Platform(s): PlayStation 2
Genre: Simulation
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Konami
Release Date: March 30, 2006


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PS2 Review - 'Beatmania'

by Tim "The Rabbit" Mithee on May 14, 2006 @ 12:41 a.m. PDT

Beatmania combines high-energy music with videos, allowing wannabee deejays the ability to create and perform music. Unlike complicated sequencers or software that allows users to drop in samples and play them back, Beatmania is designed as a video game with an emphasis on having fun and feeling the music.

This one's been a long time coming, ladies and gentleman. I know everyone out there knows their music games, their Karoke Revolution and Guitar Hero and of course Dance Dance Revolution and its myriad remixes, reissues, and rehashes. But most of us here in the US, we missed the original beast that put all those gears in motion over a decade ago and set us up the "bomb" that would become an all-new genre that was so huge in Japan that Konami would name a division of their company after it and set them to work on making more and more and more. And now? It's here to be loved. Get yer fingers warmed up, Jimmy Talks To Websites.

Let's get some history here first: Beatmania was the original "music and rhythm" game from Konami, even before DDR came around and let people shake what their mama gave 'em. A far simpler concept, Beatmania plays at the core more like Amplitude or Guitar Hero: the player is given a progression of anywhere from five (referred to as "Beatmania Classic") or seven ("Beatmania IIDX Style") columns which are linked to buttons. Along with a turntable that needs spinning love now and again, that's all there is for input. No whammy bars, no double-dutch-spin-spin-sugar-kick-the-baby special attacks, no spinning the drumsticks in your hands. The idea here is to recreate, at least in spirit, the "mix board" of a live DJ. Of course, all this is a lot less simple than you'd expect.

Any good rhythm game has a customized controller of some sort. The PS2 controller is nice and all, but it doesn't exactly let you spin wild beats, and it's not the best for trying to hit seven different buttons in any sort of pattern. It also skews the representation – on the real Beatmania, the keys are spaced across the screen exactly like the controller. And so, Konami, like any smart multinational corporation, did what was necessary: Americans can get their greasy mitts on an official, North American version of the legendary Beatmania controller. Roughly the size of a skateboard and about an inch thick, the controller works exactly as you'd expect: seven buttons (not counting Start and Select, of course) and one turntable are what you get, spaced out nicely for two hands to fit across the whole thing.

It's a comfortable fit in most laps, and only the smallest or largest hands are going to get stumbled up trying to work here. The keys are staggered like a piano's (they're even white and black), so "rolling" patterns are easier, and there's no stretching a million miles to get from key one to key seven. A button on the underside allows the key panel to slide out; with a quick flip, it's now a left-handed controller. The only minor qualm I have is with the turntable widget, which is very stiff and – by design, I'm told – does not react well to moving in the same direction repeatedly (i.e., if you turn it clockwise repeatedly, it won't pick up some movement, but it's not supposed to because you're supposed to work it back and forth like a real turntable). For those at home with one of these controllers, wondering what the small port on the turntable side is for, the one the manual says doesn't do anything yet? In the Japanese market, some versions of Beatmania support effects pedals and other sorts of gadgetry; none of that is out here, at least yet.

So I've burned half the review just talking about the controller ... but what about the game itself? I'm glad you asked, because otherwise, I may have forgotten about the whole thing and gone home early. As many said of DDR, Beatmania's game is a bit, well, austere I think is the word I want. There seems to be a bit of a "techno" riff going on in the menus, with all sorts of references to "LOG ON" and "downloading!" and so on, but it's just eye candy laid over a very simple and direct front end. All these menus and so on just get you to playing the songs proper, which use an even simpler interface and design than the main menus.

Like I said earlier, there are a set number columns, depending on which mode you're playing in – six in Beatmania Classic, eight in Beatmania IIDX, and one less if you've turned on "Auto Scratch" in the song options you're offered (bit more on that in a second). What could be most directly referred to as "plates" move down the line like Tetris blocks, one of the three colors (red for Turntable, grey for White Key, blue for Black Key); when they approach the hit line, you press the right key. It's as simple as that – that's all the gameplay there is. On the easiest of songs, that's really the case; tap a few keys now and again, and you'll get by. The basic idea is to be accurate enough to bring the score bar up to at least 80%; each hit is a small bonus, and each slip is a larger penalty, with consecutive successes or "combos" slowly being worth more and more. It's much like DDR at the core, if you think in those terms. The only other ornamentation during songs is a silly, usually completely irrelevant video playing in the Player 2 region (single-player mode) or in the middle of the two players (battle mode).

It gets a lot harder faster, though. By the time you're plunking out songs with three stars of difficulty, you'll be fishing around, trying to figure out exactly how those keys are laid out without being able to take the time to look at them. The key combinations get more and more complex, and there are very few restrictions on how closely "plates" can be to each other – some of these songs are fast and densely packed with notes!

That's not even getting into song options, accessible by tapping Start at the song selection menus, which let you simplify matters by having the computer handle the turntable or turning off the Blue notes, as well as allowing the real psychopaths in the audience to get their groove on by randomizing the pattern, activating Sudden Mode, which hides the notes until just before they have to be hit, or even Challenging Mode, where you start with a 100% meter and have to keep from "dying" before the song ends. If you want to make it even harder, all of this applies to the seven-key IIDX mode as well, with its own songs, variable difficulty levels per-song, special modifiers ... and don't forget 12 Key Double Mode, you happen to have two Beatmania controllers!

There's multiplayer going on, too, though it's really nothing more than you'd expect from something in this particular genre. You have your normal "pvp" mode, Battle, and that is it. It's a straight-ahead "outscore the other guy" game, without any particular frills or whistles on it. There's also Practice Mode, which lets you try a few tutorial songs out to get some of the finer points into your fingers, and the normally-groovy-but-weirdly-neutered Free Play Mode. In the Japanese releases, Free Play was the entire songlist and allowed you to try, without the risk of getting Game Overed, any song on the disc.

For this particular US release, this was changed – only songs you've actually played are available here, meaning you'll have to try every song in the game mode in order to get the entire songlist. Given that songs are "unlocked" on each play as you pass easier ones, getting a shot at that eight-star song might take a lot of practice on easier things, just so you can try the eight star and fail it, making it appear in Free Play mode. Bit of a hassle, that.

Beatmania is, in some ways, not for everyone. It is far less physically exerting than DDR, In The Groove! or Taiko Drum Master, allowing an audience who can't necessarily get up and flail wildly about to get their groove on. The complex patterns and unusual setup may throw many players completely sideways until they adjust, and the difficulty, which ramps up hard and fast, may leave some in the dust, unable to provide the finger dexterity called for. Beatmania carries that "one more try, dangit" vibe that other members of the music game genre bear, and alongside a rather good song catalogue (if DDR music makes you wretch, you'll be far less prone to nausea here), Beatmania is a single-player blast, with a wide-open future, pending Konami wants to work more with it in the US.

Score: 8.5/10

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