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GuitarFreaks 6th Mix/DrumMania 5th Mix
Arcade Games
If you can find both machines and a couple of friends, you can cosplay your own j-pop band!
Overall Rating:

Animefringe Reviews:
GuitarFreaks 6th Mix/DrumMania 5th Mix
By Jake Forbes

While Dance Dance Revolution has grown from a west coast novelty to a nationwide fad, Konami's other Bemani games haven't been getting the same play in America. Konami made US versions of Beatmania and Guitar Freaks, but the many Japanese mixes were never as eagerly imported as the later DDR mixes have been over the past year. The wonderful DrumMania never even got an official US release. Well, if you're lucky enough to be in a city with an arcade that imports Japanese machines, this past month saw the release of DrumMania 5th Mix and GuitarFreaks 6th Mix. They have the exact same track lists, and if you have both in the same arcade, you can link them together, so I will cover both of them in this review (Unfortunately their cousin KeyboardMania didn't get an upgrade, so it's no longer part of the club).

I'll start with DrumMania, as it was the game that initially pulled me away from DDR when my obsession with that wonderful series started to fade. Unlike the other Bemani games, it's only set up for one player at a time, but that's okay. What kind of a band has two drummers anyway? The "controls" consist of 4 drum pads, a cymbal, a foot pedal, and a pair of drumsticks connected to the machine by wires. In the now-familiar formula, you hit the corresponding color-coded drum pad when a line on the screen hits the bar at the top - like Karaoke for your hands. If you do it right, it sounds like real music. If you miss the note, the game makes your hits sound terrible. You have a performance meter that shrinks each time you make a mistake. Songs are rated in difficulty from 10-100, with each song having 3 levels of difficulty.

Graphically, DrumMania ties with Beatmania as the worst looking game in Konami's music line. It doesn't have the flashy background animations of DDR, Para Para Paradise or GuitarFreaks, but considering that it's more difficult than those others, the lack of distraction is actually a good thing.

Yes, DrumMania (DM) has a VERY steep learning curve. Easy songs start off simple enough, with the player only having to hit one pad at a time and at a pretty slow pace. However, as soon as you start moving from the 10-20 rated songs to the 20+ range, you discover that this game takes a LOT of coordination. With DDR and GuitarFreaks, carrying a beat is 90% of your success, but with DM, coordination is king. You have 6 possible pads to hit with three possible limbs, and you might have to hit 2 or 3 at once! There is a definite logic to the patterns, but it requires that you have coordination and an understanding of basic drum technique in order to succeed. That being said, DM is also the most rewarding Bemani game to succeed at. When you start doing it right, it's easy to convince yourself that you could be a real drummer (I've long since convinced myself that my DDR skills - while technically good - are nothing close to real dancing).

GuitarFreaks allows up to 2 players (3 if you have a drummer linked) to play together. Players have to hold down a combination of three buttons on the end of the mock-electric guitar neck with their left hand, while strumming a lever with their right hand when the bars on the screen hit the line at the top. At dramatic points in the song, players have a chance of scoring a "wailing bonus" by swinging up the neck of the guitar.

Compared to DrumMania, Guitar Freaks (GF) is quite easy to pick up. There are only three buttons to hit and you always use just one hand. You do have to be VERY fast with your strumming, and there are usually more actual beats per song than other Bemani games, but it's a much more friendly curve than DM. It feels a lot like you're playing a real guitar, but the fact that there are only three "frets" and only one "string" makes this a pretty simplified instrument.

What's new for the new mixes? Well, you now have three modes to choose from: Standard, Nonstop, and Bonus Track. In standard you get 3 songs and your performance meter is reset after each song. In Nonstop you get to choose 4 songs up front, but your mistakes are cumulative, leaving less room for error. You can chose from Order (where you pick 4 of your own songs), Random, or Official (where you pick a "theme" group). Bonus Track is one extra-long 5-minute song. Aside from these changes and a couple dozen new songs, the games play identically to previous versions (they actually use the same arcade machines with new electronic boards and graphics).

The song selection for these games is quite amazing. While DDR and Para Para Paradise focus entirely on dance/techno/j-pop songs, DM and GF feature jazz, ska, surf rock, pop, metal, rock, and even a little country. This diversity allows for songs to fit anyone's taste. They even have such American hits as "Born to be Wild," "You Give Love a Bad Name," and "The Power of Love." For newbies to the games, I recommend "Train Train," "Depend on You," and "Spring."

It's unlikely at this point that DrumMania and GuitarFreaks will break out of their very small niche in America the way that DDR did, but if you're a fan of music games and can track them down, there's a good chance you'll become addicted. So all you wanna-be musicians, put away those pots and pans and air guitars and get to the arcade!

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