Konami’s decision to release the Japanese title beatmania in the US is long overdue. The original beatmania. created in 1997, was actually the first in a long line of Konami’s Bemani division rhythm simulators. There have been thirteen arcade releases of beatmania as of 2005 with very few of them in the United States. Playstation and Playstation 2 home versions have been available in Japan for a while but are expensive to import so the US following has been scarce. The announcement of a US version at E3 in ’05 created interest and concerns. Would the transition from Japanese console to US console mean unnecessary changes? Would the music be any good? Will it be priced reasonably if it includes a special controller that can only be used with the one game? Most importantly would it be any fun? The graphics for beatmania are decent although nothing particularly special. The graphics are divided two fold. The control interface is split into eight tracks, seven for the keys and one larger one for the turntable. There are blue and white rectangles to correspond with the black and white keys and a red line appears in the wider column for the turntable notes. In addition to the interface you also have a video for each song that plays. Some are c.g.i., some look like they were captured with a camcorder, and others are simply random colors flashing. The Anime videos are well drawn, not that you will be able to appreciate them while playing – the action is just too fast. Since this is a music simulator the sound is very important. Although there are almost sixty tracks available in beatmania you start with less than a third, and you must unlock the rest as you complete stages and songs. Depending on your ability to follow the songs given to you initially, you may never unlock all of them. There are some familiar beatmania originals for those who know the series, as well as some new ones. Some US releases such as Britney Spears “Toxic” and oldies like “Funkytown” and “Celebration” are also featured, all remixed by various DJ’s. Some songs are really great to listen to while others are an absolute train wreck. Don’t be fooled by the recognition of the title either. Just because you know the song “Celebration” doesn’t mean you are going to know what will happen with the keys. Some of the decisions the DJ’s made with the remixes were just awful. There was a definitive lack of rhythm in some of this rhythm simulator’s songs. Other songs were really nice to listen to and play. There is a large variety of music to choose from ranging from ska to hip hop to trance to techno and even reggae. Overall the music preference is subjective. You may find only one song you like or you may like them all. Such is the risk with any music/rhythm simulator like DDR or Karaoke Revolution, so there is no surprise that some will absolutely love or hate the music of this game as well. While you can play beatmania with a Dualshock2 controller, it is very difficult and does detract from the actual beatmania experience. The beatmania controller can be purchased as a bundle with the game, and I would recommend doing so. It is set up as a seven key keyboard and a turntable scratchpad. There are three black keys above four white keys that you use during game play. The turntable rotates in a complete 360 so there is no resistance to the scratchpad. You can flip the controls to be right or left handed by popping the key section out and flipping them over. By choosing beatmania instead of beatmania IIDX you can use only five keys instead of seven. The controller is nicely designed to accommodate your personal comfort on the turntable. That being said the controller does have a slight design flaw regarding the keys. The interface shows the keys in an inline type configuration but the controller has the black keys on top of the white keys which are too wide and spaced too far apart to play like a piano. If you attempt to play it like a piano you will find yourself placing your fingers in the spaces more times than on the keys. Also the black keys are too far above the white keys so more space hitting there as well. It will take you quite a few runs to get the hang of using this controller.

To play beatmania you hit the key that corresponds to the note on the interface when it hits the red timing line at the bottom of the screen. This sounds simple enough, right? Well as simple as the concept to this game may be, the implementation of these actions is far from it. Depending on the song you choose and the mode you choose it in, you could be scrambling through the entire 2-3 minutes. There is training but it really doesn’t help you, it just plays a song and tells you to hit the key when the note hits the timing line and turn the scratchpad when its indicator hits the timing line. You can do that in the actual game and learn as you go. A better way to learn would be to slow down the beats per minute to teach yourself the song pattern if you are just starting out. The game recommends that you start off with beatmania which only utilizes five of the seven keys as a beginner or intermediate player; this suggests that it is easier. You will quickly find out that this is not the case. Because there are only five keys, notes that would have been assigned to the other two keys are now assigned somehow to those five keys instead of omitted. Basically this means that you now have more key strokes per key in a shorter amount of time in the beatmania mode than beatmania IIDX mode. Now maybe this will be easier for you, but for me, and the two other beatmania virgins I tested my theory on, the seven key mode was easier. Our scores suffered by a whopping 35,000 points on average per song suggesting that our brains just went dumb when those other two keys disappeared.

This brings me to the scoring method of the game. It seemed a bit inconsistent at first until I realized what was happening. The easiest to observe is the accuracy of your ability to time the correct key press as it hits the red timing line. This is scored by a “perfect”, “great”, “good”, “bad”, and “poor”. Throughout the song you also have a Groove Gauge that builds as you continue to keep the rhythm of the track. It also reduces as you miss notes or hit notes that don’t belong. Miss a series of notes at the end and it could cause you to fail the track, despite the perfects in the beginning of a song. This is where the inconsistency comes in. If you come up to a particularly difficult crescendo right at the end that messes you up you risk failing. After completion of a song you receive a numerical score and alphabetical grade ranging from F to AAA.

Despite the fact that this game is extremely difficult and as unforgiving as an old school side-scroll shooter it is quite fun and not just for the hard core sim lover. Beginners who have never played a musical simulator before can pick up this game and appreciate it as long as they enjoy music and have a modicum of patience. Patience being the operative word, without it even a seasoned music sim gamer would throw the controller into his/her HDTV after the twentieth E rating followed by an encore of booing. This can also be played in two player versus mode. Or record your performance scores online and rank your skills against other DJ’s.

There are a plethora of sadistic options you can choose from to customize your song experience in the Play Option Plug-In list. Some of these include the particularly nasty Random, Hidden/Sudden and Hi-Speed I-4 options. If you are in need of a wake up call try them all at the same time. Hidden will remove the note about two inches above the timing line while Sudden adds the note about two inches above the timing line. Together, yes you can actually choose to have both options at the same time, you get a flash of a note for less than a second two inches away from your mark. This is difficult on any song but even more so when you are playing a faster tempo. Keep in mind that the songs already range in difficulty with beginner, normal, and hyper levels and include sub-difficulty ratings in those levels indicated by stars numbering one through ten. If the songs are too easy for you, or you’re feeling particularly masochistic, start adding options to songs and get used to seeing those D’s again. Even with the harsh pseudo crowd booing your performances under a C the game is still very interesting and fun to play. You can catch yourself playing it for much longer than you intended to just trying to please that picky crowd just once. But when you do please them you are as proud and relieved as you were when you beat Sephiroth from Final Fantasy VII.

The replay value of this game is highly dependant on the individual’s taste of the music contained in the game. If there are only five to ten songs you can tolerate then you probably won’t feel the need to come back and play it again. If you like the majority of the songs you have come across, give or take a few, then the likelihood you will continue on and unlock more will be higher. The fact that the game has a really cool special controller can be a plus and a minus for this particular title. Knowing that Konami makes titles for more than just the Playstation 2, and with Sony eventually launching the PS3, this could be a single use controller thus taking it from cool controller to closet cluttering dust collector. The configuration of the keys makes this a bit difficult to maneuver as well. It seems as though it is intended to be played in the manner of a keyboard with one hand and the turntable with the other but actual application leads one to use both hands on the keys and switch back and forth with the turntable. If the keys would have been just a tad smaller and laid out like a piano keyboard then the controls may have been more intuitive. With patience there is potential for a lot of replay value. All in all the game with the controller is worth the price for the bundle especially when one considers that other music making simulators are $15 more. Beatmania/beatmania IIDX is an extremely difficult game that is surprisingly fun to play. Beginners can pick it up and enjoy it as well as more advanced (possibly long time followers of the series) players. The controller is a bit difficult to get used to but once you get the hang of it you find yourself playing for hours despite yourself. The song selection is large enough to keep pretty much everyone happy as well as the multitude of options you can choose from to keep your favorite songs interesting. The videos are interesting for the most part and keep spectators entertained but the action on the players’ side will keep the player’s attention throughout. This game is not for the weary or the easily frustrated. The training level leaves a bit to be desired and the beginning songs may alienate some gamers with the level of difficulty right out of the gate. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who has a habit of throwing controllers, as TV’s tend to be a tad more expensive, and this controller will break something. Despite the difficulty being anywhere from ‘hard’ to ‘are you out of your mind’ the concept is fun for all would make a great party game. Hopefully Konami will release more of this type of title in the US, but I would like to see a revision in the controller to more of a piano keyboard configuration.