Gameplay is fairly standard for rhythm action games – icons drop down from the top of the screen and once they line up with a bar at the bottom, buttons must be pressed correctly and in time to register successfully. Each note is awarded either a Great, Good or Bad rating depending on the accuracy of the timing and this affects the overall score at the end of the song. The 'Groove Gague' on screen fills as notes are successfully hit and must be filled to a certain level for the song to be passed. There are three modes available – five button, seven button and nine button. As expected, each one alters the number of buttons that have to be used throughout each song. Five button mode is a good starting place and easy to become accustomed to, with left and up on the D-pad and the Square, Triangle and Circle buttons being used. Moving up to seven and nine buttons is a quick step up in challenge and is where a specific peripheral designed with the game in mind is missed.
Whilst there are series such as Taiko no Tatsujin – another series with a specialist controller for arcade and console versions – which have made the transition to handheld systems and not be too greatly affected, Pop'n Music is a series where players will start to be affected by the cramped button layout on the PSP as they make the transition from five to seven or nine buttons. That's not to say that it's impossible to master the higher difficulty that comes with having more buttons to press, but outside of series and genre veterans, (and possibly those who have grown accustomed to 'the claw' grip after too much Monster Hunter) few will find anything but frustration in their attempts.
Of the two modes on offer, Freestyle is the one that most will jump into initially. This allows players to play through each of the available songs in the game, ordered by difficulty. Whilst things start off easily enough, even using five buttons, towards the end there is a definite increase in challenge. Adding more options for those who don't feel suitably equipped to deal with more buttons, there are some customisation elements available. After a song has been selected, there are anumber of challenges that the player can set themselves. These range from setting a minimum score target to limiting how many notes can be missed and so on. This goes some way to both providing a reason to replay songs and also extend the life of the game for anyone not brave or skilled enough to take on the seven or nine button modes.
Party mode is the other choice available and this takes the form of something of a basic RPG set in the Pop'n Music universe. Moving around a series of paths, players will encounter enemies who must be challenged (the battle taking the guise of, you guessed it, a song) in order for the selected character to level up and gain access to more of the map. Aditionally, both songs and items used to decorate the avatars room can be unlocked here. Reminiscent of the similar mode in recent portable Taiko no Tatsujin games, it may not be something that will attract those unfamiliar with the series to the game, but for anyone who has played through the songs in Freestyle mode, it offers a nice distraction and a way to increase longevity.
The bright, colourful boxart and graphical style evokes the feeling that the game is upbeat and aimed at a younger audience and this is reflected in the music selection. Energetic, cheerful songs are the order of the day for the most part and so anyone lacking an appreciation of the more hyperactive side of Japanese music may be put off here. Those who don't know the likes of Morning Musume or AKB48 will not be put off though, as it's hard not to play with a smile on your face. A feel-good, summer game if there ever was one. Even more reason to smile comes from the amount of songs - an initial selection of twenty six is almost trebled when unlocks are factored in. Downloadable content takes the total number even higher again, giving a nice selection of both new and older, classic tracks.
Pop' n Music is a series that is associated with a controller specifically designed for playing the games. As a result, those who have grown accustomed to playing the games using these controllers on their TV may find the idea of playing on a portable system something of a hurdle. Whilst it is true that using any more than the five button layout is a challenge and a steep learning curve, there is enough content here to satisfy anyone with an appreciation of rhythm action games. The PSP is no stranger to the rhythm genre, especially recently, and there are better choices available, but genre and series fans would be hard pressed to come away from Pop'n Music Portable 2 with anything other than a smile on their face and quite possibly the onset of arthritis.
- Great presentation.
- Five button layout provides a good starting point.
- Good amount of replay value.
- Frustration may result for those attempting the seven or nine button layout.
- Music won't be to everyone's taste.
- Series veterans may find the portable layout restrictive.