This is a review of the Venom Dance Mat. A dance mat is a video game controller made specifically for dance games such as Dancing Stage (UK version of Dance Dance Revolution), although they can be used with regular games.
Dance games can be found for the PC, XBox, Playstation, PS2, some connect directly to the TV, and maybe some for some other games consoles, but the Venom Dance Mat I am reviewing is for the Playstation (PSX) or Playstation 2 (PS2). A dance game would be incomplete without a dance mat.
THE DANCE MAT
When you buy the mat, it'll come in a box showing a picture of a girl standing on a dance mat. Kind of makes the game seem like it's only for girls(!), which shouldn't be the case. The mat is folded up and includes four circular non-slip pads and usually a safety notice.
Like all other game controllers, the mat connects via a cable, which plugs into the controller port socket 1 and 2 on the Playstation console at the front and below the memory card slot. The cable is around 1.8 metres long, which I feel is an appropriate length. This is enough to keep a fairly good distance from the TV.
The mat consists of a 3x3 matrix of panels and small Start and Select buttons at the top, all with pressure sensors on the inside that react when you step on them. The mat itself is made of PVC and has some nylon-like fabric around the edges, usually a pink or green colour. There are 10 sensors in the mat, each corresponding to a button you would find on a regular controller, but the main ones you use for dance games are the Up, Down, Left, Right, Start and Select buttons.
The up, down arrows are a neon blue colour, left, right arrows a neon pink colour. In the centre, there is a circle with a silhouette of a lady on a dance mat, with the words "Stay Cool". (See picture) The centre part is the part without a censor and is the 'safety zone'. This is the colour scheme most often associated with DDR (Dance Dance Revolution) or Dancing Stage games because these are the exact same colours found on the arcade versions. I think the mat looks okay, but nothing spectacular.
Unlike most game controllers, you use your feet to control everything rather than your hands (although you can use your hands). For dance games, you watch the screen, wait for scrolling arrows to overlap transparent stationary arrows, then step on the corresponding arrow on your mat when the scrolling arrows is at the stationary ones. The aim is to get as many as possible and as accurately as possible. The Venom mat can slide around a lot when you're moving about as well as creasing sometimes.
Playing with shoes on will damage the mat, especially high heels so no shoes should be worn when playing on this mat. If you play bare foot, the mat can stick to your feet, especially when they're sweaty, so I recommend wearing socks when playing.
Storing the mat is quite easy. It's a fairly large mat of around 1x1metre but it folds up so you can store it away easily but I feel that this storability probably causes problems in the long run.
The mat is very responsive when it's just out of the box but how long this lasts depends on your usage.
I've gone through several of these mats because they don't last long. Durability and robustness of the Venom dance mat is very poor. After a while, certain panels can become unresponsive. Also, the bottom side of the mat can split open after a while when you fold the mat to store it away.
PROS AND CONS
Using a dance mat and playing dance games instead of the usual games with a normal controller means that you get exercise and you get it while playing on a Playstation. Since you're playing a game, it doesn't even seem like you're exercising. You can use it to lose those extra pounds. It makes the exercise fun.
The Venom dance mat is relatively cheap to purchase so that's good for those who do not have bottomless purses/wallets. Having a dance mat means that you can play in the privacy of your own home so you can practice for the next time you visit an arcade (or place with a Dancing Stage) machine and you can do this without embarrassing yourself or spending £1 for each three goes.
During play, you'll be stepping, and jumping about and the mat often slides around, and sometimes creases. This can be frustrating, especially if you're doing well, then it happens and messes up your score. The non-slip pads do sod all unless maybe if you had a hard floor to stick it down to but I can imagine most people wouldn't want to do that. The sticky side of the pads will also wear out if you keep taking it off the area they're stuck to.
Oh, you need plenty of space in case you slip or something or you might get some nasty cuts and bruises if you have sharp furniture around.
Another thing I dislike about the Venom mat is the durability, which I've mentioned before. Sooner or later, some of the panels will become unresponsive. Sometimes this may be because the pressure sensors inside the mat have moved due to the creasing during play, but seem to die completely.
Lastly, I don't like how the PVC material can split open on the bottom side of the mat, in areas where you've been folding the mat to put it away but it does happen after a while.
Price was quite reasonable at the time at around £10 for the mat on its own (£15 in shops) but they cost even less now. You can find them for ranging from about £7 (inc. postage) to around £10 on eBay. Usually costs more in shops though.
Other mats you can find are 'PRO' or 'Elite' versions that have more padding for extra comfort, better durability, less sliding around and creases. There are also hard plastic and metal mats. The metal versions would supposedly give you more of an arcade feel when you play but can cost over £100. Some have funky lights though.
Do I recommend the Venom dance mat? No, but I can recommend it to those who do not have enough money for a better dance mat or just want it for one session to have a few friends round for a laugh, and maybe for those with the time and patience to modify it. If you feel your kids would get bored of dance games, then I would recommend starting them off one this cheap mat just in case they get bored of the novelty early. The main advantages I see for getting a Venom mat is that it is widely available and the low price.
For most people, I would recommend buying a slightly better one. It'll save you the frustration during game play and it could save you from having to buy replacement mats when it packs up on you. I do recommend these sorts of games but I would recommend a metal mat to go with it.
Thanks for reading!