Beatmania is one of Konami's most successful arcade machines in a long time, and can be credited with bringing music-themed games into arcades around the world. It's popularity in Japan was strong enough to cause Konami to release an entire series of music games, known as the "Bemani" line - which include Dance Dance Revolution, Drummania, Guitar Freaks, and Keyboard Mania.
Introduced into arcades in Japan at the end of 1997, Beatmania presented an entirely new challenge to gamers. Instead of the arcade staples of shooting games, racing, games, fighting games, and the occasional gimmick game, it put the player in the position of being a DJ, right from the first look. The controls on the front of the machine consisted of a special turntable controller, and a set of 5 keys - 3 white, in the front, and 2 black, offset from the white, further back. They're reminiscent of a piano keyboard.
The gameplay is rather straight-forward. When you play, you select a song, and then the game screen comes up. There are 6 vertical columns down the side of the screen, each column representing a key - or the turntable. Colored bars ("notes") would start descending each column, and when the bar reached a line at the bottom of the column, the player merely had to depress the appropriate key (or "scratch" the turntable for the sixth column). When the key was depressed, a music sample would be played, and the timing of the keypress was graded on screen - with a "Great!", "Good", "Poor", or a "Miss", with the grade determined by how close it was to being exactly at the bottom of the column. The playing of the samples kept the player from just feeling like they were "pressing buttons" - if your timing was off, the sample would play at the incorrect time, and the song would sound poor, giving additional feedback.
At the end of a song, a player would either be either given a "pass" or "fail". Which one was determined by the number of notes played correctly during a song - too many poors or misses, and the song was considered failed, and your game ends. Pass, and you can play again (until you hit the maximum number of songs per game). You also get a score, determined by how well you played the notes, along with a clear total of how you were graded - the number of "Great!", "Good", etc.
It was an instant hit in Japan. It wasn't long before there were machines across the county, and they were busy. Players had found that the "DJ simulation" game was quite enjoyable, and Konami quickly realized that they needed to keeping going with this. It wasn't long before soundtracks for the games started being released, as fans liked the music of Konami's resident musicians, and sequels with more/different music started appearing rather quickly.
The game was also soon released for the Playstation, along with a special controller that duplicated the 5 buttons and turntable of the arcade machine, and sales were huge. Huge enough that they surpassed Konami's other big game of the time, Metal Gear Solid. It eventually made it onto the Game Boy Color, and the craze was so big that there are even a few LCD versions of the game.
Since Beatmania's first introduction, an enormous number of different "mixes" have been released - with each mix including new music, increasing the amount of music per machine (the original had only 8 songs - newer versions have nearly 100), and often improved graphics and new features - and a few oddities, such as "Beatmania Club Mix", which was designed to be linked up with Dance Dance Revolution Club Mix - allowing the players to dance to the song as it is played by the Beatmania player - mistakes and all. It has also been reinvented twice. The first is Beatmanix IIDX, which added two additional keys, and placed a subwoofer inside a platform on the front of the machine where players stood - so you no longer just hear the beat, but feel it. It's also very noticable because the machine does not use a standard CRT monitor, but a large, widescreen HDTV one. The second is Beatmania III, which sticks to the 5-key design, but adds in a foot pedal.
With the combination of Beatmania, Beatmania IIDX, Beatmania III, and the various naming methods, it can leave someone very confused about which games came before others - especially since each series has overlapped the others. The pure number of releases can also overwhelm players - all in all, there have been 46 releases of varying versions of Beatmania - all in about 5 years time. This is a hefty number of releases, even ignoring the fact that at the same time, Konami was releasing multiple mixes and versions of other Bemani series, including nearly 40 versions of Dance Dance Revolution, along with making huge console games such as Metal Gear Solid 2 - it's amazing they could find the time for all of that.
The original Beatmania series since has been ended, with the release of "BeatMania: The Final". The same is happening to BeatMania III, with "BeatMania III: The Final" on its way, leaving only the BeatMania IIDX series to continue.
Konami of America briefly attempted to present the game in the United States, where it went by the name "HipHopMania". However, it did not do well, but whether that was due to poor marketing on Konami's part, or that arcades had already been importing better Japanese versions of the game is unclear. What is known is that Konami of America stopped attempting to create a US version, as they did with Dance Dance Revolution, and "gray market" Japanese versions are pretty much the only ones found.
This has not prevented the BeatMania series from gaining a cult following in the United States. It may not be as popular in the country as Dance Dance Revolution, but in places where it can be found, the machine does not sit unused for long. Its poor availability may be the only thing preventing the game from increasing in popularity - there are already significant numbers of people who purchase either imported Playstations/PS2s, or chipped/modded versions of American consoles so as to play imported console versions of the game. There are also currently some freeware PC clones of BeatMania programmed in Asia, and one of the more popular PC clones of DDR, Stepmania, plans to eventually include BeatMania support.
Complete Arcade Machine List
Playstation 2 Releases
Game Boy Color Releases
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