This article was originally published at Kombo.com on October 30, 2005. It is republished here as part of Review A Great Game Day.
The Dance Dance Revolution arcade and home console games have been around for a while now, but the Nintendo GameCube never quite factored into Konami’s plans for the franchise. That is, until now. Teaming with Nintendo, the two companies have combined their creative energies to mix familiar dance action with the craziness of the Mushroom Kingdom to create Dance Dance Revolution: Mario Mix. Packed in the same box with the Nintendo GameCube Action Pad, Mario Mix includes a vast library of familiar and favorite tunes spanning twenty years of Nintendo history, providing an auditory feast for dancing feet.
When Waluigi breaks into Truffle Towers and absconds with the magical Music Keys, the power of music rains chaos down on the land. Toad rushes to everyone’s favorite plumbers for help and our heroes quickly discover that if they’re going to recover the keys and bring order to the Mushroom Kingdom, they’ll have to dance, dance, and dance some more to make special things happen, such as crossing a flooded river in a boat or thawing a frozen blockade. Other favorite characters (both friend and foe) make appearances throughout the game’s five worlds, some of which Mario will help in return for clues and some of which Mario will try to out-dance for possession of one of the four keys. Mario Mix pokes plenty of fun at itself, pointing out on several occasions the bizarre aspects the game’s storyline. Even Wario gets into the act when he explains his plans to steal the keys from Waluigi in order to create Dance Dance Revolution: Wario Mix, the story of greed and stench as told through interpretive dance.
Story Mode is the game’s main attraction, sending Mario or Luigi (players choose whom to play as) through a series of dancing stages set to favorite Super Mario theme music and a handful of public domain classic music remixes. The music is the star attraction here, consisting of a library of more than twenty-five tunes. It’s impossible not to smile when the overworld theme from Super Mario Bros. strikes up, and while players dance on the Action Pad our hero shakes his groove thing up on the television screen. Each song in the game has been given a new title such as “Here We Go!” or “Boo Boogie”, but luckily each song title includes the game of origin. For instance, “Boo Boogie” is the familiar overworld theme from Super Mario Bros. 2. Other games represented in Mario Mix include Dr. Mario, Super Mario Bros. 3, Mario Kart: Double Dash!!, Mario Party 5, Wario World, and more.
The main gameplay is unchanged from the familiar Dance Dance Revolution style, requiring players to step on the Action Pad’s various spaces as directional guide arrows scroll up the screen. These guide arrows instruct players on which spaces to step. Keeping the beat and moving with the rhythm is imperative, as the game tracks each individual step and ranks players based on performance. Step on the pad at the correct time in sequence to chain combos together, or miss step after step and watch the dance meter lose energy. When that meter runs dry the song is over, so it’s important to keep one’s feet on track and not miss too many steps. Most levels of Story Mode require that players only complete the dance at any rank, but boss battles take the form of dance-offs in which players compete against a CPU enemy, such as Waluigi or Wario. The bosses are dancing to the same tune as the player, and whichever character has the higher dance meter at the end of the song wins the challenge. Songs successfully completed in Story Mode then become available in Free Mode where players can dance to any unlocked song at any time just for fun.
Players hankering for more than just following the arrows should check out the game’s Mush Mode in which favorite Super Mario enemies and items sometimes replace the guide arrows. The objects behave the same as guide arrows in that they indicate which space on the Action Pad to step, but add a little extra twist to the experience. For instance, step on a coin to gain a coin used for buying items. Stomp a Goomba for extra points. Stomp on a Koopa Troopa to stun it into its shell, and then step on it again (double tap it as if it were two eighth notes) to kick that shell back down the screen towards upcoming arrows to knock them away. There are also times when large beasties (such as a large Boo or icicle) begin to rise up from the bottom of the screen and obscure the guide arrows. Stepping on a smaller Boo or a Fire Flower causes the approaching baddie to sink down the screen slightly, revealing the upcoming arrows briefly. There are also various items for sale in Lakitu’s shops that add a boost to Mario’s dance meter or prevent the meter from decreasing if players misstep. Extra songs are also for sale in these shops at times.
Mario Mix provides several levels of difficulty to introduce novice players to the dancing genre and to challenge old pros. The game’s easy mode only makes use of the left and right arrows on the Action Pad. Move up to the normal difficulty level and the up and down arrows are added to the mix. Up from that level are eighth notes that require quick double taps. Beyond that is the hardest difficulty level in which the arrows fly with few breaks and many complex steps. Advanced challenge levels in Story Mode must be unlocked, but Free Mode features all four difficulty levels right from the start. The game even includes a calorie counter that keeps track of how many calories players burn while dancing.
Story Mode also includes a series of mini-games that make use of the Action Pad in a non-musical capacity. For instance, one such game involves stepping on the corresponding arrows to stomp Goombas in a game of Whack-A-Mole. Another challenge requires players to run on the left and right arrows rapidly, building up Mario’s speed until he reaches the old familiar flagpole. Jump on the up arrow to make Mario leap and slide down the flagpole for points. There are many such mini-games to discover and once unlocked these games can be played at any time from the game’s menu.
Rounding out the Mario Mix experience is the game’s multiplayer mode in which two players can hold their own dance-off. The catch? Mario Mix only comes packed with a single Action Pad and extra single pads are not available in stores. Other non-Nintendo dance pads supposedly work with the game, but lack the Action Pad’s Start and Z button spaces. Players can order a second Action Pad directly from Nintendo or can use the standard Nintendo GameCube controller to play by tapping out the arrow sequences on the control pad. This defeats the whole purpose of playing a dance pad game, but the option is available. Recall how Donkey Konga and Donkey Kong Jungle Beat can be played without the DK bongos – just because it’s possible doesn’t mean it’s intended. Players who insist on using the controller will find that it supports the rumble function, however.
The best aspect of Mario Mix is the game’s remixed music library. There is simply not enough praise that can be heaped on the library of Super Mario tunes found in this game. Players who grew up with Nintendo Entertainment System soundtracks scoring their dreams at night will get a special kick out of the available music and each tune sounds much better than this reviewer had hoped. There’s plenty of orchsynth spread around, but many of the familiar melodies use classic 8-bit beeps intermixed with modern sounds, often to great rhythmic effect. “Boo Boogie” (the overworld theme from Super Mario Bros. 2, as you'll recall) uses modern instruments, but there is a point in the song where if one steps on the guide arrows in rhythm, then the famous simple beeps tap out the main melody. The underwater theme from Super Mario Bros. uses a similar technique, as the background beats fade out entirely, leaving players to bop to the original untouched NES tune. The game’s classical tunes are remixed with similar care, but to be honest these songs pale in comparison to the familiar Mushroom Kingdom tracks. Each non-Nintendo song is a reminder that the developers could have included another beloved Super Mario tune instead of “Old Folks At Home” or “Pomp and Circumstance.”
Visually the game is a joy to watch, and the high quality character models and environments would have made for an all-star conventional Super Mario adventure. The Story Mode sequences are all scripted and characters move from place to place according to the game’s script, so the opportunity to control characters directly is just not here. Dancing characters do not follow player movements either, but instead bop to the beat by themselves. Still, they look great while doing it. During the dances themselves there’s all kinds of action taking place on the screen as other characters who may be watching Mario or Luigi dance get into the action as well, swaying to the beat or tapping their feet. It’s difficult to keep track of those extra animations, however, as one’s first duty is to watch the guide arrows, not Cheep-Cheeps enjoying a groove or Shy Guys busting a move.
Dance Dance Revolution: Mario Mix is an auditory feast for Nintendo fans. Everyone who grew up with Mario and friends needs to see what the game has to offer, even players who have never touched a dance game before. Mario Mix is my first time with a Dance Dance Revolution title and the game’s extensive Super Mario music has hooked me. I have no desire to play any of the other dance games that use licensed pop music, as I have no connection to those songs. Give me songs I know so deeply that I could hum them in my sleep, however, and I’ll keep coming back for more. After all, licensed pop songs are what sank a fun concept like Donkey Konga to unenjoyable lows. Mario Mix is hard to put away, as it’s all too easy to decide to dance to “just one more” favorite song before turning off the game and moving on to something more productive. Who among us can resist the “Fever” theme from Dr. Mario? Any player who can resist Mario Mix’s siren songs is a stronger person than I am. This game is highly recommended and much more fun than it has any right to be.