DancePad grooved on over to the iPad last week, introducing a new twist on the usual rhythm game. The current breed of rhythm games on iOS tend to revolve around instrument simulation, but this game puts your fingertips on the dance floor, where you have to master a whole swathe of techniques, including slides, holds, and perfectly-timed taps. The closest thing you might have seen to DancePad is a DanceDance Revolution S+, and even that classic pales in comparison. As it turns out, finger-dancing is actually A Thing, so this game is an homage to those who are really into it and a fine introduction for those that know nothing about it.
DancePad has all of the trappings of a classic rhythm game. Targets appear on the iPad that you have to tap with left and right fingers in time to the music. Outer concentric circles gradually close in on the target to identify which ones are coming up, but often you'll have a bunch of targets popping up at once, and some targets require different interactions. There's a hold target, which spawns a timer after your first tap, and a drag motion which provides a dotted line and a ghost of the path you have to follow. That second one can be particularly tricky, and every once in awhile, you might end up mixing your left and right fingers, but on the whole the gameplay proper is a lot of fun.
The game is set up for play in portrait orientation which is an interesting and welcome change of pace. Targets will take you all of the dance floor, and you're ultimately rated out of three stars based on the accuracy of your moves. After earning a certain number of stars, you unlock new chapters with additional songs. You also earn experience points as you play, and are awarded XP bonuses for completing mission challenges. Leveling up feels a little extraneous, seeing as new levels are unlocked through stars, and there isn't really anything that leveling up achieves. There are a total of ten chapters, each one with ten tracks each - the first two are available for free, but if you want the rest, you've gotta pay up $2.99 (currently on promotional pricing of $0.99). The difficulty ramps up fairly quickly, with real challenges cropping up as early as the end of the second volume.
Though I don't recognize any of the artists in the soundtrack, they all tend to be pretty stylish, and the gameplay falls very nicely in time with each song. You can pick songs from unlocked volumes, or browse through a list sorted by artist, genre, or difficulty. On top of the in-app upgrade, DancePad earns its way by referring players on to iTunes to buy full tracks. This is an unobtrusive, natural revenue model that avoids the usual crap-shoot of ads and in-app purchases that tend to litter iOS games. TapTap Radiation has managed to make its way entirely based on these kinds of referrals, and I wouldn't be surprised if the free offering of DancePad was expanded in the future to do do the same. On the downside, most levels are just limited samples of songs, cutting off just once you start really getting into it.
The graphics in DancePad are really smooth and well-done, both in-game and through DancePad's menus. There's a nice variety of dance floors, some with a few color variations, and some really nice spotlight effects that can make familiar ones seem new. The visual effects of the targets strike a balance of color and animation without being too distracting from gameplay. I experienced a few slight performance glitches throughout my experience; after finishing the tutorial, the game froze and crashed. Upgrading to the full version took a couple of attempts, and only registered after restarting the app. Those are minor quibbles though - overall, DancePad plays as smooth as butter.
DancePad is amply social with Game Center achievements and leaderboards, plus high score sharing to Twitter and Facebook if you're feeling showy. Given the ample screen real estate on the iPad, I wouldn't mind a local split-screen version for dorky finger dance-offs with friends.
DancePad is a fresh idea with cute branding and lots of replayability. You'll hear a lot of new music along the way, and no doubt the selection will only improve over time. DancePad becomes challenging very quickly, but not to any frustrating degree - the broad selection of music kept me coming back for another round. The free option is a great introduction to gameplay, and a fine time-waster for casual players. However, I think most folks will quickly get sucked in and find themselves dishing out for the full version, even before they've plowed through the first two chapters.