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Video games that teach rhythm, timing

Dance Dance Revolution and Karaoke Revolution may help teach gamers how to dance and sing, but both games lack much innovation.
Karaoke Revolution is another devilishly clever example of how games can be so much more than just games.
Karaoke Revolution is another devilishly clever example of how games can be so much more than just games.KONAMI / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Behold: It teaches rhythm and timing. It gets kids exercising and encourages them to hang out and jaw with their pals. Do not be afraid. It is a video game.

Dance Dance Revolution Ultramix, the fifth in the DDR line from Konami and first for the Xbox, is a video game so unlike any other it deserves to be called something entirely different.

"Ultramix" works like this: You choose a song to dance to, then follow a scrolling series of arrows which tell you whether to press left, right, forward or back on the included dance pad, a psychotic, devious and beguilingly simple version of the twister mat. Get used to the thing. In the hours and days ahead, it will cause you furious rage and the most satisfying ecstasy.

Ultramix's trick is that, as a song gets going, the best way to dance won't necessarily be to put your left foot left or your right foot right. Depending on what's coming first, you may have to turn 90 degrees while spinning or stepping back. Standing there and trying to jab out at the touch pads, feels like a game of bop the gopher, but the gopher is on steroids.

The rewards ,and the depth, come after hours and hours of practice, when you've got a song's dance moves memorized, and magically the dancing becomes instinct. It's an almost spiritual moment, when you look down and realize your feet are doing something you are only mildly aware of telling them to do.

No major innovations
Ultramix, however, provides almost no guidance for beginners. In the manual, the game tells you such helpful hints as, "Practice practice practice!! At first you may feel discouraged by failing easy level songs, but eventually you will succeed." Or "Remember to play DANCE DANCE REVOLUTION in the arcades to gain experience in playing both versions of the game."

Gee, thanks. Much more useful is going on the Internet and finding tips from other dancers.

This can, however, be humiliating. Dance Dance Revolution has been around for several years, starting in the arcades in Japan in 1998 and moving to the Playstation and the United States in 1999. That means some kids have gotten mind-bogglingly good: They're like chess players who long ago learned the fundamentals and have moved on to the delicate debate over the supremacy of the bishop or the knight. I, meanwhile, was still figuring out what the pawns did.

Ultramix, $64.99 with game and dance pad, makes no major innovations over previous versions, except that you can go online and compete against other dancers through the Xbox Live service. The graphics are fun, featuring animated characters dancing in the background and lots of flashing colors, but not extraordinary.

But so what. This title can teach us something about how we perceive gaming. Playing doesn't have to be about sitting still doing nothing; instead, you can find yourself dripping with sweat.

This game also encourages socialization. "Ultramix" is best played while being laughed at by someone else. And I will say it was very, very satisfying to hear the cries of disbelief at my newfound dancing prowess. So, along with exercise, socializing and rhythm, you get rewarded with peer acceptance for doing something well, all from a video game. Believe it. Three and a half stars out of four.

DDR's sadistic twin
Dance Dance Revolution's sadistic twin, also from Konami, is Karaoke Revolution, developed by a small company called Harmonix. Karaoke Revolution brings all the anxiety and insecurity of late-night karaoke right into your living room.

Using the included headset microphone, the game scores you by your performance by the rhythm and pitch as you sing on each line of a song, and you get combos by putting together several lines of a song well. Though relatively limited, it's not much more than a karaoke machine, Karaoke Revolution is another devilishly clever example of how games can be so much more than just games.

Audiences get bigger and smaller, more or less excited, depending on how well you sing. Far more enjoyable is playing, again, with a real-life audience to laugh at you or cheer you on.

The title, which sells for $59.99 with the microphone for the PS2 only, won't disappoint karaoke veterans; it includes classics including "Chain of Fools," "Like a Virgin," and "Hit Me With Your Best Shot." There are also more recent songs from Norah Jones, Jennifer Lopez and Nickelback, among others.

And just to make sure it doesn't go stale, you'll be able to buy expansion disks. Three stars.