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Introduction

Popular rhythm games such as Dance Dance Revolution and In the Groove are started to make a strong appearance onto home consoles. With the recent releases DDR Extreme 2 and Ultramix 3 as well as a planned version of ITG2 to come out in the near future, gamers everywhere can save themselves a trip to the arcade thanks to the home dance pad market.


While there are “soft” dance mats mad out of cheap foam materials, dancers who wish to play the more difficult songs without an endless bombardment of problems should invest in a metal dance pad. The Afterburner Metal Dance Pad, from the makers who also brought us In the Groove, is prided for its multiplatform capabilities, increased arrow sensitivity and its sturdy metal frame. Purchasing one of these dance pads will cost around $200 plus shipping, so it’s definitely a good idea to make sure if the Afterburner is right for you.

Overview

The Afterburner comes with a bunch of features that make it easy to setup and use within your own home. This pad is a one piece metal frame that weighs about 40 pounds, so it’s reasonably easy to transfer it from one room to another or put it away once you’re done for the day. The unit is 34 by 38 inches and rises about one inch off the ground, which is very close to the size of the pads at the arcade. The Afterburner sports recessed arrows (arrow panels are lower than the metal panels) that allow you to tell where your feet are without having to look down. The X/B and O/A buttons are in the top left and right corners respectively so menu navigation isn’t a pain, but the start and select buttons are placed separately on the control box. The control box allows you to connect the pad to your PS2, Xbox, or PC via USB, and it comes with all of the proper cords needed. Strangely enough, only 2 of the 3 cords can be connected at once so you’ll need to find a place to store the excess cable without losing it. The EVA foam base prevents the pad from sliding around to some extent, however it’s not uncommon for the pad to move several inches after playing songs with many quick steps.

The Arrows

The four directional panels are obviously the most important part of the pad and thankfully RedOctane did a great job here. Using the visual style from In the Groove, the arrows give the pad its sleek design. Each panel is held on to the frame with four corner brackets tightened on with Phillips head screws that are easily removable. On the back side of each acrylic panel is a layer of conducting foil that reacts once it makes contact with the copper interlace grid below. The interlace grid is surrounded by a thin foam layer to offer protection and help keep everything in place. ( For the modders out there, some people have modified their conducting foil by replacing it with sturdier sheet metal to prevent the foil from burning.)

From the pictures below, you can see a slight burn marks around the four screw locations, but the rest of the sensors are fully intact, even after several months of use. Although the sensors aren’t arcade replicas, they still work flawlessly and have a decent sensitivity making it easy for the arrows to register when you have to use your hands. The “Always Play With Shoes On” warning should not be taking lightly because of the recessed arrows. The metal panels are slightly higher than the arrow panels, making it possible to cut your foot if you aren’t careful.

Durability

Durability is a major issue amongst dance pads simply because no gamer wants to spend hundreds of dollars only to have their pad break after a couple of weeks. When the Afterburner was first released more than half a year ago there was a problem with the Xbox connection that wouldn’t even let the pad be recognized by the console, but this problem has since been fixed. The only other major issue people have been experiencing is regarding arrow panels cracking. The arrows have a convex bend because they are recessed, and sometimes slight cracks will begin to form over time. Generally this has been happening to those who play on their toes rather than playing flat footed, and even then it still isn’t happening to everyone. The Afterburner comes with a slim 90 day warranty that covers such problems in which case you can either ship your pad back to RedOctane or have them send you replacement arrow panels. From my own experiences, I’ve only see a few scuff marks on my panels after playing on it for months on the Heavy difficulty so really the above issues may well be the exception rather than the norm.

Performance/Conclusion

In the end, the most important aspect of owning a pad is having one that works all the time. From the very beginning it was clear that the Afterburner needed to be broken in. The X and O buttons were unresponsive at first and required a lot of force for them to register however now, after months of use, this isn’t a problem at all. Unfortunately, the screws that hold the panels in place don’t hold up as well as we would like and after a few weeks of play the screws can become loose to the point where the panels slide around. If you don’t take care of this problem the screws can even go flying off completely. This is a minor inconvenience though as screwing everything back into place is easy enough. (Care should be taken to make sure not to over tighten the screws as this could cause the area around it to distort slightly). Hopefully a future version will be released that will have worked out most of the kinks.

Aside from the aforementioned problems, the Afterburner is a worthwhile dance pad. The recessed arrows are great for helping you determine where you are at all times and can be especially helpful if you’re trying out moves like crossovers. Additionally, it doesn’t take too much force for the arrows to register - if you weigh enough you can even get the arrows to register by simply shifting your weight over instead of having to lift up your foot. The Afterburner also responds quickly when you have to “run” making missteps extremely uncommon and as soon as your foot leaves the pad it is instantly recognized, making it easy to avoid mines when playing In the Groove.

In summary there’s hardly anything to complain about regarding the actual performance of this pad. Aside from the tiny bit of sliding that may occur if you’re a heavy stepper, the Afterburner from RedOctane can help you achieve high scores that are simply unattainable when using cheaper alternatives.

 

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