Finger me until I’m all smudged and need to be wiped clean (if my hand hasn’t cramped first!)
One of the best things about the PlayStation Vita has to be the fact that it is region free. No longer do you have to wait for games to be released in Europe if you don’t want to, or if a game isn’t going to be released in your country you can still grab a copy by just a few clicks online. A lot of games that are made in the East are never released in the West, and while DJMAX Technika Tune has since been released in America, it has been on a small scale and it’s unlikely Technika Tune will ever make it to European shores. This review is from the Korean version of the game, as I was too impatient and excited to wait for the American release, and being a huge fan of music games I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy (thanks to my husband for the early Christmas present!). If you don’t know Korean then don’t panic, as neither do I, and the game allows you to choose Korean or English when you first boot up. The fact that the whole game is in English as well as Korean is fantastic, though the American version is now also being retailed so it’s personal preference which version you opt for.
Technika Tune is actually the newest version of the DJMAX series which enjoyed three separate games on the PSP. On the PSP the game involves pressing the buttons and triggers of the PSP in time to music, however in this new era of touchscreen gaming, Technika Tune does things quite a bit differently.
Technika Tune is actually based on the DJMAX Technika arcade units. Sporting a 22 inch screen, these rare machines involve touching circles on the screen as a bar passes through them with the correct timing. This game had five lanes of notes on screen, but as the Vita has a screen less than a quarter of the size, Neowiz have completely redeveloped the game from the ground up to incorporate the Vita’s smaller size. What we have here is a music game that actually has more in common with tap tap revenge and Cytus (a criminally overlooked music game for iOS and android) than the original DJMAX series. The screen is split into two sections, one for the top half and the other for the bottom half of the screen. A line travels across the top of the screen from left to right in time with the music, and continues on the bottom from right to left, before returning to the top (though the direction can be changed if you decide to). In this respect the game matches the arcade version, but it’s the completely reworked note patterns that make this version unique. Patterns have been reduced to three lanes, with the rear touch pad coming into play as players get used to the game’s mechanics. There are several different types of notes that appear on screen to mix things up. The standard note is the most prevalent, but there are also extended notes where you must follow and hold your finger on the screen, drag notes where you follow a line with several individual notes spaced throughout, and repeater notes where you tap the same note several times, indicated by marks on a horizontal line (long repeater notes are the same but with a hold note at the end). There are also hold notes (self explanatory) and rear touch panel notes, which include hold notes, repeater notes (lines with bubbles that you tap with your finger), and long repeater notes (tap then hold notes). If all of this sounds a little complicated, it really is MUCH easier to watch and play than explain! There is a tutorial that loads up the first time you start and it does a brilliant job of explaining the different types of notes you must perform, plus YouTube has several videos that show how it’s done.
From the title screen you are greeted with four options. The first is options (doesn’t really need any explaining but allows you to change the difficulty and turn off the rear touch notes so they display as front screen notes if you choose to among other things), arcade which I will dissect shortly, collection which allows you to see pictures and videos you have unlocked and album which lets you listen to the songs like you would an mp3 player, or the music videos as well if you choose to. Arcade mode gives you three separate ways to play, and a freeplay mode that allows you to select any song and note chart you have completed if you want to hone your skills on previously unlocked songs.
There are three main areas you will be spending your time on in Technika Tune; Star Mixing, Pop Mixing and Club Mixing. Although each mode involves completing the note charts, the difficulty varies depending on the mode you choose. Pretty much everyone (except for the hyperactive, crazily talented Korean music game gurus) will find they spend their first few hours in the easier, Star Mixing mode. It only incorporates the front touch screen notes, and starts off with some relatively easy note patterns that anyone with a bit of rhythm shouldn’t have much of a problem getting accustomed to. The songs get progressively more difficult as you unlock more, and this mode entails selecting three songs, one after the other of increasing difficulty. As you get used to the gameplay you can push yourself further and further until you’re tapping the screen like a good ‘un.
Pop Mixing is where the game really starts to heat up. The game difficulty starts to increase here as the rear touch notes are introduced. At first you will fail songs, and fail again and again until you get used to the “rub your tummy, pat your head” gameplay that is introduced. It takes some getting used to, but when you start mixing rear touch taps and front screen taps AND pull it off and get some combos going, there is simply no other satisfaction like it (except maybe sex or crisps). And here lies my only criticism – hand cramp. And don’t think I have weak hands because I play guitar and walk two very strong dogs. It took me about half an hour to finally settle on a comfortable way to hold the Vita which allowed me the freedom to give my full concentration to the game. So here’s my method (and a tip which will hopefully save you some time, should you purchase the game). I hold the Vita with my thumb and index finger over the top, my ring finger and little finger at the bottom and my middle finger on the touch pad until I need to perform tap or hold notes. Even using this method my hand still starts to hurt after a while and as I was so hooked on the game when I first got it (I think I clocked up about 8 hours around part time work in the first two days) I had to stop playing for a couple of days because it hurt to hold the Vita. You will get used to it if you persevere and I can’t think of a way Neowiz could have done things differently, but it’s worth noting. Those with bigger stronger hands will have less of a problem holding the Vita this way, but may have more of a problem with the small note charts. The Pop Mixing mode continues in a similar vein to Star Mixing, incorporating three songs a time, with a final ranking at the end.
Finally we have Club Mixing mode, and it will be some time before you are brave (and skilled) enough to venture into this one. The hardest note charts in the game are found here, and you will need to be extremely fast and talented in order to keep up. This mode comprises of four songs, the first three of which are selected by the player from a preset list determined by the genre that has been chosen, and the final (boss) song is chosen by the game based on your performance. This is one of the hardest, brutal and frustrating game modes I’ve ever played in a music game, but in a good way!
Neowiz have included over sixty songs in the game, plus heaps and heaps of unlockable content such as a massive image gallery and modifiers to assist you along the way. This works much like an RPG, experience points based model, as you start at DJ level 1 and each song brings experience points towards leveling up, dictated by your performance and chosen difficulty level. As you level up you gain DJ icons and new note designs that do everything from allowing break points (you don’t lose your combo if you miss a note), increased recovery (notes are worth more energy) and increased experience boosters. This is a brilliant feature that gives a real sense of progression, as the game can be unforgiving in its later stages. If you miss too many notes your energy level will decrease and it’s game over. These DJ icons and note designs help keep things fresh as you increase your DJ level and unlock more songs and content. In a way this is a high score chasing game at heart, as high combos reap greater experience and power up a “fever” meter in the top right hand corner. Once you have filled the fever meter you press the on screen button (much like Guitar Hero’s star power) and are granted extra points while in fever. Every note you hit while in fever gives a greater points boost and perfect timing, regardless of whether it was or not but you can still miss notes. A handy leader board on the song select screen also checks your ranking globally and tells you each time you complete each mode whether you have increased or decreased by ranking. Although you don’t know specifically who you are playing against it feels immensely satisfying when you ace a song and jump up the rankings several hundred places.
The game looks absolutely stunning on the Vita’s OLED screen. Neowiz have opted for white, minimalist backgrounds with a whole spectrum of bright colours on the menus. It all looks exceptionally sleek and modern, and music videos play in the background during gameplay with the note charts on top. It’s quite good being able to tap to the music and watch the video at the same time in the background, but a couple of the videos are so bright and colourful I occasionally lost the note charts in the music video, although this doesn’t happen very often. The soundtrack, obviously the most important aspect of this game, is absolutely stellar. I cannot express how brilliant the soundtrack really is, and this is again a testament to the care and attention that Neowiz have given to the title. Technika Tune has a very varied soundtrack but techno and K-pop appear more than most. Pop group KARA are immensely possible in Korea, and it’s not difficult to see why here. Within minutes I found my head bobbing from side to side, quietly humming to the stupidly catchy tunes that feature. If you can imagine a Korean Girls Aloud, they are it. Out of all of the 60+ songs in the game, I liked or loved every single one of them. If you like rock or jazz exclusively you may not be as keen, but Neowiz have done a great job of attempting to cater for all tastes while keeping the music as catchy and accessible as possible.
If you’re still with me well done. This is a big review but this truly is an absolutely massive game with hundreds upon hundreds of hours of gameplay. If you have even a passing liking of music games I urge you to spend the cash and import a copy. I have not regretted plowing hours into this game and I know I will spend many, many more before I ever get bored of it, if that’s even possible. You may not be able to access the downloadable content unless you have two memory cards and two accounts (and a great deal of patience) but it really doesn’t matter, because there is enough content here to keep you busy for months on end. This is by and large the most complete music game package on the market today, and I’m praying it gets a sequel or five!