I've recently become kind of addicted with music and rhythm games. For me, it started with Guitar Hero. I always thought of Guitar Hero as a button pressing game, and didn't think much of it. In addition, for me to play, I'd usually have to swap the controller around (I'm left-handed.), which becomes annoying at parties. If I don't swap it over, you'd see me performing like an idiot. In the end, in Malaysia, I found a cheap guitar controller and thought I should just grab it. I played Guitar Hero for a while, then it was time to get back to Australia. Oh well. After a while, the same friend who originally bought the guitar controller in Australia decided to acquire the bongos controller for GameCube. It was cheap, so I thought hey, what the heck. In fact, I was the one who scouted out the best place to purchase it, and several weeks later (for some odd reason US to Australia shipping takes a long time), I have my bongo controller.
I have an Action Replay for Gamecube, and as most of you know, it allows region free play. I acquired all 7 Donkey Konga games (3 from the Japanese region, 2 each from the US and UK regions). I invited my neighbour to play. It eventually become a weekly event of sorts, with us drumming on the bongos for about an hour or two on weekend nights, and we quickly bored ourselves doing this.
He then asked whether it was possible to add songs to the games. I told him it would be painfully difficult even if it were possible. Then, I told him that if he wanted to play rhythm games, there was this popular game that's for free called Stepmania (which is essentially a DDR clone). So, since Stepmania is very open game, it's also very easy to add custom songs to it.
I didn't join the craze then. So, he started playing Stepmania and became somewhat satisfied with it for about a week. Then we went to Cairns, and we came to this arcade. He decided to try his luck at DDR, going straight for a light difficulty song (it is the second lowest tier of DDR difficulty levels). As any DDR player can tell you, it takes a while before you get used to moving around on the pad while following the steps. He failed horribly.
But - the person who ran the arcade was a pretty nice guy. No one else was there except us, and we were at the DDR machine, so he came to the machine, did something with the operation panel and gave our very sporting friend another chance to play, but the arcade guy would be playing too.
Needless to say, anyone can guess what happens next, we would see this arcade guy pull off difficult and heavy songs like it was a cakewalk - while our friend (also my neighbour) would be there still struggling with the light songs. The arcade guy wasn't the godlike good kind of person - I know what those players are like, but he has enough skill to impress the ordinary crowd (even if not me, who can't play).
I don't remember what kind machine it was, but I believe it was either a Extreme machine or one of those bootleg 'Megamix' machines. Either way, it started a new interest. So, I pitched the idea of the both of us getting dance pads and practising - after all, we could play with any song we liked - and if we had enough time we could even make our own steps.
Needless to say, he didn't get a pad of his own (being quite often the no action talk only person), but I did get one (I'm a little more impulsive, and I am a person who rarely says something when I don't mean it). A week and a half later, this arrived from Hong Kong.
Some of you might recognise this box from those video game shops in Malaysia. :D Well, this one is made for PC use in particular - it's as cheap as those DK Bongos, about USD10. Shipping costs more than the item itself though. When I saw the box, I thought, oh no, this is going to be a horrible pad.
I was wrong.
It's by no means the world's best pad or anything, but it sure ain't the worst. It was more sensitive than I expected out of a 10 dollar dance pad, and it worked without a hitch with Stepmania. I was one hell of a happy customer.
When it came, I invited my neighbour over for a test run, we both struggled against the more difficult beginner and the easier light songs for about two hours, finally being able to nearly pass a light level song. Over the next few days, we progressed to being able to do most 3-foot difficulty light songs, while still struggling on some 4-foot ones. We then played more sporadically, (with me playing a little more since I own the pad after all) and by the next week, we were doing 4-foot songs without a hitch.
Then, comes the huge leap. Going from light to standard/tricky difficulty songs (5-7 footers) took me another 2 weeks. (It took so long because I was injured.) As of far, I am the best among my friends due to my excess practice. (No doubt in my mind that my neighbour might've been able to surpass me easily had he bought his own pad.) I was probably the fastest learner due to my ability to maintain stability while moving around the pad - something that took most people far more than the time I practiced to gain.
I'm now still grasping at the more difficult 6-7 footers - and am currently with some degree of leg injury similar to earlier. Due to the injury I am unable to maintain the amount of endurance needed to complete most 6-7 footers with masses of notes successfully, including Afronova at Light difficulty, due to the speed, mostly.
Of course, after this much heavy play, as you guessed it, the cheap mat eventually started giving problems. It somehow managed a fold on the non-slip layer on the bottom, and that started messing with the 'up arrow' sensor, and as time passed, problems began to crop up on the down arrow sensitivity. It didn't take long before the problem spread to the rest of the pad, making it a lot less sensitive than it used to be. (It's still playable, just a little more effort is required to trigger the sensors now.
I am now using a more expensive pad (one of those which accomodates padding inside), which cost me double (price + shipping) compared to the old pad. I intend to review the pad itself later on, so wait for it. (although coming from me, that might be forever). The new pad has enabled me to do a few more 6-footers without causing me significant leg harm, although most of them will have to wait until my legs have healed completely - then another endurance run can begin.