It's easy to forget that the rhythm peripheral craze all began with Beatmania, a turntable-inspired rhythm game that hit Japanese arcades in 1997 and is the forefather and namesake for Konami's entire Bemani rhythm series. Probably the most significant reason for this is that a year after its release, Konami came out with Dance Dance Revolution, a game that was in the same vein as Beatmania but took player interactivity to a different, and some might add necessary, level. Secondarily, although nearly 40 different Beatmania games have made their way to the Japanese arcades and home systems, the game has never had a widespread release in the United States, until now. Beatmania for the PlayStation 2 (dubbed BMUS) lets players experience both the original arcade game Beatmania and the updated Beatmania IIDX, and yet, since the Beatmania gameplay hasn't evolved enough over the years, it seems like this import is too little too late. With a peripheral that isn't that much fun to interact with, a bland graphical display, and a pretty mediocre song list, Beatmania is going to have a hard time finding widespread appeal with people previously unfamiliar with the franchise.
Beatmania's gameplay revolves around its unique controller, which consists of a turntable on one end and seven rectangular keys on the other. The keys, divided up into four white ones on the bottom and three black ones on the top, are meant to mimic those of a piano and are supposed to be pressed by individual fingers, but they are much thicker and spaced farther apart than piano keys. So it seems that for the most part, you'll keep both hands on the keys, flopping your left hand over to give the turntable a spin when necessary. Though the keys are a little different than those found on the arcade machines, the home controller is accurate enough to mimic the experience that can be had in the arcade. In Beatmania you follow the progression of notes scrolling down the screen (as opposed to up the screen like in DDR or toward you like in Harmonix's rhythm games) and press the appropriate key when it lines up with the bar at the bottom. The game's graphical display is one row divided up into eight columns, seven of which correspond to the seven keys and one for the turntable. Though the notes scrolling down will be either dark blue or white--so that you get an idea of which key to press--one of the things that is most difficult for new players to wrap their heads around is processing one row of keys while executing on two rows. This, and the rest of the game's appearance, is pretty unintuitive, especially if you consider that recent rhythm games have improved upon this original graphical style, making them much easier on the eyes.
For these reasons, and a few others, Beatmania ramps up in difficulty much more quickly than other rhythm games. Fortunately, you have access to a lot of different modes from the start, including beginner, normal, and hyper difficulties for both Beatmania and Beatmania IIDX. The original Beatmania only uses five of the seven keys on the keyboard and gets harder much more swiftly than Beatmania IIDX, which employs all of the keys on the keyboard. The combination of different modes and different usable key patterns gives you enough variety that you should be able to play your way through the game, getting progressively better as you go.
Unlike other rhythm games, Beatmania has two ways to gauge your success. The first is the Groove Gauge, a meter at the bottom of the screen which fills up and empties according to how well you hit the notes. But while you want to keep the Groove Gauge up throughout the song, it's not tallied until the end, so you can play your best at the end of the song and still have a high Groove Gauge. The other tally is in how well you hit the notes on-rhythm throughout the entire song and is represented in individual scores of "perfect," "great," "good," "bad," and the (unintuitively) lowest rating of "poor." Like the rating system in DDR, this rating is what will earn you a letter grade at the end of the song, so you can play songs over and over again, attempting to earn the best grade on them.
The problem is that you probably won't want to. For starters, although the concept of Beatmania is interesting, in that you can "act the DJ" in your mini studio, there's nothing about the game that makes you feel like you're actually mixing music. The turntable is simply another (albeit unique) input device, and even when you're given the opportunity to "free scratch," you'll find yourself pushing the record back and forth with very little thrill behind it. The other major drawback to Beatmania is the soundtrack, which consists of a variety of rave, classical, hip-hop, and jungle songs, but most of which are fairly bland or uninteresting. The one or two well-known licensed songs, such as Moby's "Lift Me Up" or Britney Spears' "Toxic," are some of the best music in there, if that tells you anything. And even though some Beatmania classics made their way into the game, there seem to be a fair number of them missing (like Sphere).
Since music is really what makes or breaks a rhythm game, and the controller doesn't put you into the whole "DJ thing" quite like other instrument-related rhythm games have with their respective peripherals (Guitar Freaks, Guitar Hero, and Drummania all come to mind), Beatmania ends up being the sum of a bunch of rather faulty parts. Though there are a number of different options in the game, an eject button so you can flip the keyboard and play with the turntable on the otherside, playing double mode (with two Beatmania controllers), and playing competitively against another player or even with internet rankings (which, at the time of publish were not up on Konami's site), none of them manages to redeem Beatmania from the sort of lackluster main gameplay. Anybody who has managed to get good at Beatmania and enjoys the gameplay would probably be better served by putting up the money for access to all the import games, and newcomers probably won't find this dinosaur of a game that enjoyable this far into the rhythm-game genre's lifespan.