The core gameplay involves the player stepping their feet to correspond with the arrows that appears on screen and the beat. During normal gameplay, arrows scroll upwards from the bottom of the screen and pass over a set of stationary arrows near the top (referred to as the "guide arrows" or "receptors", officially known as the Step Zone). When the scrolling arrows overlap the stationary ones, the player must step on the corresponding arrows on the dance platform, and the player is given a judgement for their accuracy of every streaked notes (From highest to lowest: Marvelous, Perfect, Great, Good, Almost, Miss).
Additional arrow types are added in later mixes. Freeze Arrows, introduced in DDRMAX, are long green arrows that must be held down until they completely travel through the Step Zone. Each of these arrows awards an "O.K.!" if successfully pressed or an "N.G." when the arrow is released too quickly. An "N.G." decreases the life bar and, starting with DDR X, also breaks any existing combo. DDR X also introduced Shock Arrows, walls of arrows with lightning effects which must be avoided, awarding an "O.K.!" if successfully avoided or an "N.G." if any of the dancer's panels are stepped on. An "N.G." for shock arrows has the same consequences found with freeze arrows, but hitting a shock arrow additionally hides future steps for a short period of time.
Successfully hitting the arrows in time with the music fills the "Dance Gauge", or life bar, while failure to do so drains it. If the Dance Gauge is fully exhausted during gameplay, the player will fail the song, and the game will be over. Otherwise, the player is taken to the Results Screen, which rates the player's performance with a letter grade and a numerical score, among other statistics. The player may then be given a chance to play again, depending on the settings of the particular machine. The default limit is of three songs, though operators can set the limit between one and five.
Aside from play style Single, Dance Dance Revolution provides two other play styles: Versus, where two players can play Single simultaneously, and Double, where one player uses all eight panels. Prior to the 2013 release of Dance Dance Revolution, some games offer additional modes, such as Course mode (players must play a set of songs back-to-back) and Battle mode (two players compete with a tug-of-war life bar by sending distracting modifiers to each other). Earlier versions also have Couple/Unison Mode, where two players must cooperate to play the song. This mode later become the basis for "TAG Play" in newer games.
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