9.0

Pump It Up: Exceed review
This dance game should Exceed expectations

The good:

Almost 100 songs available and unlockable. Arcade-perfect graphics, sounds, and gameplay. Dance Mat included. Downloadable content via Xbox Live. Cool Internet Rankings feature/scoreboards.

The bad:

No online multiplayer. Awkward control setups with a regular controller. Some single-player modes require purchasing a second dance pad.

Summary:

After making previous appearances on the PlayStation systems, Andamiro finally brings their dance/rhythm game Pump It Up from arcades to the Xbox console. Originally produced & released in Korea, Pump's soundtrack largely focuses on Korean pop music (K-Pop), covers of pop & classic music hits, and a large selection of tracks by Korean recording group Banya.

The graphics are arcade-perfect, excellent in their own rights. The backgrounds primarily consist of colorful, well-drawn music videos with lots of anime-style art and some live-action footage & techno-style effects. The frame rate is very smooth with no hint of slowdown during the gameplay. The step icons are colored differently for each direction, making them easy to see. Sounds quality is excellent and arcade-perfect, and actually not having to play in a loud area surrounded by people allows you to hear a lot of the background music & effects that you'd otherwise miss, so this actually is an improvement for the home version. Some of the few non-music voiceovers have also been ported over, but a few are missing. Not a bad thing if you got tired of hearing the voice constantly saying "Pop Channel", "Banya Channel", and so on when trying to pick your music. Controls are about as double-edged as they can be depending on how you play. When using the Pump It Up Dance Pad (included with the game, additional pads can be purchased separately), the control & experience is virtually arcade-perfect once again. The directional pads are very large and extremely responsive to input, and although the pad is just a little bit sticky at first, after a couple games (once you get a little moisture on them) this problem goes away and playing barefoot, which is how the manual tells you to play, is easy and comfortable. You can use the standard Xbox controller to play, but the setup is very awkward: Unlike the DDR games, you cannot use the D-Pad or Thumbsticks as inputs-only the A, B, X, Y, Black, & Start Buttons. And because the arrows are all diagonal-shaped, you have to turn your controller and hold it at a slight angle to resemble the pad's layout...sort of. The buttons are very responsive as well, but this setup will quickly prove cumbersome even for the best players.

Gameplay is similar to DDR in many ways, but one notable difference is where DDR had 4 step zones, Pump has 5 steps-4 diagonal corners and an additional center step. The game claims to have over 90 songs available for play, and a listing in the game shows 97 (but only 87 are listed at first, the other 10 are hidden) although many have to be unlocked at first to be playable in all modes. This amounts to much more initial gameplay at first compared to the DDR games, which only had about 45 & 65, respectively. The original arcade version is included as well as a new home version, which is a "free play" mode of sorts, a "Sudden Death" mode that adds more challenge, and 2-player support. There are 5 skill levels in 1-player game but one major issue is that the "Double Modes" of play require two dance mats, meaning to play these you will need to spend $20-40 on another Pump controller (other pads, like Konami's DDR pad and 3rd-party pads will not work with the game). It would've been nice it you could have just used 2 regular Xbox controllers instead or configured just one rather than having to spend more money just to play these modes. A nice feature of Arcade Mode that was kept in the game is the Internet Ranking mode-if you score well enough in a game you will get a password that can be entered on a special website so you can see how you rank against other players. Xbox Live subscribers can download new songs, play modes, and other content, but there is no online multiplayer. The music spans a variety of different styles, from rock to pop, classical, and rap, but largely K-Pop & techno. Most of the artists won't be familiar to those who don't play the game, but a few familiar names pop up-most notably Junkie XL, who did the soundtrack for the game "Forza Motorsport", and, of course, Elvis. Load times before and after songs are reasonable, generally about 4-5 seconds each. The options can be configured for players of all skill levels, and each song has it's own skill levels ranging from very easy for beginners to hard enough that you'll need to use your hands or have 4 legs to even survive.

As an arcade-to-console port, this one is almost as perfect as it can get, and is a nice change from DDR's style of gameplay. Fans of the Pump series will want to pick this one up right away, as will those who want a different kind of dance/rhythm game. For everyone else you might want to wait until the price comes down a little, although the $60 price tag is quite good considering you're getting a dance pad with it.

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