Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX
Release Date: 09/08/2015
The next step in the great Miku takeover is the 3DS! Having already already taken home our awards for top rhythm game the past two years, the vocaloid phenomenon has its eyes set out on the hat trick. Project Mirai DX is pretty different from the PDF games. Not only does it use the advantages of the 3DS console, it also has a completely different look and feel. Let’s see if that Miku magic translates over to a new device.
One thing this entry maintains from it’s Sony fellows is a staggering amount of content. First up, you have the rhythm game itself. There are a handful of songs unlocked from the start, and you unlock more as you complete those. Each song has three difficulty levels (although six of them have a fourth), but you have to beat the song on normal to unlock hard. In addition to what you’d normally see, there are actually two different rhythm game variants you can play. One uses the touch screen, and the other uses the buttons. They count separately, as we’ll see in a bit, effectively doubling the content. You can also watch any song in a theater mode, spend points to see the rhythm game played to perfection, or customize button layouts, outfits, etc. It would be a fine enough package, as it is, but the game offers more.
Just like in PDF, you can visit with any of the six androids in the game. You can buy new outfits, customize the room behind them, or give them a snack. If you’re up for it, you can even play a game of Reversi with them. New this time is the ability to give them an allowance. They’ll end up buying things from the shop as you play the game. While cute, this also serves some function as well. If they buy something from the store, they’ll get it at a cheaper rate than if you went and bought it yourself. There are also some creation tools to work with. While you can’t create custom songs or note tracks for play, you can still create custom dances for characters. You can pick a song, and then string together dance moves to your heart’s content. The UI is a little clunky, but dedicated players can work through it well enough. There’s even an in-game piano that you can use to create a tune. These can’t be used for play, but can be shared via streetpass. If that weren’t enough, there’s a functional version of the puzzle game Puyo Pop on the cartridge as well. Here you’ll create groups of four like colored blobs in order to score points and beat an opponent. You run through a gauntlet of opponents and get scores based on your performance. As far as mini-games go, it’s pretty sweet.
As you may have noticed, PDM uses the Nenderoid style for its characters. That means giant heads on smaller bodies combined with an overall smooth look. Your appreciation of this look will vary depending on your taste, but the game overall looks and animates well. The downside is that some times the characters attempt to move in a seductive way. This doesn’t translate well at all. Playing the game with the 3D effect active is ill advised on an older 3DS, as it can make the note track hard to see. However, if you’re just watching, the effect is pretty good. The various backgrounds for each song are well detailed and full of personality. The only downside is that the pixel count is a little low, leaving some areas look fuzzy by comparison. The UI benefits well from the dual screens, as information is generally displayed in less inconvenient locations. Subtitles and your health bar appear on the bottom screen, allowing for the top screen to focus completely on the gameplay. You an even adjust the options to make it even more spartan. Overall, it’s a solid looking game from top to bottom, if a little underwhelming at times.
Aurally, games like this are all about the music. Included in the game forty-eight full length songs from the vast catalog of vocaloid tunes. I mention full-length for a reason. PDF games tend to shorten songs by a verse or a chorus in order to move the game along at a quicker pace. PDM uses the entirety of the original song. This is especially noticeable in the songs that return from those previous games. For example, “The World is Mine” has an extra verse and chorus this time around. While this is great news for those who didn’t like the shortened versions, it also means some of the songs can drag on past their welcome. However, the overall tone of the soundtrack is upbeat and energetic. There are fewer slow songs and definitely fewer darker songs. While that can make the game a bit monotone, it reflects the more cheerful look of the game. As for the rest of the aural experience, it can kind of get in the way. The drum crashes that accompany note presses, as well as the cheers of the characters as you reach milestones can be distracting or helpful depending on your taste. The good news is they can be lowered down or simply removed. This is the ideal.
If you play the button mode of gameplay, you’ll get a familiar, but different experience than past games in the franchise. How it works is a note track appears on the screen, with each upcoming button press appearing on that track. The circle on the track moves towards these notes, and you need to hit the corresponding button as they pass through that circle. Since each note is stuck on this track, you’ll always know what button to press next. To further aid you, a ring will appear each note as it moves. That ring will close in as song moves towards it. When it closes in all the way, that’s when you hit the button. Depending on how you time your press, you’ll get a word score of Miss, Worst, Bad, Safe, Fine, or Cool. Getting a Fine or better builds your combo, while Safe or lower will reset it. However, a Safe rating will not count against your life total, which the other two will do. There are also notes you need to hold, times when you’ll need to hit the directional buttons in addition to the face buttons, and SP notes. SP notes are worth bonus points if you can hit them, but only if you don’t drop your combo leading up to them. There are usually a couple dozen of them per song, and getting them will greatly increase your score.
There’s also the tap mode. Instead of pressing buttons, you’ll simply tap the appropriate color of the icon you need to hit as it passes by on the screen. There are a couple of major differences in how the game plays out if you use this mode. For starters, there are fewer different buttons to hit. For example, a song on easy button mode uses both the A and B buttons during play. If play on tap, you’ll only need to hit one red zone on the touch screen. This doesn’t necessarily make the game easier, because you still have to keep the stylus in the correct area. That can be difficult on higher levels, as there are more, smaller zones. Another change are the addition of slide icons. When these appear, you need to slide the stylus in the appropriate direction. Usually, several of these icons will appear in a row, requiring you to keep the stylus down and slide in multiple directions to score the most points.
The important thing to note is that, whichever style you choose, the controls work great and follow the beat perfectly. The note track typically follows the vocals, although it will change up when no one is singing. For people less rhythmically inclined, the easy and normal settings will prove great. However, those who prefer PDF’s challenging difficulty may find the game too easy. There are still some challenging songs, but not to the same degree. Part of this is because the game is much harder to fail. Your life drains slowly when you miss notes and refills quickly when you hit them. Also, as long as you make it to the end of a song, you pass. There’s no minimum score threshold to worry about. Instead, your performance is entirely about trying to maximize your score, earn an S+ ranking, or even manage to get a cool ranking on each note. The game keeps track of all of this, so completionists are going to have a field day.
To keep you playing, the game offers those difficulties and different modes of play. Just going through each song once on each difficulty for both tap and button modes will take you many hours to do. If you’re inclined to go for high scores and top ranks, that time can add up quickly. There are also stamps you can earn, which function like trophies. In order to one hundred percent this game, you’re going to need to put in some serious time.
With the meat of the game out of the way, it’s time to talk about the miscellaneous stuff that will get your attention. For starters, the costume customization is limited. There is a head piece and a body piece only. That means no accessories. Also, you can’t use any vocaloid on any song. If a song is Miku only, she is the only character you can use. However, several songs give you the option to switch characters. For those songs, it isn’t just about a visual change. For example, if you switch from Miku to Luka for a song, it will actually be Luka singing the track as well. While these songs are the exception rather than the rule, they are neat when they pop up.
One of the neater features of the game is the ability to use it like your own personal music player. You can set up playlists, pick a song, or put the thing on shuffle. If you plug in headphones, the music will still play even if you’ve closed the 3DS. That’s pretty sweet for those who want to just listen to the songs on the go.
There’s also the AR mode, which lets you use a card to have the vocaloids perform in the real world through the 3DS camera. You have to have a really well-lit environment for this to work. Since you can take a screenshot at any point during the game (another nifty feature), this mode has some added value.
As for fans of PDF, it’s really a toss up as to how they’ll feel about this game. The level of customization is drastically lower for this game, but the addition of an extra gameplay option can’t be denied. While the challenge might be lower than one would hope for, the extra features potentially make up for it. The bottom line is that fans of Miku should definitely grab this game, while those who only play for the gameplay itself should limit themselves to the demo if they’re unsure. On the whole though, this is a darn good game with plenty of value.
Short Attention Span Summary
Though perhaps a bit less initially impressive as it’s predecessors, Project Mirai DX is nonetheless a fantastic rhythm game will plenty of value. With two different gameplay types that offer different challenges, forty-eight full length songs to work through, and plenty of side activities, the game is the complete package. If you’re a fan of the series, you won’t want to miss this one. If you’re new to the franchise, this is probably the best time to jump in. Basically, Miku has performed the trifecta.