SAN FRANCISCO — Cesar Aldea Jr. calls himself a dancing fool. And maybe he is right. After all, he likes to dance with machines.
At an arcade on a recent weeknight at this city's teen mecca, the Metreon mall, Aldea prepares to pair off with his toughest partner: Konami Co.'s "Dance Dance Revolution" game. Looking at the 8-foot-tall machine adorned with flashing pink and yellow lights, the 28-year-old office temp worker scrunches his shoulders up and down to relax himself before paying $4 for a five-dance sprint.
Aldea is one of the growing number of young people captivated by DDR, the latest arcade phenomenon that some in the industry dub "karaoke for feet." To win, players need to correctly execute at least 70 percent of the dance steps they see on the computer screen. Colored arrows on the screen indicate the steps: Two blue arrows pointing to the left, for example, mean players have to tap their left foot twice on the blue arrow on the platform they are standing on.
As the techno tune "Paranoia" kicks in at 180 beats a minute, Aldea tries to match the screen with his fast-moving feet.
His blond-streaked bangs fly as he stomps his feet and twists his hips, the former breakdancer in him emerging. A male voice from the machine eggs him on with comments like "Wow! How could you make up a dance like this?" and, when Aldea misses a step, "Stay cool."
Despite his dexterity, the word "FAILED" flashes in his face at the end of the one-minute routine. Aldea missed half of the 275 possible dance steps proffered by his immobile partner.
Unfazed, he basks in applause from onlookers who have gathered to watch his energetic routine. "It's the ultimate showoff game," he shrugs.
The DDR craze is catching on in the United States nearly two years after Konami introduced the game in Japan. There, it enthralled the teen set and inspired arcades to fill entire floors exclusively with dance machines.
In the United States, arcades ranging from Seattle's GameWorks to the Southern Hills Golfland in Stanton, Calif., have sponsored tournaments in which players face down the dance machine for a chance to take home cash, color televisions, portable compact disk players and other prizes.
Fan clubs are popping up, such as North Cal DDR, a coterie of some 40 die-hard players who meet at the Metreon and other Bay Area arcades each week to play the game. Members wear matching T-shirts when they travel together to competitions, and the group runs a Web site called "DDR Freak."
The site brims with details on members' favorite game songs and arcades that feature DDR. ("Plenty of room around it for crowds," reads a comment on one arcade. "There's a fan on the ceiling to cool you down while you dance," another adds).
To date, Konami has sold a "triple-digit" number of DDR machines in the United States and Canada, a company spokeswoman says. Their $15,500 price tag makes them one of the most expensive arcade games on the market.
Still, the company has machines on back order and is awaiting a third shipment from Japan, where the machines are assembled. A new version of the game — called Dance Dance Revolution U.S.A. Mix that can be installed on existing machines with a $2,500 software upgrade kit — is scheduled to hit the United States in September.
DDR has been a boon to arcades, which have faced steep competition from the Internet. The number of arcades nationwide has shrunk to an estimated 4,000 this year from about 5,000 in 1995 amid an industry consolidation. The game has helped double the number of customers at Southern Hills Golfland, for example, which installed DDR last year.
"This one took a life of its own," says John Bailon, assistant manager at the arcade.
He said he was skeptical that DDR would take off in the United States when he first saw it at a 1998 trade show. But since the arcade bowed to player demand and installed DDR in May 1999, the machine has collected $40,000 worth of tokens. Southern Hills has already ordered the new version of the game.
Via Associated Press