Tuesday, May 5, 2009

rhythm games are fun

Anyone who listens to music will usually find themselves keeping rhythm with at least some part of it. The advent of the rhythm game was inevitable. We've got so many now that some are kind of slipping under the radar.

Through a friend I found out about Osu! It's a PC clone of the DS game Elite Beat Agents, with Taiko Drum Master and its own Catch The Rhythm mode thrown in for good measure.

The first thing I noticed right off the bat is that it ties everything into its online ranking system. The game gives pretty much every complaint it possibly can if you start it in offline mode. It's like it's saying "but... but... you could be ranked against other players worldwide (who are better than you)!"

Well, an enormous barrier to the main gameplay is that I don't have a touchscreen. It sorely needs it. Even the so-called "easy" charts of some songs are incredibly difficult. This can be due to the lack of a touchscreen, or it layering one note over the next so you can't see how many of them there are in the stack, to combining layering things on top of other things with the slider notes that go all over the place, to having notes placed such that the lingering effects from hitting previous notes obscure them until the note is past its hit window. The chart design, however, is at fault there, and it's because it's community-driven instead of a professional job. One person's idea of what's easy can vastly differ from another person's.

Still, the gameplay is inherently frustrating with a mouse (or in my case, a trackball, which makes most mouse-driven games even worse).

The Taiko Drum Master and Catch The Rhythm modes are notably less frustrating, to the point where they're actually fun. Catch The Rhythm is by far the easiest of the gameplay modes available. Basically you're at the bottom of the screen with a plate, and fruit falls down from the top of the screen, timed to match the music in one way or another. You catch it.

The Taiko Drum Master mode is, well, Taiko Drum Master. If you're familiar with the game, you'll immediately be right at home. If not, read on. The controller for Taiko Drum Master is separated into four parts, two middle pads and two rim pads. You have drum sticks that you hit the drums with according to the notes on the screen. There are small notes that allow you to hit them with either of the pads for that note, large ones that require you to hit both of that note's pads, and rolls, which can be both small and large. I'm not sure if the spinners were in TDM or not, but you just flail on the controller to hit them when they come up.

Another easily noticable thing about this game is its graphics. Everything is a nice high resolution. There are some neat effects you can tweak in the options, and you can download skins that change gameplay graphics, though the individual song can override your skin. For example, Radio Song by Superbus, taken from Guitar Hero 3, has a health bar that looks like GH1/2/80s' SP gauge, and the notes look like the GH gems.

Back to this point: the content is entirely user-created. On their site, they have a rather large list of song packs, both themed and non-themed, as well as single tracks of music already charted and ready to go. All you have to do is download it and unzip/unrar it into the songs directory. They have a lot of packs, I've downloaded all the themed ones, giving me a collection of songs taken from other rhythm games, video game music, anime music, and various memetic songs (Never Gonna Give You Up, for example). Haven't gotten any single tracks yet but I just noticed they have Don't say "lazy", so I'll be downloading that before too long.

The content being user-created is a double-edged sword. On one side, since the game has a built-in editor and supports both MP3 and Ogg Vorbis audio, you can drop a song from your collection into it and make a chart. On the other side, when you get songs for it, sometimes you have to put up with other people's shitty charts, and you can't rate a chart if you can't finish it. A chart can also have a video defined to be shown in the background instead of just a static image, something most of the songs from the anime-themed song packs use.

Since it tries to force the whole internet connectivity thing down your throat, it comes as no surprise that it has multiplayer. Also built-in is a chat client that lets you talk to anyone else (with the chat window up) who's online. I haven't tried out the multiplayer yet, so I can't really comment on it. The usual expectation of online gameplay quality depending on your latency to the person you're playing with is no doubt a factor, though.

I probably don't need to re-hash this point, but I will anyway: To get any value out of the game's core gameplay (the clone of Elite Beat Agents), you really really need a touchscreen. Whether you have a tablet PC or just a graphics tablet, it doesn't matter. You will be able to be so much better at the game if you have the proper control method for it.

The last thing that needs mentioning is the updater. It's got a separate program that lets you easily download game updates and skins (but sadly, not song packs). It works fairly well, but I ran into a slight issue downloading skins: they're in a list with checkboxes beside them, but it will download a skin (or queue it to be downloaded) as soon as you check it. It's very possible to accidentally get more than one skin from a single click. I solved the issue by downloading all the skins, even though I've settled on the Lucky Star skin.

To summarize:
Elite Beat Agents clone: It's a neat system but sorely needs a touchscreen
Taiko Drum Master clone: It's pretty fun, and challenging too
Catch The Rhythm: It's fairly easy, but on the harder songs still has the potential to be challenging.
Graphics: customizable, high resolution, neat effects, overall very polished
Gameplay: begs for proper controllers/input devices for two of its three modes

The verdict: If you want something a little different from a rhythm game, check it out. If you like it, you're probably going to be better off getting a copy of Elite Beat Agents for the DS or Taiko Drum Master for whichever one of the systems you can find it on.

Edit: even the easiest chart on Don't say "lazy" is difficult as all hell. I know the song's 181BPM, but still... make a damn easy chart plz
Double edit: Their chart mods are morons and forced them to capitalize the title (making it Don't Say "Lazy" even though the correct song title is in fact Don't say "lazy"), so I had to remove the chart, edit it, and re-add it with correct capitalization. My playthroughs will no longer be ranked, but a) it's too fucking difficult, and b) boo fucking hoo.
Triple edit: I guess I'll just have to make a sane chart.
Quadruple edit: the charts they had were of the tv size version anyway.

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