DJ Hero vs. beatmania iidx

Activision has just released the newest US mimic of japanese bemani that has been a popular video game trend ever since Guitar Hero made it big. But unlike Guitar Hero’s japanese predecessor which sports pretty much the exact same control scheme and gameplay paradigm as Guitar Hero except with two extra buttons, DJ Hero decided to make a few significant changes to the iidx aesthetic that gave me incentive to do a comparative analysis.

first, a couple of videos for background:

tatsujin video of a guy playing V another on iidx. i chose this one because he kept the sound of him hitting the keys in, and the middle part where he mashed to deal with the trill chords is hilarious.

video of a guy playing kid cudi vs black eyed peas on expert. Unfortunately he decided to show the controller play upside down relative to the screen, but you get the idea.

and here’s a video of my friend playing one of the harder charts of DJ Hero.

Other than the fact that difficult charts are much rarer in DJ Hero than in iidx, the most striking distinction between the gameplay has to do with the handling of multiple responsibilities and how the player deals with them. one of the things that annoys me the most about 7key iidx is that while there are many notecharts that employ polyrhythmic ideas in them, players aren’t forced to think of them as polyrhythmic because they can read them as single rhythm streams with some chords put in. The easiest example i can come up with on this is this section of Colors Heavy. (Sorry that the guy playing in the video isn’t that good. This is the only video of colors heavy that i could find not on random.) For as long as i’ve played this song, i’ve dealt with this section by thinking it as polyrhythmic, reading it like this:

because that’s a polyrhythmic pattern i always used to play on tenors or drumset or timbales or whatever. Right hand is doing triple strokes, left hand is doing 1..a..+.1..a..+. i treat those as independent rhythms in my head. But in talking to a lot of people who play iidx, they don’t think of it that way at all. They see it as a single stream of notes with a few two-note chords thrown in, so the concept of polyrhythm isn’t important. Even if they understand that that’s what’s happening, they don’t have to think of it that way in order to execute it. The only times in iidx where people have the potential to be forced to think and execute two rhythms happening simultaneously instead of a single stream of notes is a scratch heavy song or when playing 14key.

What i think DJ Hero does is change that; while it takes away the concept of scratching being independent from note hitting most of the time, the concept of the left-right fader adds an extra element that iidx doesn’t have. Regardless of how complex and/or streamy iidx can get, it’s still a hit or scratch aesthetic, while DJ Hero has a hit, sctrach, or L/R fade aesthetic. Because all of those things are executed very differently, it potentially forces the player to have to think of those elements independently in order to execute them. So the base skillset between that and iidx is somewhat different and employs a more advanced musical concept, and that makes it more interesting than GH or even Rock Band.

Given that, i feel like the success of DJ Hero as a paradigm then depends primarily on two factors. The first is more obvious: how far the bar will raise in difficulty as new installments come out? Surely when beatmania first came out back in 1997, no one imagined that it would reach a difficulty level that dominates iidx now. Similarly, DJ Hero is in its own sort of initial conception, so it offers a potential to raise the bar somewhat, but even with the level of demand placed on the player for hit/scratch/fade, i suspect that it will become clear how limiting it is that they decided to go with only three buttons and three hit lanes.

The second is less obvious but much more important, which has to do with the philosophy and approach to what i’m going to term “internal pedagogy”, or maybe more simply the learning curve. Does the game have charts or section of charts that successfully teach the base polyrhythmic fader/hit/scratch concepts so that players can then comfortably execute the more difficult charts? Does the complexity of those concepts ramp up in a pedagogical and gradual manner?

Unfortunately those aren’t questions i can answer since i’ve only seen a few select charts of the game and most of them are on the easy side of the spectrum. As more charts come to surface and as the game evolves over time, i may have more to say about it.

Ultimately, though, the game has to get at least one negative mark from me for not having the ability to play double. I’m a 14key player by trade; no matter how much more you might add to the mix, three buttons is still three buttons.

Mendel Lee

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

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