle of the dancing engine, as he embarks on a journey that will require only the best footsteps in order to get ahead. It appears that Waluigi has stolen some harmonious music keys that throw the world into turmoil upon disappearance, leaving Mario and his brother Luigi to chase after the crook. Along the way, they run into various enemies and obstacles, and instead of taking the traditional action route to get around, the problem must be solved through the "magic of dance". Hey, I tell you, if the "magic of dance" worked better for me, I wouldn't have so many traffic tickets.
Okay, so the story's flimsy, but I'll give Konami credit, they added more appeal to this game than I expected. Throughout his adventure, Mario will engage in two different types of gameplay, both involving the dance pad that comes packaged with the game for no extra charge (a nice touch). The first involves the traditional DDR play, with arrows scrolling up the screen that must be pressed precisely when they pass over a particular point in order to get credit. The second comes in the form of quick mini-games that pop up during the story, where you must complete a particular segment using the foot pad to complete Mario's motions.
Let me discuss both of these play types. The first, DDR-styled play, is actually pretty addictive, just like previous games, as the gameplay remains solid. Furthermore, Konami adds a twist by including ghost and monster icons, as well as coins that can be collected by stomping on them. Hit the monster/ghost and even more coins pop up. Collect 100 and you gain an extra life and can continue dancing the night away. It's an odd system, but one that manages to work well within the confines of the Mario universe. I like it.
The second involves the mini-games, and these prove to be equally fun. Instead of having to rely on arrows that scroll up the screen, you simply have to follow on-screen motions to get ahead, like dodging obstacles here, stomping on Goombas ala Whac-a-Mole there. There's also a great little game that reminds me of the old Flagpole grab from the first Super Mario Bros., where a running start has to be done just right to hit the right spot.
Along with the gameplay, presentation seems to be done pretty well also. The graphics, while not the most amazing I've seen on the GameCube (they're mostly showcase backgrounds for the action), are appealing and will keep Mario fans entranced. But the big "wow" here is the music selection. While hardcore DDR zealots may miss the likes of Captain Jack or other remixes (there's really only a couple here), they will get treated to a number of classic Nintendo tunes remixed with a dance beat, ranging from Super Mario Bros. to Mario Party to Mario Kart: Double Dash!!. There's quite a few tunes in all, some of which can be unlocked upon beating the Story Mode. It's much better than I anticipated, and I thank Nintendo for not taking the same route they did with Donkey Konga 2. Ugh, I don't even want to think about that game now.
But Dance Dance Revolution Mario Mix, despite its goodness, still has a bit of sour mixed into it. The game was built with Mario's fanbase in mind -- kids. That means hardcore players and those looking for a challenge will be left out, as the game is incredibly easy to beat. Even on "super hard", the game's highest difficulty, it comes across as a normal difficulty level for other DDR games. That means you're done with the Story Mode in a matter of a couple of hours, which is a bummer. However, there's still a Free Mode where you can dance along to your favorite tunes, as well as having the ability to challenge a friend in multiplayer. Granted, you'll need to pick up another dance pad, but it's worth it if you're a fan of this game. If not, you're not missing much.
I can't recommend Dance Dance Revolution Mario Mix too much because it really doesn't fathom the kind of excellence that the series is known for. But, on the other hand, it's not a stinkbomb either, and manages to have just enough play quirks and Mario goodness to give it a thumbs-up to the legions of his fans. Just make sure you have your dancing legs ready to go -- you don't want to get stuck using your controller for a game like this. This game was made for hot steppin'.