dance around

konami, 2022

at time of writing, this is the newest bemani game, incorporating many exciting modern design concepts and technology that can be summed up as “what if we rebooted danceevolution arcade but with a megascreen made by stacking three giant tvs on top of each other”. for those not in the know, danceevolution arcade was an old motion-tracking arcade dance game similar to the ones you could play at home using the xbox kinect. the way danceevo’s motion tracking worked was they literally just put an xbox kinect into an arcade cab, in the same manner that half the “vr experience” cabs at the arcade are based around two $300 oculus meta quest 2 vr headsets hanging from the cab like the bioluminescent lure of an anglerfish. dance around, at least, is instead based on the latest proprietary motion tracking technology (whatever that may be). i’m not really sure if it can be called an upgrade, however, because there was a video that made the rounds soon after the game came out of somebody full-comboing charts just by standing in the middle of the platform and t-posing through the whole song. it does grant dance around the dubious honor of being the most accessible dance game, since later a video surfaced of someone in a wheelchair full-comboing a chart by sitting in the middle of the platform and stretching their arms out for the whole song.

on the other hand, the increased screen size is certainly an upgrade in my eyes, because one of the problems i had with both home and arcade versions of motion-tracking dance games was that due to my poor eyesight i couldn’t always make out what the characters were doing on screen. i wonder why konami didn’t make the screen bigger on danceevo, maybe the technology to glue together multiple tvs hadn’t been developed yet in 2010, or more likely it was too expensive. while the price of almost everything has gone up since then, luckily for my suboptimal eyes and konami’s cab production budget, televisions have notably bucked the trend by decreasing substantially in price. i accidentally walked through costco’s television aisle the other day and the screen acreage you can now purchase for a mere $800 is astonishing. the toys are cheap, whereas necessities will put you in debt for the rest of your life. anyways... the screen is big enough that you can finally introduce even grandma to your famous japanese singer girlfriend that you've been talking so much about, nearly-life-size hatsune miku...

overall, though, dance around simply isn’t for me as a “serious” rhythm gamer. it is fundamentally an unserious game, by which i mean that i think it is specifically targeted at casuals. there is plenty of evidence to support this theory, starting from the cab design: the ENORMOUS screen (i think it may be the largest of any game in the whole arcade) is the exact kind of flashy gimmick used to lure in helpless casuals, who everyone knows cannot resist the spectacle, drawn to it like the bioluminescent lure of an anglerfish moths to a lamp? other examples of this effect in action: the “city” of las vegas.

then, there’s the song list, where you find such dance bangers like, hmm... old macdonald had a farm? if you’re happy and you know it? pop goes the weasel? wheels on the bus? i am not making this up, those are all in the game, particularly amusing to me is the image of them approaching notable hardcore producer nora2r and requesting a rendition of old macdonald. there are basically no other “original” songs to speak of besides the title song “let’s dance around”, the remainder of the song list being the same handful of canonical “arcaderhythmgamecore” vocaloid/j-pop that’s in every game. lately they have mixed things up a bit by adding, wait for it, the touhou tracks that are in every rhythm game, which konami just loves because i imagine they must be quite cheap to license. then of course, as previously mentioned, the devastating finishing blow is that the gameplay/scoring is basically a joke. even when i played it, i felt like i was doing the wrong motions for pretty much the entire song (if not stomping arrows, i’m a pretty poor dancer) and yet i still scored very well.

the thing is, i don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to have rhythm games targeted towards casuals, and i would certainly welcome more of them in the place of the pseudo-gambling machines that take up most of the arcade floor. most “serious” rhythm games honestly aren’t even that fun during those first awkward stages where it feels like the only options are either mind-numbingly boring “1 note a minute” charts or ones that feel absolutely impossible. when i first started playing sdvx, it kind of felt like a chore grinding through easy charts and establishing muscle memory for all the buttons, but if i tried any harder charts i would immediately get flustered and lose my place. once i got comfortable and the chart intensity ramped up enough to keep me on my toes while playing, that’s when i suddenly had this realization “wait a second, am i actually having fun playing now?” while playing a chart.

as such, i think it’s perfectly reasonable to have a rhythm game option that's fun and accessible for the average arcade patron who comes in with some friends once every few months. if that requires losing the depth required for long-term dedicated play, then so be it. out of the corner of my eye i’ve seen some casuals have a lot of fun with it, like that moment when a girl played and her two friends fanned out on her sides and imitated the onscreen backup dancers, something that you do not get any extra points for because tracking that much movement would probably melt the computer running the proprietary motion-tracking software.