I’m going to give it to you straight.
Picking the right mat (aka pad that you’ll be moving your feet on) can be difficult and confusing to those who are just starting their dancing journey. There are many mats out there that demand a lot of money for a low quality product. I should know…I purchased a few in the span of my DDR career.
Thankfully, my experiences have taught me how to differentiate between a good and bad mat, which I’ll be explaining in this post. I’ll also be detailing the pros and cons of each type of mat, as well as providing recommendations based on the skill level of the player.
Now, let’s get to it!
SOFT MATS VS HARD MATS
To start, we’ll need to understand what our general options are. There are two main types of mats.
The soft mat and the hard mat.
The soft mat is typically made of plastic or foam and is usually included with console releases of DDR titles, usually for the PS2, PS3, XBOX 360, Gamecube, and Wii. These are the mats that are most frequently seen at home due to their ease of attainment since they come bundled with popular gaming systems.
The hard mat is typically made of metal or wood instead of plastic. These mats are typically geared towards PC play, though some are compatible with console gaming.
Here are some pros and cons of each.
Soft Mat Cons – Reliability is Key
Soft mats tend to have shorter lifespans compared to the other type of mat. The arrows are more likely to stop functioning in a shorter span of time and thus your performance suffers. It can be frustrating and demotivating to try to play a song only for the mat to stop registering steps halfway through.
These mats also cannot be fixed; if they stop working, the only solution is to purchase another one. This may not seem like a big deal at first, given their relative cheapness, but it can add up over time.
In addition, these mats are useful only for beginners and the lower end of intermediate level players. As you work towards becoming a dance dance revolution master, you’ll find songs that have more notes than the mat can reliably register. You cannot play on these mats with shoes, so you are also far more likely to slip and fall as you play more challenging material.
The mats themselves are also prone to move and shift under your feet without tape to hold them down as you play harder songs. It can be troublesome performing well on top of a mat that shifts. Trust me, I’ve been there.
Like the saying goes, you get what you pay for. Don’t expect the world from these mats. Use them to learn the game and become comfortable while playing.
Soft Mat Pros – Perfect for Starting Out
These mats are a good start for beginner and intermediate level players as they tend to be responsive enough for learning the game, accurate in the beginning stages of the mat’s life, and inexpensive. It’s a good mat to get your feet wet, so to speak. Soft mats are also easy on the feet and work best in the comfort of socks or barefoot.
Soft mats are fairly cheap as well.
The price range for a soft plastic mat is $16-$25 for the console releases of DDR. As I stated before, these mats are great for those who want to try out the game and discover how their body moves to it.
The price range for a soft foam mat is a bit pricier, ranging from $35-$70. These mats are thicker and tend to be slightly elevated from the ground. Soft foam mats are usually PC compatible and are therefore the most flexible of the soft mats. These mats tend to boast greater longevity than their plastic counterparts. The Foam Deluxe Dance Pad is an example of a very good foam mat that features good sensitivity and great sustainability.
Both mats serve the essentials of learning how to play, with plastic mats being the economical choice and foam mats being the higher quality choice. I have used both and can safely say that both will function well for beginners, though the foam mat will certainly provide a better experience.
Hard Mat Cons – I have to do what now?
Hard mats do require a fair bit of maintenance to get the most out of them and to ensure that they last. This will most likely require a certain amount of time dedicated to learning the technology behind how a hard mat works (wiring and such, usually). Thankfully, there are guides that break down such information so that is it easier for beginners to follow.
They tend to be bulky and fairly heavy, which is something to keep in mind if the mat is to be moved frequently. Proper storage is key to the lifespan of a hard mat, and they cannot be easily stored to the same degree that a soft mat can.
Not all hard mats are created the same, obviously. There are definitely some hard mats that I regret purchasing after they stopped functioning 2 months into use. It can be easy to expect perfection from a hard mat, due to its price, without recognizing the time and effort needed to keep the mat working well.
Quality hard mats do not typically require maintenance for at least 4 months into consistent use. If something goes wrong before then, the mat itself is most likely defective.
Hard Mat Pros – Tough and Sensitive
These mats are tough and are built to last. They often have greater sensitivity for registering steps than soft mats and feature better designed sensors. A hard mat is not an uncomfortable mat by any means; they are tailored to be played in socks, shoes, barefoot, or any sort of footwear. These mats, when properly taken care of, can last for years without needing to be replaced.
Hard mats are considered the upgraded generation of mats after the soft mat and are geared towards players who are serious about elevating their dancing to a higher level. These mats typically range from $250-$500 and are guaranteed PC compatible.
Hard mats can be redesigned, re-purposed, and fixed unlike soft mats. It’s not uncommon for people to take a hard mat that had run its course and, with a bit of DIY fixer-uping, transformed it into a better mat than what it was originally.
The flexibility and reliability of hard mats make a case for their price. Recommended for those already experienced in Dance Dance Revolution or for those who are absolutely in love with the game.
Which Mat is Best for Me?
I personally use the Foam Deluxe Dance Pad for all of my home playing. I’ve had it for over a year now and it’s just as responsive as when I first played it. Setting up the pad took a bit of time, but it works wonderfully. I definitely recommend it for beginners who are serious about getting the most out of their Dance Dance Revolution experience.
If you own a PS2 and are looking to start out more casually, I recommend any of the DDR titles for the console. This soft mat will work with any of these titles:
I recommend DDR Extreme 2, as it was widely regarded as having one of the best selections of songs among the rest of the DDR titles. It is also the title that jump started my DDR passion back when I was small!
Please note that if you get a copy of the DDR console games, you will have to unlock many of the songs in the game. By choosing the Foam Deluxe Dance Pad or a foam pad of similar design, you’ll be able to play PC versions of DDR that are free to download and have an infinite selection of songs.
And yes, that includes the songs located on traditional console versions of DDR. More on this in another post!
I hope this has been helpful to you awesome guys and gals out there! Keep rocking out, dancers! Hit the mat, break a sweat, and feel the beat! Most importantly, have fun!
Catch ya next time!
P.S. – There are some exciting new pads coming out soon that promise to be of the utmost quality. When they arrive, I’ll be sure to get one, review it, and amend this post accordingly.
Get access to content that's guaranteed to banish the boredom of everyday fitness!