A full-featured Pop'n that fits in the palm of your hand. Fun, with loads of content, but also extremely difficult.

User Rating: 8.5 | Pop'n Music Portable PSP
Here in the West, we have Guitar Hero and Rock Band, but in Japan, Konami is still the king of the music game. The Bemani series (which includes DDR, beatmania IIDX, GuitarFreaks and DrumMania, Pop'n Music, and others) is the be-all, end-all of music games, but one would never guess it from the ports Konami has been putting out over here. The heavily watered-down Pop'n Music for Wii and the disgraceful XBLA effort, Beat 'n Groovy, were two attempts to Westernize the Pop'n Music series, and neither of them are reflective of what the series is like.

However, since the PSP is a region-free system, music gamers in the East and West alike can experience Pop'n in the palms of their hands with Pop'n Music Portable. While it does not use the arcade-style controller like the console installments (it is Pop'n Music Portable, after all), the game itself is exactly what you'd expect from a console version.

Pop'n Music Portable packs a surprising amount of punch for a game of its size. It boasts over 80 songs and characters, a music player/jukebox mode, playfield skins, and more. Make no mistake: This is a full-fledged Pop'n Music game, albeit in a smaller package. It goes above and beyond for a handheld music game, and honestly feels like something you'd find on a console. It is packed with content.

The music, as always, is superb. It features entries from Pop'n Music 15 Adventure as well as fan favorites from previous versions. Graphics are smooth, clean, and a pleasure to look at. The menus are stylish and the presentation overall is very nice. Each song also has a representative character that has a different animation for each note timing (great, good, missed, etc.) and for the passing and failing of songs, and they look as great as they do in the arcades and on the consoles. Nothing seems to be lost in the transition to UMD format.

The game also includes an Adventure mode. You select one of two characters - the bunny, Mimi, or the cat, Nyami - and navigate a board filled with traps and obstacles. The key to getting through is finding various characters scattered around the board, passing their songs, earning points, and leveling up. Different songs can be unlocked in this way.

As with all Pop'n Music games, there is a caveat not to be fooled by the cutesy exterior. This is an extremely difficult game. Granted, Pop'n Music in general has a steep learning curve, but the portable entry ramps up the difficulty quite a bit. Coming from someone who owns Pop'n 9 through 14 on consoles, has played them for hours on end, and is able to pass songs up to level 40 (the highest being 43) on the console versions, I'm currently idling on the 7-button mode with songs at level 15. The jump from 5 buttons to 7 buttons, and from 7 further up to 9, is a brutal one. Plus, the Hyper and EX note charts are hard enough on a full-sized controller - and yes, they're fully intact in Portable. Put simply, this very well may be the hardest Pop'n Music, if not the hardest music game, ever made, more so than its console and arcade counterparts. If you stay on 5-button mode, it isn't so bad, but to truly enjoy the experience it is essential to move up, and that requires a lot of perseverance, not to mention the patience of a saint.

However, the three-key Battle mode is great for beginners and makes for a lot of friendly competition. You turn your PSP vertically with yourself on one end and your opponent on the other. The screen is split in half and each player plays on his own respective end. It creates the feeling of a tabletop game.

I do not recommend this game for music game newbies due to its unforgiving learning curve, but for hardcore music gamers, Bemani and Pop'n Music fans, and the rhythmically inclined - and even for those just curious about Japanese music, as this has a wide variety, from TV and anime to Konami originals - this game definitely has my support. Pop'n Music Portable is an excellent music game, a well-done effort on Konami's part, and a worthy investment for the hardcore music gamer.

(Note about the time spent playing: I got the game on the date of this review. I played it for about 3-4 hours through the course of the day. I will definitely be playing more.)