IMPORT: When it comes to music games, Konami has the genre locked down. While the US only gets Konami's Bemani games in bits and pieces, Japan gets everything. Japanese arcades are filled with huge deluxe-sized cabinets for games like BeatMania, DrumMania, Dance Dance Revolution, and Guitar Freaks. Later editions of DrumMania and Guitar Freaks can be linked together, allowing for three players to play the same song at the same time, as two guitar players and one drummer. The original DrumMania for the PS2 contains some of this three-player or session gameplay. So when it came time for Konami to release upgraded versions of Guitar Freaks and DrumMania, it must have seemed only natural to combine the two games onto one disc. The result is a value-packed collection perfectly suited for fans of either game, but one that really shines when you play in session mode.
As Konami's Bemani games progress from mix to mix, they tend to become more difficult. Sure, each version contains a few blindingly basic tracks, but on the whole, Guitar Freaks 3rd Mix is harder than 2nd Mix, which is harder than the original. DrumMania 2nd Mix progresses similarly, offering a much deeper challenge than the original game.
For those not already familiar with Konami's Bemani games, they challenge your rhythm, timing, and dexterity. Basically, you're told how to play your instrument via a scrolling collection of bars. The longer you go without missing a note, the higher your score. Miss too many, and your game ends. At the end of every song, you're given a report card that tallies up your mistakes and gives you a letter grade based on your performance. A typical game takes you through three songs, each of which is given a difficulty rating of one to eight stars.
Between guitar and drums, there are a ton of songs on this disc. While a great deal of them can be played on drums, guitar, or together in session mode, there are a few tracks - such as Virtual Insanity on the drum side - that are only suited for one instrument or the other. While many of the songs are original compositions, the game is also stocked with licensed music, such as Smoke on the Water, Highway Star, You Can't Hurry Love, and Virtual Insanity. While none of the tracks are performed by the original artists, it's still really cool to hear some familiar tracks. The original compositions are as catchy as ever, and you'll surely find yourself humming one of the game's songs at any given moment. The Guitar Freaks games have branched out further and further into different genres as it has progressed, and DrumMania is also packed with lots of different styles. Still, the game has its requisite surf tracks, ska, and funk tunes. The graphics have never really been a key point of either series, but it should be noted that the interface has been redesigned a bit, and the slide shows that accompany each song are as insane as ever. For example, one slide show contains, among other things, a pair of lips riding in the back of a smiley-faced van.
As with every Bemani game, the price of admission is rather high. Playing the game with just the standard PS2 controller is possible, but ultimately pointless. As such you'll need one, if not two guitars and a drum controller to truly enjoy the game as it was meant to be played. Also, you'll need a Multitap to enable three-player session mode. Given the cost of importing such hefty peripherals, the game definitely isn't for everyone. There currently aren't any plans to bring this game to the US, but if Konami's January release of Dance Dance Revolution does well, the company will no doubt take a second look at making the rest of its music games available domestically.