The Birth of Bemani: Beatmania turns 25

GemuBaka readers and viewers will have likely seen the occasional piece on music and rhythm games, but these have largely fixated on more recent arcade releases. Those with a keen eye on my Round One videos will have noticed short clips of game play on Konami’s beat mania IIDX – which is now on its 30th version. While I played IIDX quite a bit in the first portion of its releases, it may surprise people to know that Konami’s original 5-key beatmania release was way more influential on my rhythm gaming.

beat mania, the originator of Konami’s Bemani line of music games, celebrated its 25th release anniversary on Dec. 10. The game splashed into Japanese arcades on that date back in 1997, and what followed was a wave of original games that filled arcades throughout the aughts. While the arcade scene has greatly diminished from that point, there are still locations carrying this tradition and offering up a variety of old and new rhythm games to enjoy.

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With Konami moving on the IIDX series to continue the beat mania legacy, that finally led to the older 5-key machines trickling into our area. It became common for arcades to have a 6th+Core or a Complete, with some even able to score a beat mania the Final. But my real introduction to the series came when an import shop I frequented my first year of college had a Playstation version of beat mania packaged with the ASCII home controller.

Now this home version, although named beat mania, actually contained additional content that was included in 2nd Mix and the Yebisu version, along with a few home exclusives. However, I can’t say I’ve personally ever seen a beat mania arcade machine that came before 6th Mix, so this version of the game is likely the closest I’ll ever get to playing the true original beatmania game.

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I think what really drew me in to the older versions of the game was in the “culture” it presented. It established the theme of the player performing real-time music sampling for an audience and went all-in on this concept.

During gameplay, if you are performing well, you see an icon of a person dancing, but if you are failing, the person instead stands and shrugs. Your score is presented in “money” earned by doing your performances in the club. It offered what games like Guitar Hero eventually built upon in an “audience feedback” to your performances. When you select a song, the graphics represent the music being on vinyl records you are pulling out to place on your turntable.

The normal arcade mode also presents a DJ Battle, utilizing only the turntable to scratch out patterns so you can be deemed suitable to move on for your final performance. The use of the turntable is much more reserved in this early version, and usually results in a record scratch effect as opposed to becoming an eighth button in the later beatmania entries. It also presents “free scratch” sections that allow the player some creative liberties in their performance. This version also established the credits sequence, which allowed players to freestyle along with a track if they were able to clear the arcade mode.

The series definitely received large amounts of user quality improvements as time went on, but there is still something really cool about the vibe the original beat mania games gave. Going back to this original Playstation entry, I’m honestly kind of surprised at how many of the songs still hold up today. I’m still a big fan of Tokai, Salamander Beat Crush and Do you love me?, and of course 20, November and e-motion are still as catchy as ever.

I was having a little trouble finding an English source that would tell me what songs were exclusive to the original release, and I finally found something courtesy of RemyWiki. It notes the original beat mania game featured only seven selectable songs, the least of any other bemoan game ever released. However, this does get skirted by offering two variations on OVERDOSER, LOVE SO GROOVY and 20, November. Then there are the specialty songs DJ Battle and e-motion. This leaves u gotta groove, jam jam reggae, 2 gorgeous 4U and greed eater as the other songs found in the original arcade release. Even so, the secondary song edits and greed eater are only available in the double play mode.

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Image from Arcade Museum – Killer List of Video Games (www.arcade-museum.com)

It’s also interesting to note beat mania did have some U.S. exposure in a version known as HipHopMania, but I have never personally seen this cabinet. Through the internet archive, an old Konami U.S. website had location listings for HipHopMania, and was labeled as HipHopMania Complete Mix. The vast majority of the locations were listed in California, with a couple of Florida, Hawaii, Arizona and Nevada. Realistically, my only chance to play a HipHopMania cabinet would have been at the Lombard, Illinois, Enchanted Castle arcade. This is also assuming a location couldn’t have had the beatmania equivalent and was allowed to submit that they had HipHopMania. Either way, it would have been amazing to experience this in an arcade atmosphere in the late 1990s.

 

I think the real overall importance of beat mania to the local community of players I was able to be a part of was that, yes, beat mania required a special control to fully enjoy the game, but it didn’t require the dance mats and space for movement for DanceDanceRevolution. In addition, most of the DDR dance mats available at that time were the cheap, vinyl pads, and most of the available beat mania controllers offered a much more arcade-authentic experience. It was just easier to get groups together and unwind from an arcade DDR session by lounging around and playing beatmania and beat mania IIDX.

25 years later, when I think about beat mania, I’m more nostalgic for this original 5-key entry. I do enjoy IIDX, but my thoughts keep gravitating back to all of the fun I had in experiencing this OG Bemani game. On Dec. 10, I fired up beatmania for Playstation and gave it a go.

And of course, even all these years later, I still can’t clear the freakin’ end of Ska a Go Go …

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Categories: GemuBaka Feature

Author:djtatsujin

Arcade enthusiast and game collector. Affiliate Twitch retro streamer and games archive writer at Gemubaka (http://gemubaka.com). For business only: gemubaka at gmail

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