Some of my favorite videogames are music-based games. The first was Space Channel Five on Dreamcast a few years ago, and more recently I’ve been playing a lot of Lumines on PSP. Both games were designed by the same guy (no surprise), and each is wonderful in its own way.

My latest game obsession and guilty pleasure is Dance Dance Revolution on the PlayStation 2. The idea of the game is pretty simple. You have a mat on the floor with up, down, left and right arrows. The videogame plays a song, and arrows scroll up the screen in time to the music. When an arrow falls on a beat, you step on the corresponding arrow on the mat. Points are awarded not only when you hit the correct arrow, but also by how close you are to hitting it exactly on the beat. At the end of each song the game grades you (A, B, C, D, or E) and shows you details of how you did (how many perfect hits, misses, etc).

The game starts off relatively gently on Beginner level, with an arrow coming up few beats so you have time to figure out which foot to move, how to balance so you don’t fall over, etc. As you get the hang of it you can bump the level so that arrows come faster, and sometimes you step on two arrows at the same time (appropriately called a “jump”). At more advanced modes the arrows come fast and furious, with lots of jumps and even a few half-beat arrows thrown in.

I’m still on the “Light” level, one step up from “Beginner.” I’m decent at that level, and have been working the last few days on getting my accuracy up (hitting the arrows exactly on the beat). I also discovered Training mode, where you can slow down the impossible, higher-level songs to better practice them.

On the left are two measures of steps at “Light” level from “Break Down,” an infectious J-Pop dance tune that plays at a frenetic 190 beats per minute. The steps are on the beat: Up, right, down, rest, left+right, rest, left+right, rest. At a little over 3 beats per second, that’s some quick stepping, but it’s doable. On the right are the same two measures from the next higher level, which they laughingly call “Standard” level. Same crazy fast beat, but notice that those pleasant little rests are gone, and instead of a couple left+right jumps with a rest in between the second measure is now up, left+right, left, left+down just to make sure you’re paying attention.

The only way I can keep up with the (ha ha) “Standard” level is to slow it way down. Even slowed down it’s exhausting, but it’s still a lot of fun, and a great workout. I gotta say I’ve lost a few pounds because of this game! I took a peek at the highest level (“Heavy”), and they’ve thrown in arrows on the eighth beat (1, 2, 3, 4 becomes 1 and 2 and three and four) for twice the number of steps in the same amount of time. Short of using some kind of bullet time, I can’t imagine how anyone could do that, but I hear people do. And get scores of A and better. Me, just I aspire to being able to do Standard level without dying.

I’ve discovered I’m not the only one who enjoys the game, Calvin’s picked it up and when Tom and Pam came over the other night they had a blast playing it as well. Who’da thought?

A side effect of the game (along with feeling more fit and having sore leg muscles) is all these fast-paced dance songs going thru my head all day. iTunes has some of them, like Heaven and Will I?, but I had to dig harder and resort to P2P to find my favorite little “Break Down.”