Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX 3DS Review
Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX signals the turquoise vocaloid’s third release in the UK, which means Sega must be happy with the success the virtual diva is having. A few years ago the concept of having such games here was non-existent. There would never be any talk about Hatsune Miku games in English – titles that have been releasing in Japan since 2009 – but the blue hedgehog publisher decided to test the waters by releasing Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F as a digital release for Vita. Now the rest is old news, as here we are with Miss Miku bringing her joyful music in her début Nintendo 3DS release, which brings more bundles of fun and new and familiar songs along with new ways to play with Miku and friends in this incredibly charming rhythm game.
Charming is an understatement, because Hatsune Miku on 3DS is simply adorable. The games on Sony’s platform were styled with the original design, and while that was cute in its own way, it’s nowhere near as delightful as this new visual style that evokes the Nendoroid crazy – small toys that depict famous anime characters as small, chibi models, which is wonderfully brought to live on the tiny 3DS screen. It’s almost sickeningly cute seeing the girls dance to their tunes, strutting their stuff with stubby legs and large heads, with that increase in skull size bringing on exaggerated ranges of facial expressions. These girls know they are cute, and straight from when the title is booted up will do their utmost to explode your sensory systems with sugary sweetness, bad news for people who cannot stomach an overdose on sugar, but don’t worry health freaks, as this is healthy and will not rot your insides.
It’s not just the aesthetics that have gone through a redesign to fit with the different hardware, as gameplay has been altered to use the advantages of the 3DS. Rhythm games all follow the same idea of hitting the correct notes at the right time. The Project Diva F titles use flying notes that pop in from the sides of the screen without any prompting, instead relying on visibility and memorisation to know where the notes were coming from. Project Mirai DX switches this by including a musical rail that draws around the screen while notes appear at various intervals. This makes it easier to focus where the next hit is coming from, and if you haven’t played a Hatsune Miku title before, this way of presenting the game makes it easier for newcomers to get into, especially when tackling songs on the hardest setting
An exciting feature is the inclusion of two control schemes that contain their own difficulty and note charts for the same songs. This means the game contains double the amount of content to get through while offering the challenge for players to adapt to each input device. New to the 3DS is tap controls that require the use of the stylus to tap the screen when a hit ring is perfectly shaped around the coloured note. On easy, you only have to worry about one colour, so this results in being able to focus on the notes to the beat of the song. Moving up from easy to normal, then hard, additional colours are added on each step up, first blue, then yellow, increasing the toughness, as players now need to tap the correct part of the screen to hit the corresponding colour. The mixture of single taps, holding notes, swipes and spins for the tap mode reminded me of the fantastic Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan (this even has the tambourine sound effect), and just like that game, the bottom screen acting as the tapping surface clears any clutter on the important top screen that is feeding you vital information. The game does a good job in tracing the tap controls, so I never had issues with swiping or spinning, since as long as you hold the stylus on the screen and move it in the desired direction, the game will read the swipe correctly.
Button mode is the traditional input method that uses all four face buttons, and on higher difficulties will bring in d-pad use. Colour and letter marked buttons follow down the same musical line as tap mode, while the additional use of d-pad, which can be used as an alternative to pressing a face button, appear to the side of the musical line for arrow inputs. These become more extensive on hard, since to increase the challenge, the d-pad is used as an additional arrow press in conjunction with button presses to mix things up at specific times. Rhythm fans will feel at home with the button mode, while tap mode is great for beginners – even though it can test your stylus skills, it never quite hits the multitasking terror that comes with using buttons.
48 songs populate the playlist, which is the biggest library of music in a Miku game when not including downloadable content. The soundtrack includes hits like The World is Mine, Ageage Again and my personal favourite Matryoshka, which might be overtaking Secret Police as my best-loved Miku song. The range of musical genres covers Japanese pop, pop-rock, ballads, dance, and even a chip-tune single makes it into the package to celebrate retro video games. I still have a love for Project Diva F 2nd‘s soundtrack, but there are some great songs included to keep you occupied – this is not a weak soundtrack by any means. I found myself blasting through the songs much easier than any other Miku game, as Project Mirai DX appears less strict with its punishment with mistimed note presses. A disappointment is that only six songs include the MAX difficulty. Usually every song has the fourth “expert” mode that only pro Miku players could beat with good grades. I have no idea why they opted to include only a limited amount, as it’s a shame that not all of them were given the same love. It still remains a challenge to aim for those S+ ranks, but passing songs is made easier in this.
Outside of the main game, players pick their favourite vocaloid and chill with them in their own apartment, designed from various furniture and other household decorations to make it specific towards your style. These objects, along with clothes to dress up the ladies and other items and food, can be bought with in-game points earned from playing the rhythm game. It’s a shallow experience and it isn’t something I felt invested in. Sure, it’s charming, and the warmth from chibi Meiko sure made me a bubbling softy, but I did not find it rewarding for the actions performed, as there isn’t exactly an objective to fulfil – just keep them happy and receive gifts from visiting vocaloids for hitting game achievements.
Optional mini games can be accessed on the main menu, such as a cool, if basic, PuyoPuyo minigame that can be played against your selected vocaloid or another player (where the hell is the English release of this, Sega? Please don’t tease us, we haven’t had a PuyoPuyo release in the UK since 2004.) Othello, also known as Reversi, since we do not want to get sued by Mattel and their trademark properties, can also be played with the popstars. There are other less exciting modes, like an alarm clock, which I’m not even sure the 3DS is loud enough for, but an area I do like is the ability to share a short tune on your profile card when you streetpass people or spotpass buddies online. It adds your own identity to these cards, such as my awful attempt at trying to do the backing track for Still D.R.E. The game lavishes the Hatsune Miku tradition of customisation by even letting you create dance routines to come up with new choreography for any music track.
Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX is a game that holds bundles of musical delight. It’s overwhelmingly adorable, sickeningly cute and plays as well as any other Hatsune Miku title, regardless of platform. It’s a shame that Sega felt the need to remove one of the difficulty tiers, as the more focused user interface and the two control methods bring new light to the regular Hatsune Miku gameplay, and having expert mode scrapped feels like Sega were focusing more on a new audience, rather than targeting both fans and newcomers to the party. This should not stop anyone, fan or otherwise, from having happy fun time with Project Mirai DX, because this is a perfect example of smashing language barriers to bring smiles to everyone willing to join Miku‘s open invitation to her celebration of joy.