DJ Max Portable
Best game on the PSP? Strong words. Then again, the game IS pretty sweet...
I'm going to put it down, right at the top of this review: DJ Max Portable is the best game available on the PSP. Not just "the best PSP rhythm game" or "best PSP game of 2006." It's the best PSP game, period. My copy arrived from FedEx on a Saturday morning and by the end of the day my PSP's battery was completely drained. I ended up playing it essentially all day, and have pulled many marathon sessions since. It's only available as an import for now, but if you've never imported before, this is a great place to start.
There is one more thing I want to get out of the way before diving into the meat of this review. It isn't strictly true that DJ Max Portable should be imported by anyone and everyone. The game is really, really hard. Historically I haven't been a massive fan of the rhythm genre but I own a handful of rhythm games and got pretty decent at them, but it still took me a while to be able to clear anything other than the easiest songs on the easy difficulty in DJ Max Portable. If you're new to the genre, start elsewhere. For all other PSP owners, DJ Max Portable needs to be in your collection.
The game plays out very similarly to Konami's Beatmania franchise, but previous Beatmania experience is far from necessary - I didn't have any. Basically, notes scroll from top to bottom and correspond with keys on the PSP. On easy there are just four notes to worry about - left and up with your left thumb, and triangle and circle with the right. Six key mode throws in right on the left side and square on the right. Eight key is the hardest and adds L and R into the mix.
What sets DJ Max Portable apart from most other rhythm games I'm familiar with, which include Donkey Konga, Guitar Hero, and Ouendan, is the sheer number of notes that get tossed at you, even early on. I haven't actually counted but I know the easiest songs have to have close to 150, and the harder four-button songs (which is still the easiest difficulty, keep in mind) can have over 800. It makes the learning curve steep, but it also makes the game incredibly addictive.
The game has a huge number of things that make it a must-own - more than I could run down in the space of this review. I want to highlight its two most impressive qualities, however. The first is the sheer amount of gameplay crammed onto the UMD disk. I currently have 45 songs available, and there are apparently 53 in the game, total. Each one has at least three key sets available (four, six, and eight key), but within each key set many songs have multiple difficulties. So a song might have an easy and a hard four-key, as well as easy and hard six or eight key versions (or any combination thereof). There's over 200 different key arrangements in the game total, across the three main difficulties.
The second amazing thing about the game is its production value. Every single key arrangement has its own unique video to accompany it. Not one video for each song. One video for every difficulty of each song, meaning over 200 total. Like the tracklist itself the visual style of each video varies greatly, with techno tracks accompanied by scenes of deep space or abstract imagry, and R&B tracks accompanied with more traditional animation.
The tracklist is eclectic, featuring a wide range of music from hard rock to techno house to hip-hop and R&B. There's one song that the game identifies as a member of the "happy core" genre. Despite this wide range of styles, a good two thirds of the game's tracks seem to exist harmoniously with one another on the UMD. Most of them, regardless of genre, are extremely infectious and generally upbeat. It's the music that keeps me coming back.
I don't think I've ever imported a game that was as friendly to English readers, either. Despite being a Korean title, all tracklistings are in English, as are the majority of the game's menus. Hell, even about half of the songs are in English. Since all PSPs are region-free, that's another potential headache to not worry about.
As EIC of Modojo many, many PSP games have come across my desk, and DJ Max Portable has been the best. It's the one that's always in my PSP, when I'm not playing something to review. I've loaded up the game three times to check something when writing this review, and have ended up getting sucked into playing at least four or five songs before being able to put it back down. The tracklist is excellent, it's very import friendly, and the gameplay and production value surpasses that of its peers. Buy it.
What's Hot: Pretty much everything. A ton of songs. A ton of options. A great tracklist. Slick interface.
What's Not: Just buy this game.