Konami’s new dance craze that’s sweeping the nation

DANCERUSH STARDOM is Konami’s celebration of / cash-in on its dance game history.

It hit Japan’s arcades this year, with their marketers pumping #DDR20 – 20 years of Dance Dance Revolution. Could it be the future? To answer that we should understand its past.

20 years ago, arcade icon Dance Dance Revolution gatecrashed game centres. No arcade cabinet can rival its clarity of purpose: (a) four massive arrows on the floor; (b) four flashing arrows on the screen; (c) music. You know what you have to do.

Dance. You have to dance.

“Dancing” on DDR is odd. The beginner looks like an ogre responding sluggishly to instructions about where the cockroach is (to the tune of Butterfly Hoedown by Tanuki B-Kay), whereas the pro looks like a swan, dignified and still above the surface of the lake, all the while being tasered in the knees underwater (to the tune of RiverDANZE Convulsion by G.M.D. Groove Garden).

* Song names for illustration only.

But still, for some of us, DDR was cool. I remember how I got the bug. In a student job, my manager was a Chinese Yorkshireman of impeccable manners, who lived with his parents and played DDR upstairs with his little (adult) brother. No shoes in the house, please, and keep the noise down. They could PERFECT the hardest songs, swapping mats mid-track, and all in silent socks. On the weekends they drew crowds at the bowling alley, where the machine had been cracked by a Matrix Walk of which they denied any knowledge. And so I fell in love with DDR.

(High-five if you don’t need to google Matrix Walk.)

Anyway, the point is that DDR carries some very special memories. So in 2018, DDR’s 20th anniversary year, Konami produced the loving tribute DANCERUSH Stardom.

“Buttons? Where we’re going, we don’t need buttons.”

DANCERUSH drives DDR into the future, with a huge, open stage that senses your feet, and a vast array of animated LEDs that follow them around. The beats drop and the lights explode on the floor like you’re a kid in electro wellies splashing with naive abandon in a puddle of music.

There are no arrows, but markers fly down the screen and tell you where, on a left-right line, to place each foot. You need to stomp, you need to slide, you need to duck, you need to jump. Where boxstep was the foundation of DDR, for DANCERUSH it’s the running man. Sweet nostalgia for gamers of a certain age.

Does it have staying power? Hard to say. That purity of function in DDR’s four big, mechanical buttons gave you complete faith in the hardware: if the step was missed, you and the machine both knew full well. In the case of DANCERUSH with its magic floor and bodyscanning camera, it feels like there could be some room for disagreement. Not an issue for ogres like me, but maybe swans will find themselves stretching the limits of the technology. Let’s check back in another 20 years.

In any case, with STARDOM’s super-seductive son et lumière, the verdict for now is easy: Dance. You have to dance.

Photographer and writer covering Tokyo arcade life – the videogames, the metropolis and the people