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June 15, 2006

Joint REVIEW: In The Groove & Ignition 3.0 Dance Pad

Balloons? Check!
Cupcakes? Check!
Entertainment?...................................... ah, crap.

When my daughter turned seven years old a while back, my wife and I tried to come up with something fun for her and her friends to do at her party. We went back and forth a few times.

Should we rent an activity center like My Gym or Pump It Up? Invite a big horde of kids and let 'em run roughshod over the place for a couple hours?

Well, that would certainly be easy, but also pretty hackneyed (everybody else does it, and we wanted something with at least a bare minimum of originality) and too damn expensive.

How 'bout gymnastics, or cookie-decorating, or one of the other party themes her friends have done before? Well, some are better than others, but whether scheduling conflict or financial ridiculousness, none of those worked either.

Then it dawned on us. Our daughter likes video games and loves music, right? Right. So what if the girls played a rhythm game like Karaoke Revolution Party? Perfect, right?

Actually, not so much. When we took the game for a test drive a few weeks before the party, one thing became crystal clear. My daughter and her friends don't know any of those songs, and at their age, even the easiest setting is too fast and difficult for them to be anything but extremely frustrated. Next!

OK, let's see... no singing, no singing. Well, if singing is out, then how about...


That's it! Not only are dancing games beneficial for kids, but they're also a helluva lotta fun. And unlike singing games, the kids don't have to know the words, though there certainly is a learning curve. Of course, how hard can it be when a 5-year-old kid can master it? Anyhow, dancing it was.

So with that decision made, I had to find both the right game and the right dance pads. As it turned out, the pads were the easy part.

Having done a little research, the only pads I wanted were RedOctane's Ignition dance pads. We weren't about to buy an expensive arcade-style metal dance pad, and I didn't want my daughter and her friends slipping and sliding on thin, cheapie mats, what with those pesky liability issues and all. The Ignition pads seemed to be the perfect happy medium.

When my kids visited their cousins last summer, one of the games they played was Konami's Dance Dance Revolution. And while one of the mats they used (possibly an Ignition 2.0 or 3.0) was fine, the thinner, flimsier one had the dreaded double whammy - it slipped around, and didn't feel good under their feet.

So RedOctane sent me not one, but two Ignition 3.0 pads. They came in a big box, the arrival of which resulted in much rejoicing. By the way, if you buy one of these pads, make sure you set aside a few days to let it air out. When we took them out of the box, they emitted a strong chemical odor that required a few days to dissipate.

So with the pads checked off on my list, I had to find a game for the party.

Since I had hit a home run in my pad procurement efforts, I swung for the fences on the game as well. My first choice was Dance Dance Revolution: Mario Mix, because it had DDR-style gameplay with the Nintendo characters my kids already loved.

Alas, it was not to be. While the Ignition pads are multiplatform (they work on PlayStation 2, Xbox & PC), they don't work with the GameCube, so even if I were able to find a copy of the GameCube-exclusive DDR Mario Mix, we wouldn't be able to use it with the Ignition mats.

And as it turned out, any compatibility issues were rendered completely moot by the fact that production shortages had made it harder to find a copy of DDR Mario Mix than [insert lame Jimmy Hoffa joke here]. Oh, sure, I could have spent upwards of $200 on eBay, but that would have defeated my whole don't-spend-a-lot-of-money strategy.

Lucky for me, RedOctane also included a copy of their own rhythm game - In The Groove - in the big box of joy. So that was easy enough.

Before the party, I went through In The Groove's extensive song list, and while none of the songs were specifically written for the kiddies, I had an easy time finding more than 25 age-appropriate songs to choose from.

In The Groove

For the birthday party, we used In The Groove's 2-player Battle Mode. As the word battle might suggest, it is technically competitive, but we tried to stress the "playing together" part, as opposed to "playing against."

As my daughter's friends began to arrive, she showed them how to play the game - how the on-screen arrows corresponded to the arrows on the dance pads. She enjoyed being able to teach her friends about something she liked to do.

Some of the kids were very intimidated at first, and for about 10-15 minutes, it looked like our dance party was on its way to being a colossal failure. Anticipating this possibility, we had EyeToy: Play 2 on standby, but we didn't have to use it, because everyone eventually joined in at their own pace. Some kids jumped into the deep end of the pool and did the trial and error thing, but most of them used a phased approach.

As each group of two played the game together on the pads, another group of two stood behind them, pantomiming their moves, kind of like the on-deck batter, timing pitches in the batter's box.

EDIT: What am I, drunk? Obviously, the on-deck batter would be timing the pitches in the on-deck circle.

In The Groove has 5 difficulty settings - Novice, Easy, Intermediate, Hard, Expert. When we tried the game out a couple of weeks before the party, Easy was too damn hard, so all of the partygoers played on Novice. However, even on Novice there was a difficulty progression, as the kids advanced to levels 2 and 3.

At one point, I noticed that there were still a few wallflowers, so my wife and I decided to give 'em a nudge. How, you ask? Why, by making complete asses of ourselves, of course. Remembering that Easy was no cakewalk, I suggested that we play on Intermediate, but no, my wife insisted on Hard. Way to crank it up to 11, honey. Actually, if Hard is 11, then Expert is probably somewhere around 25.

As expected, we looked like idiots, and the girls laughed and cheered wildly (especially when my wife beat me - Girl Power!), which was the point of the whole thing. And most of the remaining stragglers gave it a shot, which was nice to see.

Ignition 3.0 Dance Pad

In general, the Ignition pads felt good and performed very well. One thing that wasn't so great was the fact that the pads were extremely sensitive, so if you weren't standing in the exact center of mat, the menu started scrolling all over the place.

The Ignition pads provided secure footing for all. We used the pads on short carpet, and there was some slight gradual shifting over time. But no one slipped during the songs.

The pads held up very well, which isn't surprising, since the innards consist of thick, resilient foam. Granted, we didn't measure durability over time, and seven-year-olds don't pack the same wallop as a roving pack of dance-crazed teenagers, but some of those little kids were stomping on the pads like they were Neo trying to tunnel their way down to Zion.

So that was that. Despite the initial hesitation, my daughter and her friends had a fantastic time at our dance-themed party; so much so that a couple of the girls wanted to keep dancing through pizza and cupcakes. I know the game is lotsa fun and all, but c'mon, now. How 'bout a little perspective? It's pizza! It's cupcakes! It's pizza & cupcakes!

Speaking of fun party food, we also had a chocolate fountain lying around from a previous party, and the kids absolutely freaked over it. They dunked pretzels, marshmallows (small pieces only - safety first!), strawberries and bananas, painting their faces chocolate in the process. Which reminds me, if you plan to have a chocolate fountain at a kids' party, make sure you have a good supply of wipes on hand.

OK, I have no clue how to segue out of my chocolate fountain paragraph, so I'll just close by saying that In The Groove is a fun rhythm game, with enough options and flexibility for younger kids to have a lot of fun. Older kids will like it even better. And as for the Ignition pads, if you're looking for a high-quality foam dance pad, and you play on any of the PS2, Xbox or PC, you can't go wrong.

Party! Party! Party!


  • I strongly recommend against paying for the Ignition 3.0 pads. I had a good experience with Ignition 2.0, so when it was time to replace them, I got the 3.0 version. Another of my friends bought two more.

    On all three pads, the thin foam inserts that raise the arrow parts of the mat slightly started sliding around under the plastic casing within a couple weeks of use. Very disappointing.

    We ended up getting low end metal pads instead for about $120 each. More durable, AND easily disassembled if they do need repair later.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:11 PM  

  • Hey Jonathan.

    I was going back and forth about mentioning some of the reviews I've read which had issues with the 3.0's durability, when compared to the 2.0.

    I did put a disclaimer about not having the pads long enough to judge durability, but since I'm writing for parents of young (and therefore light) kids, I didn't want to prejudice my review with issues that may be grownup-only.

    It could well be that we'll have similar issues down the road, and if we do, I'll certainly write about it. But for now, I'm sticking to our first-person experience so far.

    But I definitely appreciate the input.

    By Blogger Dan, at 8:58 PM  

  • I really liked the DDR: Disney Mix; but even then the Easy mode seemed more difficult than you'd expect. On the other hand, all of the songs are age appropriate.

    I'll have to get DDR: Mario Mix, if it can be found. I'd like one that the kids could really play.

    By Blogger WizarDru, at 5:38 AM  

  • You should be able to find DDR Mario Mix in stores like Best Buy, Circuit City, EB Games, etc. Now that they've re-released it, it's all over the place.

    By Blogger Dan, at 6:28 PM  

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