Let's face it - the American “Dance club DJ sim" videogame market is not exactly saturated. Most stateside gamers have little to no familiarity with the wildly popular Japanese Beatmania series, but their first opportunity to experience the franchise has finally arrived. And arrive it does – complete with a large (and pricey) turntable-styled controller demanding some serious shelf space. You'll need all that space to master the demanding rhythm tracks that Beatmania throws at you, offering a lot more of a challenge than its Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution cousins. Chances are, though, that you'll also go looking for some more (and better) music to scratch the itch that the game creates.
In Da Club
If you've never played a Beatmania game – which you haven't unless you've hung out in Japan or import Asian rhythm games – here are the basics. The goal is to mix, spin, and dub your way to please the “crowd" that's ostensibly hanging on your every beat. This is accomplished by matching corresponding notes scrolling on the screen in time to the keys on the controller. Sounds easy enough, right? Oh, you poor, naïve soul.
Some would say that Beatmania is concentrated, pure evil. The DJ turntable-synth controller looks so cool to casual and hardcore gamers alike that it practically invites any and all types of players to hop on and scratch like Scott LaRock. The music is easy to follow and at first or second listen appears straightforward enough. But then, lay that thing on your lap and just try to get the crowd to cheer your chops.
Beatmania is tough. Really tough. We're talking the kind of difficulty that almost makes you think that the Konami developers are gleefully monitoring scores over the internet (an option for players to submit) and rubbing their hands together in joy at the pain they can create. Unless you're willing to invest the time to learn the songs, master the skills, and build up the necessary reflexes it takes to get top scores, frustration will quickly set in. Turn the corner, though, and you'll be addicted while craving more. It's that kind of an experience.
The large controller is ungainly at first, to be sure. Mastering the geography of the machine takes cat-like quickness (and a large pair of hands sure as hell doesn't hurt, either). At first you'll be slapping the buttons and turntable silly in an effort to time the beats right and keep up. Luckily, there are lots of variables available to speed up, slow down, ease up, or increase the difficulty. None of them give you a “So Easy It's Immediately Fun for a Beginner" option, but relatively speaking it can get dumbed-down a little from the default options. Give a track a few runs through, and the nuances of the game start to come out. The easiest level songs will take a few rounds, but no more than that.