Inside Pulse 12

Review: DJ Max Portable 3 (Sony PSP)

DJ Max Portable 3
Developer: Pentavision/NeoWiz Games
Publisher: PM Studios Inc.
Genre: Rhythm/Music
Release Date: 10/19/2010

I’ve been into the rhythm and music genres off and on now for a number of years. I’ve played and still have the dance mats and copies of Dance Dance Revolution for the PS One and even some for the PS2. I’ve got two guitars sitting next to my TV for Guitar Hero II and Guitar Hero 3 for my PS2. When I got my PS3 though, the love affair ended, not because I don’t enjoy playing them, but because I didn’t want to buy even more crap to sit in my living room taking up space for yet another console. So when our resident music guy and most awesome rep D.J. had a code for DJ Max Portable 3, a game I wouldn’t have to buy any equipment to play since I already have a PSP and all I needed was the space to store it on my memory card, I jumped at it. Bear in mind I’ve never actually touched the series before this, but I did look up the other titles to see what had changed or evolved in the series as this is the third number entry at least. Let’s see how it stacks up.

Story/Modes

You’ve got two basic game modes to play in this game, Arcade and Mission. Arcade gives you three tiers to play on and a varied song selection within those tiers. Think Easy, Normal, and Hard, but set to a variety of star ratings. Your first tier is 1 and 2 star songs, the second tier is 3 to 5 star songs – you get the idea. When you pick Arcade you have a few options to choose from, some of which you have to unlock by earning points and leveling. You can play in Classic 4T mode which uses 4 buttons, the new 3.2T mode that uses three buttons and the analog stick, classic 6T mode which uses 6 buttons, and 4.2T and 6.2T which both use the remix mode with four and six buttons, but 6.2T you have to unlock by playing on hard mode. These all offer different styles of play within each as the 3.2T can be a bit easier, while 6T offers more of a challenge. After you beat your three songs in Arcade you win that session and can play again picking new songs or perfecting your score.

Mission gives you a variety of tasks to accomplish but lacks the ability to choose songs to do them in. Each mission unlocks something for you, be it wallpaper, song type, DJ avatar, etc. These can be tough, especially since you can’t pick which gear you’re using to do it in so you have to do them in 4T or 3.2T, etc, depending on the mission.

Aside from the missions and arcade, you also have a lounge area that lets you select gear you’ve unlocked, change your DJ icon, see how much of the actual game you’ve unlocked and watch any videos you might have open to you. While you can check your ranking, you can only check it online by going to a separate web address to find out where you stand versus everyone else, not directly in the game, which is a bit of a letdown but the option is there if you’re curious about your ranking with everyone else.

In Arcade mode you have three songs and then you have to start again. There is a freestyle mode available within Arcade where you can just play and quit at your leisure, but the song selection is limited to what you’ve actually beaten in regular arcade mode. In Freestyle mode you can also select which tier you’re playing in, be it 3.2T or 4T. This mode can be as much fun as Arcade, but you have to play Arcade to get full enjoyment out of Freestyle.

Story/Modes Rating: Great

Graphics

Visually the game looks pretty decent. There’s a nice variety of options, when you’re playing the background videos aren’t terribly distracting from the mix buttons running down your gear, but they’re interesting enough to actually watch on their own in the videos section if you’ve unlocked them. Most of what’s here is designed to do its job to get you to play and have a bit of flair to it, like the lights glinting off the menus and such. It looks pretty decent, but it’s the sound and play that gets you into this, not the visuals.

Graphics Rating: Good

Sound

The music selection for this game is pretty awesome. There’s a nice variety and as long as you like club music, you’ll find something on here you like. Honestly, if you don’t like dance music or club remixes you wouldn’t be reading about this anyway. While the game doGuitar Hero games, especially when I was learning the songs, was when you hit a note late it would twang all out of key and ruin the song regardless of whether it was the right note or not. Sure it was supposed to emulate a bad musician, but it was distracting as all get out. Thankfully they don’t do that here.

If you’re playing and you miss one of the long holds it won’t sound off but it doesn’t do anything bizarre either. Same with missing a note exactly, it’ll still play it like a normal key hit, it will just end up being off beat, which is really what would happen when doing this live anyway. I really appreciated that. If you like club music and the music genre of games in general, this is a great game to have.

Sound Rating: Amazing

Control and Gameplay

The game controls are different depending on the type of play you’re doing. If you’re playing 3T, which is the new remix mode, you have 3 different face buttons to hit as the beats come down as well as the analog stick to slide either left or right as needed to hit the mixes on either side of your main gear. The X button by default always kicks you into Fever mode which earns you more points, but can also speed up the song. If you’re playing in the classic modes, you don’t use the analog stick at all for remixes, you just use a combination of face and directional buttons on either side of the PSP as needed. Both have their merits, but you’ll have to master both the classic and remix modes in this game to unlock everything.

There are several difficulty settings which amp up the game considerably and you can even adjust the speed on the fly with the left and right buttons on the top of the PSP. This can be both good and bad. While it defaults to base speed, increasing to twice as fast means you don’t have to hit as many beats, but you’re going to be getting them much faster. Going at 0.5 speed means the notes come at you slower but on most songs that just means you have to hit even more of them, which can just as challenging.

This all applies for arcade mode. Mission mode changes things up a bit. You still have to hit your beats to win the song, but you’re aiming for different things. Like hitting Fever so many times in a song, or getting so many beats percentage wise. Sure you’re still playing like in arcade mode, but just getting through the song won’t get you a completion on it.

Even just playing songs won’t unlock everything, and what you do unlock can be quite random. There’s a level up style system in the game and as you play through songs on arcade mode and in missions you get points towards your next level. At each level you get a choice of three random options to pick from to unlock, and just to rub salt in the wound after you pick it pops up and shows you the other two options you didn’t choose. Doing it this way has a few drawbacks. You most likely won’t unlock everything just leveling up. The good news though is once you hit level 99 everything gets unlocked. The bad news is it’s a bit of a grind to unlock level 99.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Classic

Replayability

I’d have to say that you’re looking at many long hours playing this game. Sure the Arcade mode is relatively short, but given the portable nature of the game that’s more than fine, but you have a rather extensive list of songs to master, and not only that but you have many different versions to play through due to the different remix and classic modes you have to master the songs on to get that completion. I keep picking this game up wherever I take my PSP. It’s easy enough to pop on a song on arcade mode and play through while my dog is doing her thing outside or while I’m waiting on the phone for the cable company to explain to me why my internet is down again, or just looking to amuse myself. It’s very easy to pick up, and it’s challenging enough that I think new players and fans will get something out of playing it more than once.

Replayability Rating: Classic

Balance

This game has a peculiar balance to it. You get some nice replay value to it, and there’s a lot to grind out to unlock, but it can also be really open to people new to the series. So why is this so peculiar? It can be really tough to get it down at the start. Guitar Hero and DDR both had practice modes where you couldn’t fail out at all and just learn a song. You notice I haven’t made mention of that in this game? Yeah, that’s because it doesn’t exist. There is a sink or swim aspect to this game where if you don’t pick up on how everything works fairly quickly and adjust to new songs you’re going to get very frustrated. The good news is that you won’t fail out for losing on a song in Arcade mode and you can retry it, or even restart it if you know it’s going that way. But don’t expect this to be easy if it’s your first time.

Balance Rating: Good

Originality

While each game in the series has added something new, this included, I feel I’d be leaving something out if I didn’t mention what’s missing. The new songs are great and there are very few on the song list that I saw in the other games, which is very cool. DDR always seemed to have half the songs from another version of DDR and that isn’t the case here. You also have the introduction of the remix mode which seems to have eliminated the five button mode from the other games. Multiplayer is also completely absent in this entry in the series, which is a big minus. Not that anyone I know in my area has a PSP that would have this game anyway, but I’m sure there are areas of the world where this would be a bigger deal.

Lastly, they’ve dropped the ability to swap UMD discs out to play older songs using the new engine, which was present in other titles. Granted, this version of the game has been limited to a very small number of UMD copies released in the US. Even my copy is the digital kind, but if you have some of the older versions on PSP, I imagine people would love to have the extra songs available on the new engine to play with and that’s just not here. So while we’ve gone a step ahead, we’ve also gone a step back here. Not that big a deal for me now, but if I picked up other titles in the series, or had someone to play with or against, that’d also be an issue.

Originality Rating: Above Average

Addictiveness

Holy hell, did I get into this. Was it like Guitar Hero where I was trying to perfect my play style? Yeah. Was it as bad as when I first got hooked on DDR at the arcade and wanted it at home too? Yup. What makes it worse is I can take it with me anywhere. It’s like a little musical crack addiction. I must unlock it all! Sometimes I think I’m normal and then I play games like this where there’s things to unlock with an actual measure of completion and one of my many neuroses kicks in and I just can’t stop playing. Yeah, this is like that. The game is fun, and there’s lots to do with it even if it seems simple at first.

Addictiveness Rating: Classic

Appeal Factor

While there aren’t going to be many UMD copies of this game, digital lasts forever. It’s a bit beefy on the memory stick weighing in at 1.5 GB. Those people who use their memory sticks for more than just games are going to have to make space or get a bigger stick. I have a 4GB stick in my PSP and I had to move some movies, delete a few digital games that I have saved on my PC for easy access so I don’t have to download off the PSN again, and even migrate my MGS: Peace Walker data over. Granted I could move my Peace Walker game data back as I overdid it a bit, but you get the idea. The game is very nicely done and it’s responsive and easy to pick up and play. And unlike most rhythm games you won’t have to buy a ton of peripherals for it just to be able to play it like it was designed.

Appeal Factor Rating: Good

Miscellaneous

As I said earlier, I’m new to the series. I didn’t find anything game breaking, but I was disappointed by the disappearance of the multiplayer from the game as well as the ability to load in UMDs from other games, even though I don’t have them yet. I do think the game is strong enough as it is without these options and I really do enjoy the remix modes moreso than the classic controls. The thing I really found interesting was the speed settings. While I might have trouble with a song on the default setting and even more on the slower setting, kicking it up a notch into the higher speeds seem to fit my own personal button finding skills even better. Must be all that raiding I do in Dungeons and Dragons Online as the healer paying off finally. Having a practice mode would be nice, but this game isn’t really for casual players. It’s more of a niche game in the music and rhythm genre especially with its limited UMD release, and as a niche game it excels at what it does and is one of the more polished titles I’ve played this year. I look forward to more in the series and I have to give D.J. props for getting us this title. Loved it.

Miscellaneous Rating: Classic

The Scores
Story/Modes Rating: Great
Graphics Rating: Good
Sound Rating: Amazing
Control and Gameplay Rating: Classic
Replayability Rating: Classic
Balance Rating: Good
Originality Rating: Above Average
Addictiveness Rating: Classic
Appeal Factor Rating: Good
Miscellaneous Rating: Classic
FINAL SCORE: INCREDIBLE GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
asheresize DJ Max Portable 3 is a well-crafted and well-polished Music Rhythm game. While the dance club music choices may not appeal to everyone, the addition of a new play style called remixing adds a new dimension over the more classic button only style by incorporating the analog stick into the mix. It’s a bit challenging so newcomers might find the game a bit daunting, and long time fans might be at a loss with the removal of game linking and multiplayer, but overall it is a very solid title in the series and I very much look forward to playing more future titles and visiting past titles I’ve not played before.

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