Beatmania Hands-On

We mix things up in the first version of Konami's popular Beatmania series to make its way to the US.

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So far Konami has covered just about every facet of the music world in its wildly successful series of musical arcade and console games. One of the less obvious choices for an interactive rhythm game is mixing records on a turntable. The Beatmania series manages to do just that, and it isn't as awkward as it may sound. We put our scratching skills to the test on the US version of the game at a recent Konami press event.

In case you aren't familiar with the series, Beatmania is a rhythm game that's most similar to Konami's Guitar Freaks, but it also bears a resemblance to Amplitude and Guitar Hero. The game uses a special controller with a series of three black and three white buttons and a large scratch pad. As notes scroll down from the top of the screen, you have to hit the correct button or move the scratch pad at the right time. As you hit the notes, you get scored based on your timing and how many notes you've hit in a row. However, your score is only one way to measure your progress in the game.

At the bottom of the screen you have a groove gauge that fills up as you hit notes. To beat a song, your groove gauge must be more than 80 percent full when the song ends. That's easy enough on the slower songs and the lowest difficulty, but the patterns can get completely frantic later on, requiring you to have some pretty fast fingers to finish a song on hyper difficulty. For an extra challenge, you can select various plug-ins that alter the flow of the notes coming down the screen. These plug-ins can speed up, hide, or completely randomize the notes, giving even seasoned players a run for their money.

The US version of the game isn't just a simple port of the original game, which was released way back in 1997 in arcades. The US version has been reworked to maintain the look and feel of the series, while becoming a bit more accessible to the US audience.

The US version of the game has two modes of play, one for experienced DJs that uses all seven keys on the controller, and another for beginners that uses only five of the keys. You'll also find a replay mode and a practice mode, both of which are exclusive to the US release of the game.

Beatmania has more than 50 songs to choose from, including mixes from such artists as Moby and Jamiroquai. All of the songs used in the game are remixes of the covers used in the Karaoke Revolution games, so they might sound familiar.

The controller itself feels nice and sturdy, and it's the right size to sit comfortably on your lap or on your coffee table. The plan is to sell Beatmania in a bundle with one controller, and there's no word yet on whether or not additional controllers will be available separately for people who want to battle in multiplayer mode.

The visual style of Beatmania is functional, but it has very little in the way of flashy graphics. The notes themselves are tiny colored bars that can be somewhat hard to see at first, but not to the point that it interferes with the game. If you're playing single-player, the right side of the screen is reserved for some slightly dated psychedelic videos that play along with the song.

It sounds simplistic to simply hammer on keys in time to music, and indeed it feels more like playing the piano than scratching records. It's still quite fun, though, and if you like techno music, you'll enjoy the game that much more. Beatmania is currently scheduled to ship in March, so be sure to check back soon for more updates.

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