• DJ Max Portable - Clazziquai Edition Review Sony PSP

    For their follow up to DJ Max 2 Portable, the developer, Pentavision, decided to release not one, but two separate games Ė Clazziquai Edition and Black Square, both catering to different markets. Black Square is the title of choice for current DJ Max fans, complete as it is with new, even harder difficulty settings and rebalanced songs, while Clazziquai Edition is aimed at those new to the franchise, to try and broaden the fanbase of the niche series. To this end, the developers have tried to make the game easier for new initiates, while also incorporating a number of tracks by the Korean act from which the game takes its name.

    DJ Max plays out like your typical rhythm game, with the player selecting a song and then having to time scripted button presses to the beat of the music. It features a number of different difficulty levels determined by the number of buttons involved Ė the less buttons used, the simpler the pattern is to match. Control in DJ Max uses a combination of the d-pad and the face buttons equally, so, for example, in the 4-button setup the player will use the left, up, triangle and circle buttons. Traditionally, DJ Max has offered 4-, 5- and 6-button modes, with Clazziquai Edition adding the option of a far easier 2-button mode and a variant of 4-button mode, called 4BFX, which extends the normal four buttons with the use of the two shoulder buttons. The interface is made up of a vertically scrolling sheet broken up into columns that map to the respective buttons; the time and duration of button presses marked with filled-in rectangles. This is complemented by a music video, specific to the current song, playing in the background.

    The problem with the Clazziquai release is that the developers' havenít really gone far enough in opening up the franchise to new players. It feels like theyíve thrown in the 2-button mode, selected a few of the simpler songs for the game and released it without proper focus testing, and the 2-button mode is frankly far too easy. So what you have is a game where the less experienced players will breeze through the 2-button mode songs only to hit a brick wall after the first few 4-button tracks. With such significantly different patterns between the two setups, the 2-button mode does little to build the playerís skills or prepare them for whatís to come later in the game.
    The interface doesnít do much to help either. Most rhythm games have the good sense to map the on-screen instruction to the respective buttons in a very clear manner. Granted, excelling at these types of games requires a great deal of practice and memorisation, but during the earlier stages of learning a track the player needs clear on-screen cues to get their head around the patterns being rapidly thrown at them. DJ Max, however, has no clear markings besides column labels at the bottom of the screen. The blocks in the different columns are shaded slightly differently, but with such a limited palette that the left and right sides are coloured symmetrically. This means that the middle two rows look identical, which, with some of the very fast-paced rhythms you have to match, can get very confusing. Secondly, as the number of buttons increases, the playing field doesnít widen. Instead, the columns just become narrower and, when you consider that there are no vertical lines separating them, it can become a challenge in 6-button mode just to work out what is coming up in some of the more involved sequences. This really becomes apparent when the 4BFX mode is so much easier than the 6-button, purely because it overlays the shoulder buttons onto the normal 4-button layout rather than compressing everything down to make 6 columns.

    Another somewhat annoying aspect of the game is the poorly designed 5-button mode. This is supposed to be easier than the 6 button mode; however, itís harder thanks to a frankly blatant flaw Ė the patterns that appear are really 6-button patterns. For the 5th button the player can press either of the right or square buttons, depending on which is easiest for them at the time. However, patterns will pop up that require the player to press this '5th' button simultaneously with either the left or circle buttons. Given that itís physically impossible on the hardware to press both left and right on the d-pad at the same time and pressing both the circle or square buttons is awkward to say the least, you are left with effectively a 6-button mode using 5-button notation Ė making it much harder to read.

    The game does offer the ability to alter the speed of a song, a technique that should have been incredibly useful to learn new rhythms, gradually ramping the difficulty up as the playerís skill grows. However, again the interface frustrates, as when the game is slowed down the pattern sheet gets compressed vertically, which pushes the notes closer together and makes it harder to quickly read the key sequence. Which kind of defeats the point. There are a few other issues which grate far more, however, such as the analog nub usage. At various points during the song the player has as to switch from using the d-pad to twiddling the analog stick around. If the player is actually holding their PSP, rather than resting it on a table this can be a bit awkward, as it involves changing the way you support the console in your left hand. This is a mild annoyance most of the time, but there are a few songs that require incredibly fast transitions between the two that really donít seem possible unless the machine is resting on something. When designing a game for a portable system the developers really shouldnít be making assumptions about the environment you are playing in.

    The game features nearly 50 tracks, 8 of which come from Clazziquai themselves. Overall, itís a lacklustre selection; there are a couple of US-style hip-hop tracks that feature strong beats and rhythms which match this style of game well, but the vast majority are cheesy, bouncy pop that will set your teeth on edge Ė hardly representative of the modern-day dance-scene. Most of the music is plain and ignores even the most basic concepts of building the energy level up before a drop, instead sticking to verse and chorus style arrangements, occasionally jumping wildly to a bit of brass or piano that jarrs with the rest of the piece. The signature Oblivion track, which is so often used for players to show off their skills, is like a poor manís version of the classical remixes that were done so well in Boom Boom Rocket. The majority of the music videos are also complete dross, little anime segments featuring timid, wide-eyed girls finding someone to save them from the big, bad world which apparently terrifies them beyond belief. These may match the vocals but make no effort to match the beat. There are, of course, some exceptions, the previously mentioned hip-hop tracks feature some hand-drawn animations that do hit you in time with the tunes and titles like Colours and Play The Future make a decent effort, providing videos akin to what you might get from a decent music visualiser.

    The real key problem with this game is that the music and videos rarely ever make your heart race or get your blood pumping. You never feel in the moment, or part of the song, thereís always a distance there. The only thrills the game provides is in mastering the high difficulty level and in that regard Black Square offers a much better alternative, complete with the replacement of the rather redundant 2-button mode with an 8-button one (not to mention several fixes for bugs found in this version). Seasoned DJ Max fans will go straight for Black Square, while those new to the series will find that little has been done to really integrate them into the fan base and get them playing at the higher skill levels. The improvements that have been made to open the franchise up are poorly thought out, token gestures that fail to achieve their goal. It kind of renders Clazziquai Edition something of a redundant entry in the series, with little to offer people who arenít big fans of the named group.

    Pentavision Entertainment
    -A few decent songs.
    -Very stylish menus.
    -Full English support.
    -Fails to ingratiate newcomers.
    -Most videos lacking in style.
    -Predominantly horrendously cheesy, pop soundtrack.
    -Black Square more appropriate for series fans.

    Score: 4/10