Review: DJMax Technika Tune (Sony Playstation Vita)

DJMax Technika Tune
Genre: Rhythm
Developer: Neowiz Corporation
Publisher: Pentavision Entertainment
Release Date: 12/07/12 (Digital), 01/08/13 (Retail)

The DJ Max series has been around since 2004 in South Korea, starting off as a PC based online rhythm game before spinning off into a fairly extensive PSP franchise in the country, though few of its entries have seen their way out of the country. Japan has seen a few entries in the franchise pop up now and again, but the US market has mostly not seen much exposure to the series, possibly due to its heavy focus on K-Pop tunes and the possible limited financial viability this implies. Outside of some international arcade releases, all of two entries in the franchise have come stateside: DJ Max Fever, a compilation of the first two Korean releases, and DJ Max Portable 3, the last entry in the series to come out on the PSP, some two years ago. Well, publisher Pentavision is taking another crack at the US market with DJMax Technika Tune, and this time the odds are more heavily in their favor. For one thing, the first two PSP games to reach the states, though hardly huge sellers, generally did well in the press, enough that a curious player (such as myself) could look at this and be interested. For another, the Vita is still in its infancy, library-wise, and exposing gamers to a relatively unknown IP when there aren’t a lot of games out for a console can help your game stand out. Finally, PSY happened, and while the popularity of “Gangnam Style” has diminished somewhat, K-Pop is more recognizable in the US than ever, so a game featuring it as the soundtrack will be met with “Oh, like the horsey dance guy, right?” instead of odd looks, which is… something of an improvement. That’s a good thing, honestly, as DJMax Technika Tune is a solid release that makes good use of what the Vita can do, combining catchy tunes with engaging touch screen controls into a game that’s a strong debut on the console.

This being a straight rhythm game, the focus is on the gameplay over any kind of plot; as such, there’s no story to speak of here. Modes-wise, however, you’ll find there are some options to work with. The game itself houses all of the play modes under the “Arcade” menu, allowing you to jump into “Star Mixing” (Easy), “Pop Mixing” (Normal) and “Club Mixing” (Hard), as well as “Free Style”, which lets you pick songs endlessly on any difficulty you’ve played already, or on Star Mixing otherwise. There’s also an Album mode to jump to that lets you listen to the tracks and watch the videos associated instantly if you want to listen but not play, and a Collection where you can see your rankings, check images you’ve unlocked and view the online leaderboards, so there are some options available to play with. Visually, the game uses high quality videos to provide a backdrop when playing the various songs, which generally look great, whether they’re live action, animated, or a combination of the two. The interface elements that are superimposed over these videos also generally look bright and easily recognizable, and the main menus are also very colorful and easily understood, thanks in large part to some strong design. From an aural standpoint, well, the soundtrack is well composed and assembled, focusing mostly on K-Pop and dance-styled tracks. If that soundtrack sounds like something you’d find interesting, you’ll be pleased to note the music is outstanding and sounds great on the Vita, and it’s fun to play along to as well. The game features a fairly wide range of artists, including five tracks from K-Pop band Kara, though whether this is in an attempt to expose them to an international audience or to improve sales in Korea is beyond me. Either way, their songs are fun, as are the associated videos, if you’re at all into K-Pop music. The sound effects have a solid arcade style to them and fit the presentation well, and the announcer who pops up to announce what you’re doing and how you did is appropriately intense sounding as well, so overall the audio presentation is rather good.

DJMax Technika Tune is pretty easy to play, and works entirely off of the front and rear touch screens, though if you’re so inclined you can turn off the rear touchscreen functionality and work with the main screen. How the game works is as such: a metronome sort of bar scrolls across the top half of the screen, then back across the bottom half, and interactive notes will pop up in each half. You’re tasked to tap the interactive notes when the bar passes over them in some fashion in order to score points; several correct points tapped in a row will build combos for higher scores, while failed presses will drain energy from a meter at the top of the screen, which ends the song when it empties. There are multiple types of notes to deal with, however, which is where the challenge comes from. Notes are simple pink circles that ask you to tap them when the bar passes, and add to your score the closer to the center you hit the Note. Drag Notes ask you to tap them like normal Notes, but also to drag along a yellow bar that extends horizontally from them in time with the bar in order to score properly. Chain Notes are similar to Drag Notes, but extend diagonally, and have specific points along the line you have to hit to score points. Holding Notes ask you to tap them as normal, then hold the press until the bar passes along the horizontal blue bar extending from them. Repeat Notes ask you to tap them normally, then again at highlighted points along the purple bar extending from them. Repeat Long Notes are a cross between Holding Notes and Repeat Notes, as the last note in the sequence will require you to hold the note to score the most points. There are also three rear touchpad notes, though these are just repurposed normal notes: Rear Holding Notes, Rear Repeat Notes and Rear Repeat Long Notes can pop up in the game, and work as their front touch screen counterparts do, though you can tap anywhere on the rear pad to engage them, so they’re not as bad as one might think. There’s a fairly solid tutorial that kicks on the first time you play, as well, so you’ll be able to pick up on the basics, and said tutorial is available any time from Arcade Mode if you forget something and need a refresher.

There’s a lot more to the game than just “tap notes in time with the music” mechanics, though. The note composition itself can get pretty hectic, as you might expect, and multiple notes can pop up on-screen quickly or at one time, requiring you to adjust appropriately, and this only becomes more complex at higher difficulties. The game also allows for score boosting through Fever Mode if you’re doing well; as you hit multiple notes in succession, the Fever meter in the upper right fills, and when it maxes, you can tap it to engage Fever, which essentially allows you to hit notes perfectly for a short period of time no matter how bad your timing is (so long as you tap at all of course). Further, you can add modifiers to each song in a few ways. In the upper right corner there are three spots for song modification, allowing you to change the direction the metronome bars scroll, whether notes fade in or out instead of staying on-screen, and whether the metronome bar appears on-screen at all times, which can further add to the challenge if you’re so inclined. Also, as you complete songs you earn experience points based on your performance, which allows you to level up your DJ profile. Doing so unlocks pictures in the gallery, but also unlocks avatars to attach to your profile, each of which comes with its own beneficial effects, such as forgiving missed notes or boosting your experience earned. You’ll also unlock songs and skins for notes as you level up, which is good encouragement to keep going, as it’ll take a while to unlock everything available, though there are also plenty of songs to start with as well.

If you’ve missed out on any of the DJMax games prior to this, you’ll find the learning curve on the Vita isn’t onerous; the game offers three difficulties in addition to the above-mentioned scaled game modes to allow you to ease in. There are three difficulty modes (Easy, Normal and Hard) which influence how much you lose from the meter at the top of the screen per missed note and how hard it is to recover, so lower difficulties make it easier to recover and harder to fail. Additionally, the play modes also simplify things a bit, so Star Mixing removes some note types to make play easy to learn, Pop Mixing uses all of the note types, and Club Mixing throws boss battle sorts of playsets at you to really challenge your skills. This, on its own, makes the game exceptionally approachable, as a player who isn’t terribly coordinated can play Star Mixing on Easy and find that they can do quite well as they learn the basics, especially since the game gives you audio cues to indicate that you missed up to help you learn timing. Don’t misunderstand here, playing Club Mixing on Hard difficulty is basically asking for a beating, and it’ll take you a long while to get there, but the game allows you to ease into that nicely, giving the player plenty of opportunities to learn the tools they’ll need to get to that point. Hey, you can even jump into Endless mode and just play a song over and over on a difficulty you’ve unlocked to master it if you’re so inclined, and though it’ll take a while to be certain, you can unlock all of the content from Star Mixing on Easy if you just want to fool around with the game and have no interest in improving. There’s also DLC coming at some point down the line to increase the song library, though there are sixty or so songs built into the game to start with anyway, so you’ll have plenty to do with the game whether you’re looking for casual play or serious skill development.

So what are the downsides? Well, apparently due to some issues with Sony (big surprise), buying a retail copy is onerous, as you can so far only do this thing through the game’s website, unless you want to pay out the nose to an Amazon reseller. The game also could use some formatting review, as the combination front and back touch screen system, though fine in and of itself, can make for finger frustration when trying to swap between screens quickly. The placement of the Fever button in the upper right corner also makes for some headaches when attempting to pull it off in the middle of a hectic note stream, and since the point is to make sure you don’t miss the timing on a hard section, well, that’s somewhat counter-productive. The soundtrack is also rather eclectic, featuring Korean Pop, Trance, Dance, House, Rock and Hip Hop tunes, and while someone who likes Dance Dance Revolution for its soundtrack will likely find this to be comparable, rhythm fans who started with Guitar Hero or Rock Band may want to approach carefully.

Honestly, though, considering the game is almost entirely redesigned for the Vita, DJMax Technika Tune is easily the best rhythm game for the handheld (admittedly not an impressive feat but even so) and one of the better games on the market, and genre fans should make the effort to check it out. The presentation is fantastic, between the clean and vibrant menus, the excellent videos and interface elements, the catchy soundtrack and the well implemented audio effects. The game is as simple or as complicated as you want to make it, mechanically, as the touch screen controls respond well and you can tailor the experience to minimize input variance, eliminate or use the rear pad, and allow you extra bonuses or challenges as you see fit. Further, the game offers a lot to do across its four different play modes, a level up system that unlocks new content regularly to have fun with, and the option to just kick back and just listen to the soundtrack or watch the music videos if you’re so inclined, so you’ll have plenty of reason to keep it around. Acquiring a retail copy is a bit of a pain at the moment sadly, and the game could use some interface tweaking to make it a bit more functional overall. It’s also entirely composed of Korean tunes, so someone who’s more limited in their musical tastes may find it off-putting aurally if they’re not into that. If you can dig the music and adjust to the interface, though, you should definitely pick DJMax Technika Tune up if you’re a fan of rhythm games, as it’s fantastic and easily one of the better Vita games out there.

Short Attention Span Summary:
DJMax Technika Tune is a fine rhythm game in general on a console that could use more fine exclusives, and if you can get into the soundtrack, it’s definitely worth checking out. The game is very well presented, as the interface is very well designed and vibrant and the music videos played are varied and high quality, while the soundtrack is clear and full of lots of catchy tunes and the audio effects are all well selected and implemented. The game offers a wide difficulty variance, allowing players of all skill levels to tailor the game to their capabilities through difficulty level selection, mode selection and modification options that give the game strong appeal to the best or worst players out there. Additionally, the level up system allows players to garner rewards for long term play by unlocking various customization options and songs as they play, there’s a lot of variety available due to the large track list and aforementioned difficulty options, and you can even just listen to the soundtrack or watch the videos if you’re so inclined through the front end. Buying a physical copy could be problematic for a little while unless you go through the publisher direct, sadly, and the interface, though not bad for a first shot, will take some adjusting to due to the placement of notes and the Fever button. Also, the game is strictly composed of Korean tunes, so those whose musical tastes run toward more conventional music may find this a bit confusing as a result. Anyone who can appreciate the soundtrack should absolutely pick up DJMax Technika Tune, however, as it’s a fun, well designed rhythm game on the Vita and in general, no matter how good (or bad) you are at it.


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