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  • Kaleb A. Brown

Arcade Arena BONUS ROUND - Rhythm Games

Dance Dance Revolution Cabinet
Ah, DDR, my rhythm game true love.

In Arcade Arena’s Bonus Rounds, I’ll shine a spotlight on a particular cabinet or type of game. Since I was pleasantly surprised by their presence at The Arcade, we’ll be focusing on rhythm games for the first Bonus Round.

To start off, I’d like to touch upon one of the most vital aspects of the genre — the song selection.

Rhythm games are, well, rhythmic —- ideally, you’ll have as much fun listening to a rhythm game as you will playing it. There’s nothing quite as disappointing as a too quiet rhythm game cabinet (the quietest rhythm game at The Arcade, Synchronica, perpetually drowned out by the taiko cabinet right next to it, comes with a headphone jack). Inversely, there’s nothing quite as wonderful as jamming to a song you love, knowing it so well that you can get a high ranking.

But that’s the kicker — knowing.

A Synchronica cabinet
With its sleek design, simple UI, and focus on touch screen, I'm sure you could market Synchronica as the "rhythm game of the future."

While I have countless songs on my computer’s Stepmania game, I only play a fraction of those. I only intermittently play Project Diva Future Tone and in the years I’ve had it, I’ve only played a woefully short list of songs in its massive catalog. The reason why is because I tend to stick to songs I know. It’s not enough to just be able to visually see when you’re supposed to hit the notes, but hear where. You have to groove with the song to play it well.

It’s for this reason that I gravitate towards Dance Dance Revolution Extreme cabinets (though I also play the Fifth Mix cabinet at Pinball Pete’s) cabinets and even then, I rotate between a few tried and true 🅱️ops.

When I saw that The Arcade only had the more recent Dance Dance Revolution A cabinet, I begrudgingly gave it a try, sure that it wouldn’t have the classics I knew and loved. As far as I could tell, it didn’t, but I was pleasantly surprised to see new songs that I recognized.

A results screen from Dance Dance Revolution of Hatsune Miku's Hello Planet
Hatsune Miku's Hello Planet on Dance Dance Revolution A

When I first got into Stepmania, I downloaded random tracklists, some of which included Vocaloid and Touhou songs. I never expected them to be in actual DDR games, yet there they were — several Hatsune Miku songs and Cirno’s Perfect Math Class. I was hit with a wave of nostalgia.

In fact, there were similar tracklists on all the games I played and I found that really cool. It made it so I could easily jump into games I never played before since I still got a sense of familiarity. When my friend joined me in playing maimai FINALE, he was able to spot Attack on Titan’s first OP and he was suckered into playing one more round when he found out it had the memetic “Caramel Dansen.”

A cabinet of maimai FINALE
While maimai FINALE may look intimidating (Rebekah Valentine of IGN likened its appearance to that of a washing machine), it's nowhere as difficult as it looks and can be pretty fun once you get past the HORRIBLE sensation of having to drag your finger across the screen

While it relies on you being into the animesphere, I do really appreciate how interconnected and familiar some modern rhythm game tracklists feel.

I’d like to close this by giving a shout-out to Taiko no Tatsujin, a rhythm game in which you use sticks to play a taiko drum, alternating between hitting the center or rims with one or both sticks. It already gets points for being intuitive — unlike Synchronica and maimai FINALE, you don’t need a tutorial to figure out how to play.

Taiko no Tatsujin cabinet
A Taiko no Tatsujin cabinet

As I said in my review of The Arcade, I waited for this guy to finish playing the game for a while. He eventually offered for me to play and I ended up playing with him instead of alone. I’m not someone who enjoys playing arcade games with strangers, as I get very self-conscious about my lack of skill. I was dreading being shown up by this guy, but to my surprise, this wasn’t a problem.

Characters from the Taiko no Tatsujin game
You'll find the eponymous Tatsujin either adorable or terrifying. Or both. Both is good.

You see, Taiko no Tatsujin doesn’t feature a versus mode. You don’t compete to earn more points than each other, instead, you work towards a shared percentage score. The game even obscures the difference in difficulty between players — the two players will often switch off and play different parts, mitigating feelings of embarrassment over the sight of the one player having more notes than the other. I think this emulates the collaborative nature of real taiko and does a good job of breeding a more friendly arcade environment. It’s such a small thing, but it went a long way in ensuring that I kept having a good time at The Arcade.

If you don’t have an arcade with Taiko any Tatsujin near you, you can play it at home with a Nintendo Switch, with the joycons doing a decent job of emulating playing the drums.

Well, that’s it for the bonus round, folks!

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