Friday, November 22, 2013

Megpoid the Music# (PSP) - Review

The Hipster's Alternative for Japanese Rhythm Games
A pet-peeve of mine is when I come across a review that compares one game to another. Oftentimes games are compared to another solely because they share the same genre, and no matter their individual styles and offerings being different the review ultimately depends upon drawing a better/worse-than conclusion. It's unfair, if not offensive, to the game being reviewed---
Unfortunately, there is absolutely no way I can avoid doing just that with Megpoid the Music# (Megpoid), the first game from studio ParaPhray, and Sega's Project Diva series. There is no other way to look at Megpoid other than it being a clone of the Project Diva games, as just about everything in Megpoid is unashamedly modeled to an exact after the content found in Diva titles. From the visual focus on an Idol performing, through that of the in-game shop and it's various offerings, all the way through having a "Room" where the player can interact with the game character on a more social scale, there is nothing that separates Megpoid from Project Diva outside of variously small differences.
The summary of those small differences though is that everything that separates Megpoid from Diva is ultimately for the worse.
Bite-Sized, from Platform through Content
Megpoid has a sizable music selection; boasting 30 songs, the expectation would be that Megpoid delivers in form of content. But it's a trick; of those songs, there are few any longer than a minute, and even then just barely. And while I'm not familiar with these songs and did not research all of them, the few I did all turned out to be longer, fully-fleshed songs.
Megpoid's soundtrack is a sampler, and while what is applicable in-game is mostly fast-paced, exciting and enjoyable pop-music, it is ultimately shallow, lacking the impact of music as an expression because what is offered is only a blatant commercial slice from the most thrilling moment in a song. It's sort-of like a kid being told he's off to the toy store, but then arriving after the store has already closed; the emotion and vision were there for a moment, but in the end there's only a cold, shallow hollowness.
Outside of the music there is, as mentioned above, other staples from the Project Diva games. Outside of the room where you can interact with Gumi (the main character), there's also a shop where you can buy costumes and ornaments/toys for the room as well as a ranking system to keep you coming back (another painfully obvious rip, using English words like "Excellent" and "Wonderful"). Unique to Megpoid is that it supports up to four-players at the same time, but exactly how this plays out or whether or not it accentuates the experience is outside of my knowledge (New Jersey is not a prime location for finding Megpoid players).
Mostly, Megpoid is strictly a rhythm game, one that wants the player to boogie with its fast-paced selection and chow down incrementally with what is offered. This is fine, except Megpoid's uninspired gameplay design provides little more than bore and even hurt.
Right-to-Left, and Again and Again and Again
Megpoid separates itself from Diva in gameplay design, but it's certainly inefficient in comparison. In Megpoid beats scroll from right to left, and oblige a neat little four-stack attributable to the D-Pad/Face-Buttons. On the two basic difficulties the gameplay works well enough, as there are only two variables and you can manage to peek ahead to see what beats are coming without messing up. But once you tackle a higher difficulty it's here that Megpoid reminds why the right-to-left set-up has only worked once.
There are two other Japanese PSP rhythm games that utilize the right-to-left; the Taiko no Tatsujin series, and a licensed anime game called K-On! Houkago Live!!, the former representing it done right and the latter wrong. In Taiko, there is only one bar, and everything inside of that bar is very large, crisp, colorful, and clear; your eyes can notice what they need to without straining, and as the series is still active to this day it's clearly a proven formula. But in K-On!, as well as in Megpoid, the fact that the games try to stack upwards of four variables inside of the tiny PSP screen just doesn't work. The beats become too small, and scanning from right to left on the more intense difficulties proves to be downright painful on the eyes. Even with Megpoid using the entire screen (in K-On! only the bottom was used) there is still too much obscurity in the notes, and attaching a need to squint alongside racing your eyes from right-to-left again and again there really doesn't take long before a genuine need to shut the game off becomes apparent.
Another issue with the right-to-left is that it absolutely gets in the way of the background videos, although in Megpoid you're not missing much anyway. Instead of the videos telling a story or expressing something unique, in Megpoid there is solely Gumi dancing away. Not only are dance-moves frequently reused, but so also are the stages, and it doesn't help that the game is under-par graphically as well.
Boogie on Out of Here
As an entry title from studio ParaPhray, Megpoid isn't that awful of a game, and truthfully if this released around the time of the first Project Diva back in '09 it very well may have been more warmly received. But as it is, Megpoid is clearly a poser of the well beloved Diva games, and like anything too attached to its inspiration it ultimately fails to achieve alike its source, instead slipping as it chases and dirtying itself  before getting where it needs to. Having limited content would have been excusable if the music had been more than a sampler, and for a game so chameleonic why Megpoid uses a gameplay-design that has already shown itself not to work, and not instead use the same one as found in its clear-cut idol is simply beyond me. Megpoid wants to be Project Diva, but everywhere it divides itself there appears empty, dull game design. In the end, you can't help but think that not only is Megpoid a bad videogame, but a completely unnecessary one as well.

Language Barrier
Megpoid is 90% playable without knowing any Japanese. Alike Project Diva, the only place that someone may face trouble is in the room and shop segment. For the room grasping the tools and interaction requires only some brief trial-and-error, and for the shop one can look at their blind purchases of Room items as exploratory rather than frustrating.
But other than those two trivial segments, actually playing Megpoid is a 1-2-3 affair, and requires zero language skill to perform. 

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