DJ MAX RESPECT keeps the heart of the rhythm genre beating!
How DJMax Respect is bringing the beat back
Rhythm games aren’t dead! DJMax Respect sends a clear message right from its opening movie, with graves representing past titles bursting open to reveal classic characters and tunes. After people grew weary of buying plastic instruments and all the best arcade titles became stuck in Japan, rhythm games just aren’t what they used to be. But this Korean-made rhythm game is a triumphant return to the days of old that’s well worth checking out. To all the beatmania addicts and reformed DDR kids – this one’s for you.
Originally released for the PlayStation 4, on July 28, 2017, DJMax Respect’s English subbed Asia version proved to so popular that keeping it in stock has been quite a challenge for retailers. Luckily, it has since been released digitally for western markets. PSN cards are available by clicking the link below and with more options [HERE].
|PSN Card 50 USD | Playstation Network US DIGITAL (US)||US$ 53.49|
|PSN Card 50 GBP | Playstation Network UK DIGITAL (UK)||US$ 62.49|
But first, “what is DJMax?” you might be thinking. This series of rhythm games comes from the Korean studio formerly known as Pentavision. DJMax started out on the PC as a clone of Konami’s beatmania games that was so shameless it led to legal action. The series would find its own identity and a lot more popularity after it was released for the PSP as DJMax Portable. Although only released in Korea, this title became a big hit with importers and led to a number of sequels including the eventual western release of DJ Max Fever and the touch-based DJMax Technika games.
The appeal of the series is simple. Like other rhythm games, players hit buttons in time with the notes that fall from the top of the screen, but where DJMax sets itself apart is its focus on using a “fever” mode to rack up ridiculous combos and a diverse set of songs that lean towards K-Pop. The games also boasted a range of unlockable songs and skins, plus a leveling system that made them a lot more replayable than the arcade games of the time.
However, like so many other rhythm games, the popularity of DJMax faded over time. The treatment of the series by publisher Neowiz didn’t help matters, with key staff members disappearing from the company as DJMax Technika machines disappeared from arcades. It started to seem that the series was dead or worse – stuck on mobile phones! Thankfully, we’ve now got DJMax Respect bringing back the classic gameplay with a mix of old and new songs. Even though many of the original staff are missing, someone at Rocky Studio clearly had a lot of love for the original games.
The DJMax games have always held a reputation as some of the most challenging rhythm games out there. These titles are seriously punishing, with a harsh ranking system that requires players to not just hit every note, but do so with 100% accuracy. There’s a life bar that creeps down with every missed beat, kicking you back to the song list if you screw up too much. DJMax Respect is just as rough, but even if you’re new to this style of game there are plenty of simple songs to get you started. The track list is so expansive that the difficulty curve can be as gentle as you like. How many songs are we talking? They’re not all unlocked at the start, but DJMax Respect boasts 147 songs: 107 that return from the first two DJ Max Portable games and 40 brand new tracks.
Players can also choose how to tackle each song with a variety of modes. There are simple four-button patterns that only use part of the PS4 controller all the way up to more complex eight-button songs that require the shoulder buttons as well. Many of the songs also have different difficulty settings. This means that not only are there over a hundred songs, but the variety of note layouts gives a virtually endless number of challenges. And if you somehow get sick of the songs, there’s even more available through DLC packs. These are only available for the Asian editions of the game for now, but the DLC contains tracks from other titles like DJMax Trilogy and Clazziquai, with even more in the works. Oh, there are some Guilty Gear songs, too.
For players after a challenge, DJMax Respect upholds the tradition of having an insanely difficult mission mode. Each mission has a set of songs that start out easy before testing your skills with evil gimmicks. Who thought it would be a good idea to try and hit star-shaped notes as the screen sways from side to side? What horrible person made a mission where you need to keep a combo going while the speed constantly changes? These challenges get ridiculous and only the most dedicated players will manage to clear them all.
Thankfully, there isn’t much locked behind these brutal missions. Instead, there’s a huge collection of bonuses that are gradually revealed simply by playing the game. Hitting every note in a song, earning S ranks and even losing your combo all give out rewards like new music, videos, and skins. DJMax fans will also appreciate how much artwork there is to unlock, with concept sketches and storyboards that give a fresh look at some of the older songs. Completionists will have a hard time, but the sheer number of things to unlock makes every run through the arcade mode feel rewarding. The promise of new stuff encourages players to keep trying to clear harder songs, giving some incentive to challenging different modes and playing online.
Of course, there’s not much need for these extra incentives when the game still feels so good to play. As you play through a song, every button press fills in part of the track with missing instruments from wailing guitars to duck quacks. Though DJMax games never tried to capture the feeling of playing an instrument, players get the same sense of satisfaction by effectively creating the song as they play it. Hitting every note in time is a test of rhythm and reflexes, but pulling it off perfectly and filling in the full song feels incredibly satisfying. Once your thumbs start to move on their own, DJMax Respect becomes a hypnotic experience. Lose yourself to the groove.
It helps that the controls feel so responsive. There’s not much difference between the PSP and PS4 controller, so the controls have been adapted well. Even the rare times where songs require sliding the analog sticks to simulate spinning a disc feel natural. The songs get so intense that the risk of RSI is awfully high, but the controls are comfortable and you can customise the buttons as you like. Crucially, I didn’t experience any input lag, although you can adjust the timing if your TV has issues.
Since it draws so many songs from earlier entries, DJMax Respect feels like a time capsule filled with funky house, jungle pop and other genres that may not actually exist. There’s not as much club music as the name might suggest as the setlist covers a wide range of genres. This is especially true of the new songs in Respect, which range from light pop songs like Running Girl to trance tracks like Enter the Universe.
There’s a disappointing lack of long-time DJMax artists like Planetboom, but these new songs at least come with elaborate music videos. The animators went all out with these distractingly distinct clips telling stories of mischievous magical girls, alpaca romances, and spooky skeletons playing chess. The way the videos experiment with different visual styles is fun and even the upscaled PSP clips have a certain janky charm. The visuals and stories must be memorable for players since so many of the characters make cameos this time around.
With the huge range of songs, rewards and the addition of local and online multiplayer, DJMax Respect is one slickly presented compilation. They might not be many rhythm games anymore, but there’s so much to do in this one that it doesn’t bother me. DJMax Respect isn’t a huge leap forward that’ll change the way we think about the interaction between music and games, but it’s a wonderful reminder of why so many people got into the genre. It’s a package designed for fans, but newcomers will get to experience a collection of the best songs in the series along with a few new standouts.
In addition, the Asian and Japanese releases of DJMax Respect have full English support so if you want to own a physical copy of the decade’s best rhythm game, you should know where to look. Who can say how effective DJMax’s mission to revive rhythm games will be, but for admirably trying to lift the genre out from beneath a pile of discarded Rock Band instruments, this title is definitely worthy of respect.
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