The self-titled "DJ-sim," Beatmania kicked off the peripheral-based rhythm game phenomenon way back in 1997/98 and only now, after somewhere around 20 Japanese iterations, is it finally finding its way to our shores. Ever since it's announcement at E3 2005, long-time fans of the import versions were wondering why it had taken so long and, more importantly, whether or not it would be any good. Like Konami's other franchise (and one most US gamers are going to be more familiar with) Dance Dance Revolution, there was fear that Beatmania would also suffer from unnecessary changes in presentation and song line-up. Unfortunately, it has.
Though titled "Beatmania" for the US, it's actually part of a Japanese revision of the series, Beatmania IIDX – which features up to 7 keys and a turntable instead of the 5 found in the early titles. For those unfamiliar with the gameplay, rectangular-shaped "notes" fall from the top of the screen, in different lanes, towards a red bar at the bottom. Each lane corresponds to a key on the controller, which you must press when the notes match up with said red bar. Keep it up, and you'll continue to build your combo; miss some notes, and your health meter will drop rapdily.
Like most other rhythm games, the concept itself is fairly easy and since the notes are arranged based on beats, anyone familiar with music shouldn't have a hard time "getting" that aspect of the game quickly. However, Beatmania does feature one of the highest learning curves and the upper-level songs are fiendishly difficult in terms of note patterns and number of notes. Suffice it to say, this game is not for the weak of heart or those that don't like a challenge. Even then, though, things get a tad too difficult for an introductory version of the series such as this. Konami seems forever bent on appealing to American audiences while trying to preserve some semblance of the Japanese titles, but their efforts end up seeming misguided. Things are changed where they shouldn't be and left alone where they need to be altered. For instance, while it's important to include some tough songs, the developers could've gone to greater lengths in making new players feel comfortable, too. At the same time, anybody who immediately picks up Beatmania is likely hardcore enough to already have experience with the Japanese version of the game, so the song list is dull and repetitious to that crowd.
Speaking of the song list, it's common sense that a music game has to sound good, but Beatmania is a mish-mash of different tunes in all the wrong ways. There are a few decent tracks, of course, but the majority of those that are ripped from previous Beatmania games either come from the very early ones or are just hard to get into. While each new Japanese iteration comes with a bevy of exciting new songs that are fun to listen to, that is not the case here. As for the new songs, most are covers ripped from Karaoke Revolution or just plain bad remixes. Don't get me wrong, like I said, there are some decent tracks both old and new here, but the 50+ catalogue features more stinkers than winners.
Graphically, there isn't much to say about a title like this. It's equivalent to older Beatmania, but isn't quite as slick, either, and the color scheme is a little off, too. Still, it works and its unlikely that you'll be paying enough attention to the visual aesthetics during gameplay to care.
Beatmania US just isn't the game it should be, bottom line. As a long time fan of this and other Bemani games, I'd love for it to get more recognition outside of Japan and a few niche gaming circles in the West, but Konami kind of dropped the ball again. Despite what I've said in this review, the fault almost entirely lies with this version of the game and the song selection. It's a great series and quite a bit of fun, especially if you enjoy a challenge. Since it's basically an arcade game, you can play it endlessly, making the replay value quite good. Not to mention, that you can push yourself even further with increased difficulty modes, doubles (a whopping 14-keys and two turntables), or, if you have a second controller, you can play with a friend. If you do decide to pick Beatmania up, though, it's recommended that you get the bundle with the specialized controller as it's quite difficult to play a game like this using the DualShock 2. It's worth the extra cash, considering importing a controller costs upwards of $100 and this is actually a new revision with better keys. You can see our analysis of the controller in the hardware review section.
The most ideal thing you can do if you're dead set on getting into Beatmania is purchase the US bundle/controller and, if you can get access to an import-playing PS2, go buy yourself any of the Beatmania IIDX titles Between 3rd and 10th style, each with a good selection of songs in their own right.
As it is, the domestic version is only worth it as a barebones introduction to the series