This year's E3 provided a treasure trove of goodies in two forms. One was secret surprises such as Nintendo's announcement of Super Smash Bros. with playable characters Kid Icarus and Solid Snake, as well as Activision's decision to purchase Red Octane. Others were not so surprising, including Microsoft's Halo 3 teaser and the Guitar Hero 2 premiere. However, one topic in particular falls right in between both, something surprising to those who were unaware of its existence, and a downright gift from God for those who have been waiting countless years for it to happen. What I am speaking of is Konami's decision to finally embrace the music game market in America.
This surprised many because Konami's music game company BEMANI has existed for well over six years now with only a few American arcade releases. Since then there have only been several American console releases, mostly for Dance Dance Revolution, and only last month was Beatmania finally released. Most of the American products have fallen far short of music game player's expectations, (cite DDR USA Mix, Guitarfreaks USA Mix, and American Beatmania). The surprise of course? Konami dedicating almost half their entire E3 area strictly to music games. The area consisted of two DDR Suprenova Machines, the first DDR Arcade machine created in the last 6. A karaoke booth chamber showing off Konami's new 'Karaoke Revolution: Country Music' version. Two separate areas to display the new DDR Universe coming out for XBOX 360 this year, and one of the biggest surprises, the first IIDX Distorted machine in the United States as well as a Guitar Freaks V2 machine. It seems that Konami has finally embraced the idea of bringing their music game market to the United States, but is it too late?
The extreme success of Red Octane's 'Guitar Hero' must have turned up the heat on Konami in deciding on whether or not to continue with the music game genre in America. Despite the fact that Konami's 'Guitar Freaks' series came out 5 years before 'Guitar Hero' was ever even conceived, there were plenty of people I overhead at the expo commenting on how the Guitar Freaks V2 machine was a copy of the smash hit 'Guitar Hero.' What noobs. But it seems like Konami learned there lesson because since last year's no name RedOctane debuted 'Guitar Hero' they have since become a competing entity in the music game series since taking the rights to the dancing game 'In the Groove' and being purchased by Activision. Whether or not Activision is going to put up with the trouble to continue the lawsuit between 'In the Groove' creator Roxor and Konami is undecided. Based on quotes from Activision corporate It seems they only purchased RedOctane because of the success that Guitar Hero has acquired.
Many local DDR players snuck themselves into E3 in order to play the newly released and finalized version of DDR Supernova. The last time most of them saw it was two months ago when it was released at the first beta test site in Irvine, California. This time they were able to try out the new nonstop and challenge courses, adding a much greater level of difficulty to what they experienced before.
Some of the new courses include Sparkle Course (Rainbow Rainbow, Quikmaster, Stargate Heaven, Innocence of Silence and Seduction (Vocal Remix), All Heavy), Supernova Course(Dance Dance Revolution, Toxic, Wookie Wookie, Honey Punch, Love at First Sight, and Flowers, All Heavy), Love New Revenge, Boogie Down, New World Tour, and DJ Taka Collection and the new Boss Rush Episode Challenge courses which appear to be the most difficult of all the new courses along with the Max Course containing all of the Max songs. There were new challenge steps for Xepher, Chaos, Fascination Maxx, and MAX 300 (Super-Max-Me Mix).
There is also a new battle mode which allows two players to 'battle' against each other. As the song progresses and players begin missing notes the modifications on the song change between flat, low speed, and high speed during the song causing great difficulty in continuing to do well on the song. The player with the best score is left as the winner.
It has yet to be verified but many players feel that the difficulty has been heightened. There is some talk about the great windows being opened, making it harder to get perfects with your steps and easier to get greats, therefore making it hard to score well on the song and achieve an 'AAA' perfect score. Many of the players have been unhappy with how easy DDR is in comparison to the new 'In the Groove' songs and steps, although Konami didn't heighten the difficulty of the songs to the level of 'In the Groove' perhaps making the timing windows smaller is all that it's going to take to give players the difficulty they are asking for. Instead of stamina, it may now be rhythm and ability to listen carefully to the music and score well.
Another huge hit was the Karaoke revolution booth that featured 'Karaoke Revolution: Country Mix', which might I add, was the only air conditioned area in the entire LA Convention center, a brilliant marketing ploy in itself. The booth had two cushioned benches on both sides of the booth and a screen with two microphones and a PS2 controller that allowed the visitors to pick and choose which country classics they wanted to sing along to. I couldn't help myself and although I am certainly not a country man myself, couldn't resist singing along with Leanne Rimes 'How Can I Live' and recently a new favorite song of mine 'Independence Day' by Martina McBride. In case you are unfamiliar with the game play of Karaoke Revolution, I will explain. You are given a microphone and choose a song. In classic karaoke style the lyrics come across the screen accompanied by the song and the actual singer singing them. However, the added bonus is small bars appear next to a 'pitch meter' as you sing an arrow on the meter indicates where your current pitch. In order to score points you must match the pitch of the singer in the song and as long as you don't screw up the pitch and continue the correct pitch you score bonus points based on your singing ability. You can sing along by yourself or compete against a rival, but by the third day the second microphone had broken, so I had to share the mic with a young graphics designer from a newspaper in San Luis Obispo. We had a blast singing with one another, and although I had only seen the game once before, it certainly was made apparent that the game is perfect for either small get togethers or big parties. All you need is a PS2 and the game, and you don't have to pay hundreds for an actual karaoke machine.
Whatever your opinion of Konami's set up was, (I was positively saturated with happiness) it is proven that Konami can no longer deny the popularity that the music game genre has achieved in the United States. With upcoming competition from RedOctane's 'Guitar Hero' and 'In the Groove' and Andamiro's 'Pump it Up', perhaps finally Konami is going to defend the position of their Bemani series and try and corner the American game market belting under the weight of the new music game genre. Whether or not they will succeed is still debatable. Bemani players in America might feel that Konami has snubbed them for too long and it may be too late. Or they may be overcome with happiness that the corporate suits at Konami have finally decided to acknowledge them. All we can do is wait to see how they will continue marketing their games in America and whether or not they will able to continue the power of music games on the American market.