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Dance Dance Dance 

This ain't no disco. . .it's a revolutionVideogames

Normally, I bring you the latest video games in this space, but this week I want to tell you about something you should experience. You may not know it, but a dance craze has been sweeping the nation since 1998. It's not disco, but the floor can light up under you. It doesn't happen in clubs, but Putt Putt Fun Centers and Celebration Stations all over the country are being swarmed by dancers. What are they so mad about? Dance Dance Revolution.

Charlotte caught the Revolution wave fairly early on, with many fans -- gamers and non-gamers -- holding minor competitions at Celebration Station on South Boulevard. Then, in 1999, five "mixes" were released for PlayStation. They required a dancepad (also sold for PlayStation) and soon local arcade junkies were getting their DDR fix at home.

The game has had a fascinating effect on diehard gamers. Folks who've spent most of their play time sitting at a console are now getting up and moving to the music. DDR has become known as a great weight loss technique since players intent on beating all the levels can break sweats for eight to 10 hours trying to unlock secret songs and beat top scores. One of the most famous DDR moves is called "Matrix," in which players jump up, push off the screen with their feet and land in a full back flip. The guys and gals at video game conventions may not look like Keanu Reeves, but they've learned some mad DDR skills.

The arcade version features giant steel-and-plastic machines containing two dance pads and a large screen. Each dance pad has four arrows: up, down, left and right. You press the arrows on the dance pad using your feet, in response to guide arrows that appear on the screen. The arrows are synchronized to the beat of your song selection and success depends on your ability to time steps accordingly.

When you're setting up to play DDR at home, you have various dance pads to choose from -- everything from steel-and-plastic arcade replicas to soft vinyl that can be rolled up when you're done. My only suggestion about the soft pads: buy a plywood board to duct-tape them to. That way, when you play on carpet, the mat doesn't slide around. You'll want to be stable, because the point of DDR is to hit the arrows at the right times, in tune with the beat. If you don't get it right, the game mocks you and you don't score points.

Sound basic enough? Well, Dance Dance Revolution may have a few beginner songs in all of its versions and mixes, but there's nothing simple about Heavy Mode. Over at Celebration Station, just watch any pro (usually a geeky guy in a Nintendo T-shirt) bust a move, while the arrows whip by in crazy combinations. Anyone who thinks a video game dork is nothing more than a button-pusher will be stunned.

The most recent move being made by Dance Dance Revolution creators Konami is the Mario Mix. DDR is finally opening up for Game Cube, a first-time opportunity for Nintendo lovers. Originally, it was either hit the arcade or use PlayStation, but now the Revolution extends to a mainstream format, just as Mario Bros. did decades ago. Together, the Mario Bros. characters and the DDR format are linking up to produce a hybrid game that will satisfy Nintendo nerds everywhere.

Right now, there are some great mixes out there for people interested in DDR. I prefer the Konamix for the PlayStation, since it features many original Japanese songs. Yet the DDRMAX2: Dance Dance Revolution is a great PS2 version that includes songs such as the ubiquitous Finnish club hit "Sandstorm." There are also Xbox versions available for these mixes which hew closely to the PS2 originals. For my part, I'm looking forward to the new Dance Dance Revolution Strike, which is set for a 2006 release.

By becoming a format used in all three major gaming systems, Dance Dance Revolution has become both an entity and a game legend. The Game Cube release has solidified it's a lasting influence in the gaming industry. DDR is also an absolute blast: If you really get into it, you can join our rabid Charlottean community fans. For a start, check out www.ddrfreak.com, which sells gear, offers suggestions for play and even gives arcade game locations for every state. North Carolina has 51 such locations! Next time you're at Celebration Station, Carowinds or the Regal Cinemas at Stonecrest, grab a handful of quarters and shake your booty.

For more info on Konami's new Dance Dance Revolution Mario Mix (PS, PS2, Xbox, Game Cube) and other versions, check out www.konami.com.

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