when whac-a-mole goes digital

i’ve found that the easiest way to explain Pop’n Music to someone who doesn’t know anything about it is to say, “it’s basically a much more complicated version of Whac-a-Mole.” and on the surface, this seems a decent analogy because you have to hit the nine buttons at a particular time, and the configuration of the buttons is reminiscent of what you see in Whac-a-Mole. Where the analogy falls apart is in how you know when to hit the moles or buttons – in Whac-a-mole, you get a visual “cue” directly on the spot where you have to hit. In Pop’n, you’re given a screen cue based on column notation that essentially mirrors what all music video games currently do.

Enter Jubeat – the true digital version of whac-a-mole, where you’re given a 4×4 playfield of “tv screen buttons” that you hit as the individual buttons lights up. Shrouded in mystery when first announced in December of 2007, this
newest addition to Konami’s series of bemani games created a buzz in the music video game community. how exactly does it work? how complex and demanding will it be? Will it reach tiers of difficulty like that of iidx/pop’n, or is it more of a fluffy game like Dance Maniax?

I happened to stumble across two new Jubeat vidoes on youtube that show songs on a level other than what i would consider “basic.” The videos also do a good job of showing the interface for choosing songs or options related to the song.

Video 1

Video 2

I have to say that after watching these two videos i’m suitably impressed, both in its conception and in its execution of “chart writing” (is it a chart in the same way that DDR has charts?). It’d be easy when given something like this to fall into a trap of “create a lot of random patterns and notes for no good reason whatsoever”, but it seems that at least with these charts, even the difficult one (Snow Goose), there’s logic and a sense of idiomaticism to this digital whac-a-mole paradigm that makes it look like it would be not merely fun to play but fun to develop skill in, especially considering how well the easier difficulties (based on earlier demo videos i’ve seen) help to get people used to the new style of play.

There are still a few questions that i have about it that aren’t very explicit in the videos:

a) how difficult is it to press the buttons to get a response, and what’s the mechanics behind them? Obviously finger pushes seem to do the job in registering the button, but light touch versus hard press can make a big difference in if someone is going to do long-term playing. The mechanics are important because it can help answer how easily the buttons can “break” (stop registering), and what happens in that case.

What would be clever is if the game could figure out that a button is broken and readjust the chart to compensate for that broken button.

b) Are there more judgements involved other than hit or miss, and how can you tell?

c) how easy is it for you to know exactly when you’re supposed to hit the button? how much warning/prep time do you get before you hit the button, and does it depend on the bpm of the song (as in is the warning relative to the bpm, or is it a static amount of time)?

it’s interesting nonetheless. I wonder if it will have any marketability in the united states.

Mendel Lee

I'm a composer, musician, and music educator residing in New Orleans, LA.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *