Since the late 1990s, the music game genre has slowly grown to be incredibly prominent in the gaming world. It expanded all the way from the arcade to school curricula – it has become an inspiration for fitness games to be a part of education while maintaining its strong fan base.
The craze began in arcades in Japan with the launch of Konami’s “Dancing Stage” in 1998. The name didn’t last long and “Dancing Stage” soon became “Dance Dance Revolution,” more popularly known as “DDR,” and hit North America in 1999.
“DDR” was an arcade game that had up to two players standing on large metal squares with four arrows pointing outward from the center. The basic idea was to hit the arrows on the dance pad corresponding to the arrows seen on the screen, which were generated based on the chosen song.
The catchy songs in the track list and the varying levels of difficulty generated appeal for mainstream gamers. “DDR” gained notable success with a small set of people who learned to play the game competitively on the highest difficulty. The game was able to get static gamers physically moving and gained enough popularity for a console release and was released on Sony’s PlayStation in 2001.
As the years passed, other dance games began to spring up, but were short-lived in comparison to the “DDR” franchise. Each new installment of “DDR” added newer, more difficult songs, including some from popular anime (Japanese animation) and other popular North American songs like “I Like to Move it.” The franchise crossed platforms in 2003 with the release of “DDR Ultramix” for Microsoft’s Xbox. Nintendo, not wanting to be left out, soon released “DDR Mario Mix” in 2005 for the Nintendo GameCube.
After Nintendo’s Wii release in 2006, the motion-control capability of the Wii made it simple for fitness games to gain popularity. Nintendo was the first to change the classic step-on-the-arrows gameplay by adding hand motion in “DDR Hottest Party.” Players had to wave the Wii remote based on hand markers onscreen and still hit the arrows with their feet. For many players, this was a turn-off since it was no longer classic, but the twist added a new dimension to the game the genre had not experienced. To further push music gaming, Nintendo made it possible for up to four people to play simultaneously.
Konami was able to integrate the motion controls into the classic game as well as to increase the base number of players. If this wasn’t enough of a recipe for success, Konami began releasing variations of “DDR” games to appeal to younger crowds. The biggest example would be “DDR Disney Mix.” Once partnered with Disney, Konami knew its success would be lasting.
The “Dance Dance Revolution” franchise had more than 50 games released worldwide, and Konami reigned supreme over the music genre in the video game world until 2009. This changed when Konami met its first competition from Ubisoft’s “Just Dance” title. “Just Dance” was released for the Wii and instead of following the familiar arrows, players had to physically dance to the songs they chose.
“Just Dance” became immediately popular with families because many of the songs were well-known tunes going back to the 1960s, including songs by Elvis. Ubisoft released “Just Dance 2” and “Just Dance 3” in 2009 and 2010, respectively. The advertising for the “Just Dance” franchise constantly showed families having fun playing the games, which gave Ubisoft the edge needed to become the new king of the music game genre.
The “Just Dance” franchise soon took advantage of the other mainstream consoles’ new motion controls by releasing onto the Xbox 360 with Kinect compatibility and onto the PlayStation 3 with Move capability. This would have been about where the music video game genre capped, but, as Ubisoft began expanding to other systems, Harmonix Music Systems released the final of the heavy-hitting dance games, “Dance Central.”
“Dance Central” uses the Kinect to track the entire motion of the players’ bodies. Since the game is solely sold on the Xbox 360, there were concerns it would not hold up against “DDR” or “Just Dance.” With the exceptional body tracking of the Kinect and the same family-oriented advertising as “Just Dance,” “Dance Central” has become one of the most popular dancing games to date.
As the music game genre expanded, educational systems took notice. By about 2006, there were many schools that included “DDR” as a part of the gym curriculum. From here, schools began looking toward other fitness games to include in their gym classes, like “Wii Fit.” As students began getting more exposed to the genre through school, a visible increase in sales and demand for more games similar to “DDR.”
“DDR,” “Just Dance” and “Dance Central” have become social activities as well as educational tools. All three still have huge amounts of devoted fans to keep relevant to the genre. The music game genre will likely continue its approach toward dance games. People will keep dancing as long as companies keep making games that teach players dances to their favorite songs.