There are some things that human beings are just not meant to see (but that our friends insist on emailing to us). Things like that picture of the man who had had his leg half munched off by a 12ft Alaskan bear, or that parade of unfeasibly obese naked women engaging in lurid acts; stick in your mind and refuse to ever leave, probably to the detriment to your life from that point onwards. Another such incident human kind should never have to bear witness to is the sight of Eurogamer staff parading with little dignity to the latest Dancing Stage game.
Worse still, the subject of such un-coordinated lurching was yours truly. Look. There's a reason that gaming is a sit down hobby. There's a reason we play games. We don't look good down at nightclubs. We're made differently; we've got bones in the wrong place, probably. Splicing the two very much divided pastimes of dancing and gaming together to hideous effect is a bit like mixing pickled onion with warm, off strawberry yoghurt. It doesn't even sound palatable in theory, and certainly the end result is just as wince inducing.
Now this is what I call Survival Horror
Therefore, expecting us to deliver a definitive verdict on the first PS2 version of Konami's ludicrously successful is stretching the bounds of optimism tighter than the Lycra suit we forced Tom to squeeze into during the filming of Eurogamer: The Dancing Stage Incident. ITV should do a fly on the wall documentary: I'm a Games Journalist - get me out of here! Comedy, but for all the wrong reasons.
Anyway, yes. The game. Do excuse the rambling, but we've got the fear. The fear of discussing Dancing. Stage. Megamix. In case you're somehow unaware, it's Konami's latest rhythm action title - the fourth in the series and the first to appear on PS2. The gameplay couldn't be simpler to sum up: you select one of 28 songs (a few of which you'll need to unlock), pick from four levels of difficulty and then hit the right symbol on the dance mat (or joypad if you're without the kit) at the right time as they scroll rapidly up the side of the screen. Often it’s a case of hitting two directions simultaneously, at which point we generally fall over and end up smashing ornaments. Or bones. Or laughing faces.
Depending on your timing, you'll be rated from 'Perfect' right down to 'Boo' (with accompanying audience jeers - or was that the gathered witnesses?), and score points accordingly. On the beginner level, you'd have to be a blind, retarded Vicar to not clear every track available on the first go. Step it up a level to Standard difficulty and then things get a little more interesting, while some of the more BPM intense songs will really have you in a tangle.
A little less licensed conversation a little more Konami action please
Curiously, it seems that Konami has chosen to make the licensed songs much easier than the rest. The likes of Kylie Minogue, Elvis vs Junkie XL, S Club Juniors and The Cure (where 'Lovecats' stands out like a Dad at a disco) are very easy, but whack on the original tracks on the same difficulty level and you'll look even more comedic with your floundering than usual. Whacking it up to hard/expert requires levels of co-ordination that millipedes will be more familiar with. And for ex-Kids From Fame members, there's always the dual dance mat mode to get to grips with, where you can hop between the two in a freak out of moving limbs. Help.
While you're busy boogieing away, there are slightly eccentric, bordering on psychedelic visuals playing in the background. These are, it has to be said, a massive improvement on the PSone versions, but such is the concentration required to get things right, you'll barely even notice what's going on in the background - this is one game where the visuals really don't make any difference whatsoever.
The usual plethora of modes have been thrown into the fray, including Arcade, Practice, a comprehensive Tutorial, and an Edit mode for you to create and save your own steps to the game's tracks. Meanwhile, fitness freaks can even use the game as a means of burning off those fish suppers in the Workout mode, which gives users all manner of ways of customising a frankly terrifying exercise routine, down to the last calorie!
New 'moves' wise, the game now features new Freeze step, which require you to hold the required symbol for the prescribed time, adding an extra element of strategy to the button bashing. We don't know if this is our new Mad Catz mat or not, but the general responsiveness seems to have been improved a notch on previous versions too. We seemed to cope much better than previous version, but maybe we're just used to the concept of making prats of ourselves these days?
The number of customisation options generally makes it a pretty flexible game to get along with, although in truth there's not a huge amount on show here to make us scream at you to go rushing down to the shops to part with £30. It obviously makes a good party game for show offs, or people who like to make tits of themselves in some kind of reverse confidence building exercise, and we wouldn't fault Konami for taking the opportunity to cash in on its own 'Benami' phenomenon. After all, everyone else is.
However, there are a few areas we'd definitely like to stab an accusing finger at Konami for. In stark contrast to its recent decision to release Silent Hill 3 in Europe first, not only does Dancing Stage Megamix lag severely behind the US and Japan, it's lacking so much content it's staggering. While 28 songs sounds like a reasonable line up in the Euro edition, the US version featured over 70, apparently thanks to tedious licensing restrictions. Even worse, of the 28 songs included, just seven are licensed at all, with the remaining 21 making for genuinely terrifying listening, never mind dancing. We can just about cope with shaking our ass to Kylie, but anyone who shudders at KCET's efforts in Pro Evo will be able to imagine just how bad these homegrown efforts are. It has been argued that only 'hardcore' fans will be bothered about this kind of thing, but surely that's an anachronism?
Permission to use the phrase "blatant cash in"?
Overall, this release is a case of 'more of the same', or possibly more accurately 'less of the same'. It's pointless trying to pretend that this isn’t a vaguely fun exercise because its incredible popularity and associated sales figures will prove us hopelessly wrong. It's just abundantly clear to us that this does very little that the other three Dancing Stage game didn't do, which are cheaper and have better songs on them in any case. Better visuals, different songs, one new move, and, um a tenner more. Is that enough to tempt you?