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Japan is home to immense arcades that span several floors – with dedicated sections for different types of games. You can drive, slay zombies, gamble, grab prizes with a giant claw or take cutesy pictures in digital photo booths. However, dance enthusiasts will naturally gravitate towards the following Japanese dance arcade games: Dance Revolution (affectionately known as DDR), Dance Evolution and Dance Rush Stardom. Read more about these dance arcade games from Bemani,  the music video game division of Konami, below.

You’ll find colorful arcades, like this one, all over Japan.

1. Dance Dance Revolution

When I was in high school, Dance Dance Revolution was big with my group of friends. We would gather around the TV and rhythmically stomp on the plastic DDR mats with sensors. The at-home version for Nintendo Wii was just like the giant DDR machines a few thousand miles away in Japan.

Dance Dance Revolution is a rhythm game – much like Guitar Hero, Samba de Amigo and PaRappa the Rapper. As a song plays, arrows flow up the screen, spaced out in a certain rhythm. As an arrow floats into its arrow-shaped slot, plays must press the corresponding arrow on the floor pad. While a simple touch for most notes will suffice, there are some longer arrows, during which players must stand the specific section for a longer duration.

Look to the left… There’s even a fan to cool you off if you work up a sweat whilst playing DDR in Japan!

DDR floor pads and arcade setups all have four arrows: left, right, front, back. Typically beginners stand in the center of the arrows, stretching their legs out from this home base. But as the songs get faster and more complicated, you’ll find there is not always enough time to return to the center position.

‘Dancers’ are judged entirely on their accuracy. The rating system (from good to bad) is: Perfect, Great, Good, Boo, Miss. If you press the right arrows at the right time, you’ll do well. But you’ll do even better if you rack up a long run of ‘perfects’. Sadly, looking great only earns you off-screen style points… Or maybe it’s not sad, because you may look quite silly as you focus on hitting those DDR arrows at precisely the right time.

Dance Dance Revolution is an iconic Japanese arcade game, whose arcade dance machines first appeared in 1998, but you will still find DDR set-ups at most large arcades in Japan. And since the game is less novel – you probably won’t have many people watching you tromp around the platform. Another bonus: When you successfully pass a song, you will be allowed to continue playing without inserting additional coins.

The arrows only take up one half of the screen, since I just signed up for a single player. But there are two sets of arrows on the floor, side by side, to accommodate two players.

2. Dance Evolution

Next, Dance Revolution made way for Dance Evolution – the second big dance Japanese dance game to hit the arcades. In contrast to classic DDR, Dance Evolution focuses more on dance and moving the whole body, as opposed to stepping to specific rhythms.

When you play Dance Evolution (known as Dance Masters in North America), digital dancers are shown on screen, completing a routine to a song. You should be able to follow along decently well if you play on a beginner level, even if you’re not great at picking up choreography in the real life dance studio. The series of moves will repeat during the verses, bridge and chorus, so you can gain familiarity and improve even within a single song.

You can play a similar dance game at home: Just Dance for Nintendo Wii or the Nintendo Switch, and it’s a fun way to burn calories.

When I visited Tokyo in the spring of 2014, a small crowd gathered around the dancers playing Dance Evolution. A pair of girls completed the choreography in synchrony, as they competed against each other to receive the highest score. The machine determined their score based upon accuracy, but their observers were more interested in their performance and their style. The female duo looked like a pair of young pop stars, so I was too intimidated to give it a try as a newbie. However, when I returned to Tokyo five years later, I didn’t see any Dance Evolution machines at the arcade.

Check out this Dance Evolution gamer; he’s a pro!

3. DanceRush Stardom

You may be wondering, ‘What is DanceRush Stardom?’ But it’s currently the most popular dance game in Japan. This Bemani dance game is actually more similar to Dance Dance Revolution than its more recent predecessor, Dance Evolution. Most of the focus is on the feet, which roam on a large, rainbow platform – lit in sweeping, psychedelic patterns. Stepping on the colorful dance floor sparks the same childhood joy of walking around with light up shoes x 10,000.

The DanceRush Stardom commands are similar to those in DDR. However, instead of arrows that dictate directions on the screen, DanceRush Stardom commands look more like those in Nintendo’s Guitar Hero, metered out in rhythmic patterns. Arrows in specific squares are also absent on the ground; so, when a left foot command appears, you can use your left foot to step anywhere on the platform.* You’re given full reign of the glittery dance floor.

* This is true, unless you’re a boss, and you dance with your back to the screen. Then you’ll have to use opposite feet.

Another difference between DDR and DanceRush Stardom is the jump command. You will have to calculate your jump hang time accordingly, so there is no weight on the platform at the correct moment. The second new command requires you to keep your feet planted. Then, you bend your knees and drop your weight onto the floor – a mini squat, if you will.

You can’t see my face, but I’m a little apprehensive to start

While beginner dance gamers will look quite uninspiring, there are some very impressive videos of dancers stylishly shuffling all over the rainbow floor – like these two guys completing the ‘Crazy Shuffle’ dance. But achieving that kind of skill and style takes practice! Not to mention a bit of cash. Since DanceRush Stardom is the newest dance game, it’s also the most expensive. Unlike DDR, even if you successfully complete a dance, you must still pay to play an additional round.

If you’re in a Japanese arcade, you should try at least one dance game. Aside from your own friends, it’s unlikely you’ll run into anyone that you know or anyone that you’ll ever see again. Embrace your anonymity and unleash your inner dance diva. And, if you want a quick warm up, you can play a range of other Japanese rhythm games like Maimai, which looks like a giant washing machine, and Taiko no Tatsujin – a drumming game.

Which kind of dance arcade game would you try in Japan? Or do you play any dance games at home? Tell us, gamers, in the comments section below.

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