You Spin Me Right Round, Baby
After getting an introduction to the overall setup, though, there are a lot of options available to explore. There are two main games to play – 5-key and 7-key. The 7-key mode uses all of the controller buttons, while the 5-key (naturally) drops a couple. On paper it would seem that the 5-key mode is easier (and it is for the uninitiated), but the 7-key game feels more natural. Perhaps it's because you don't accidentally get “lost" on unused keys, or maybe the song structures lend themselves more to it. Some tunes are exclusive to either mode, while others are shared. Regardless, moving up the difficulty ladder introduces lots of new complexities and opportunities for serious mixin' no matter what style is used.
Within each style of play, there are seemingly dozens of modifiers to alter the experience (but not the music). First off, there's single, double or multiplayer. Double actually involves one person playing two (TWO!) controllers at once, while multiplayer (termed “Battle") has you waging a turntable war against a friend. Unless you've got a buddy with a second controller, double and battle are out, and there is no online multiplayer. Personally, I can't imagine playing double without winding up at the hospital, but that's just me.
The songs themselves have a host of different settings. There's a difficulty range of Easy to Hard, Speed range from 0 to 4, Random Notes, Mirror Notes, and Hidden Notes. A lot of these can be combined to customize the gameplay to your heart's content, although from personal experience I strongly recommend playing on the default settings for several hours until messing around with the modifiers.
La Di Da Di, We Like to Party
I've been giving Beatmania a bit of grief for not being particularly accessible for beginners, and you're probably thinking something along the lines of “he's a newbie and ain't got the skills." While that's pretty accurate (at least it was for the first 8 hours or so), I put my theory to the test. I had a gathering of friends, some of whom are casual gamers and one of whom is hardcore like yours truly, and put the game on display. Immediately all of them wanted to play, because of that big, beautiful controller.
Right off the bat, the first two got frustrated with the difficulty and within 10 minutes were mad at the game for booing at them. Worse, neither wanted to try the same song more than twice and ultimately abandoned it within a few songs. However, the group behind them enjoyed the on-screen graphics and audio. Johnny Hardcore couldn't wait to get the controller in his hands, though, and spent the next 30 minutes mastering the easiest level tracks to get top scores and move on to the next stages. So is Beatmania a party game? I guess that depends on what kind of party it is – and if those in attendance don't mind hearing the same 60-second song snippets over and over again.
So the bottom line is that there is likely only a few types of gamer that would enjoy the game – rhythm-game fans looking for a challenge, established Beatmania fans hungry for an Americanized version of the franchise, game aficionados who collect love quirky controller-based offerings, and patient music gamers who want to invest the time and the effort that it takes to get good enough to really bust out.
Beatmania offers loads of modes while less than that in musical content. It is good – not great – but will likely make you wonder just what all the fuss is about on the other side of the globe.