My Unhealthy Addiction to Japanese Rhythm Games

Don’t get me wrong — the whole Tofugu team worked hard while we were in Japan last month. We spent hours filming in sub-freezing temperatures, hauled around giant backpacks full of camera equipment, and spent countless hours traveling to see and film cool things in Japan just for you guys.

But while we worked hard, we also visited a lot of arcades in Japan. Sometimes you have to take a break, you know?

And while Japanese game centers offer a ton of different games, I spent pretty much all of my time with rhythm games. I’ve had a soft spot for rhythm games ever since discovering Dance Dance Revolution as a kid.

What Are Rhythm Games?

Rhythm games, at their simplest, are games where you play along with music. In most cases, that means hitting buttons on the game in sync with a song, but there are a lot of variations.

Some rhythm games (like Guitar Hero) let you use an instrument to play along, others use motion-capture to allow you to use your whole body to dance along to the music.

They’re a ton of fun. Rhythm games let you really get into the music, even if you look like a complete idiot while doing so.

What Rhythm Games Do Japanese People Play?

I hadn’t been to Japan for 13 years, so I had no idea what rhythm games were popular in Japan. I still half-expected to see Dance Dance Revolution everywhere.

Fortunately for you, I blew a ton of money on rhythm games in Japan, so I got some idea of what games are popular.

Here are some of the more popular rhythm games in Japanese arcades right now, and videos of superhumans playing those games:

MaiMai

The game I played most while I was in Japan was MaiMai, a rhythm game that looks like a giant, colorful, front-loading washing machine. It’s a pretty new game, and I was able to find a MaiMai machine in a lot of arcades.

Here’s a quick video describing how the game works:

I got pretty decent at MaiMai and was able to play songs at some of the higher difficulty levels; but, as every video in this post will show you, no matter how good you think you are at a rhythm game, there’s always somebody who’s completely memorized every song and has the hand-eye coordination of a Chinese ping-pong player.

Pop’n Music

I was really surprised to see Pop’n Music in as many Japanese arcades as I did. The game originally came out in 1998, and is one of the most simple, straight-forward rhythm games in a genre full of gimmicks and novelty.

Despite its simple gameplay and old age, Pop’n Music is still getting new songs and updates from its developers. It just goes to show that you can’t go wrong with a solid, basic rhythm game.

Taiko: Drum Master

Taiko: Drum Master is one of the few, current rhythm games that uses an actual musical instrument instead of colorful buttons, and one of the few that actually made it over to the US.

It’s been a staple in Japanese arcades for over a decade, and shows no signs of letting up. Taiko: Drum Master is still being released for new platforms (like the Nintendo 3DS, the Playstation Vita, and Android).

I’m glad that Taiko: Drum Master has had such a long and healthy life. It’s a uniquely Japanese take on the already extremely Japanese rhythm game genre, and it’s cool to see modern songs turned into taiko tunes.

Jubeat

Jubeat is a simple game with sixteen buttons, each with its own screen. It looks like a giant, light-up Rubick’s cube, but ten times harder.

I played Jubeat a bit while I was in Japan, but didn’t get too into it. Jubeat just looks cool and has a decent song selection, so I’m kind of bummed that I didn’t get to play more.

Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA

It should be no surprise that there’s a rhythm game prominently featuring Hatsune Miku, the world’s most popular Vocaloid.

I never got the chance to play it, but some of the mechanics in Project DIVA looked interesting and if you’re Hatsune Miku and rhythm games, then you’re going to go nuts for this game.

Why Don’t We See More Rhythm Games in the US?

Rhythm games have had a long and healthy life in Japan, but have never really crossed over into the US. Why is that?

In my opinion, there’s one main reason we’ll never see rhythm games become as popular in the US: the arcade scene here in America is sadly pretty much non-existent.

There was a time when arcades were growing popular in America and couples went out to play Pong or Space Invaders together, but arcades have been pretty much dead for the last couple of decades.

Americans have shown that they’re open to play rhythm games: just take a look at the Guitar Hero craze a few years back.

But people can’t keep buying fake, plastic instruments forever. Arcades give people a good way to play rhythm games without investing heavily in equipment, but without any arcades in America, it’s impossible to do.


What’s your favorite rhythm game? Do you wish there were more rhythm games where you live? Tell me in the comments!

  • testyal1

    Osu.

    I enjoyed Elite Beat Agents, and this is pretty much the same thing, only with more Japanese songs.

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    Incidentally, Sega’s been using the ever reliable number-of-Facebook-likes to gauge the PS3 Project Diva’s overseas popularity.

    http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151538674841796&set=a.133608051795.134727.28248536795&type=1&theater

  • DAVIDPD

    The one I see at anime con’s is the one where you tap the screen in certain spots that correspond with notes in the music. That one look fun, but people are always hogging it… T_T

  • http://www.facebook.com/Arctures Galen Borson

    Jubeat doesn’t actually have 16 tiny screens. It’s all one widescreen monitor turned sideways, with frames and buttons placed on top of it.

  • Will

    Currently found in Taito Stations around Japan: SOUND VOLTEX BOOTH is a ton of fun. I was only in Japan for two weeks but I had to get a eamusement pass to save my progress!

  • Christal

    Although the arcade scene isn’t popular, it does exist in small groups around the US. I play In the Groove with the best dance game players in the world. The community plays other games as well, such as pop’n, technika, Pump It Up, Technomotion, DDR, ect. ect. ect.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lqpJRBt-FTA

  • http://twitter.com/iruka11 Cla (iruka11)

    This is the main reason I got myself a Japanese 3DS. Rhythm games that will never ever be seen in the US. So far I’ve got Taiko no Tatsujin, Project Mirai and AKB48+Me.. Then there’s Dopamix and HarmoKnight. There were still some that still got into the US market like Theatrhythm and Rhythm Thief. Those were done well. As for the DS, I really loved Rhythm Tengoku and Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! 2. I didn’t enjoy the English versions as much for those. Japanese music still is a whole lot better for me.

  • James

    I play OSU on my computer. I rather enjoy it as well.

  • Jon

    If anyone would care to know, there is a rhythm game where you can use a real electric guitar as a controller. So you could actually just go over to Guitar Center or whatever music store you live by, buy a nice $3000 Gibson Les Paul guitar or some random cheap Strat copy for about $100 , and then play a video game with it. I believe it’s called ‘Rocksmith’, and if I recall correctly, it comes with the adapter to connect an instrument cable to the game console.

    This isn’t related to Japanese rhythm games, but it is a pretty unique American rhythm game that’s related to the article.

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Hadn’t heard of Rocksmith before, looks really cool!

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    I’d never heard of Theatrhythm or Rhythm Thief came to the US. I’ll have to check those out, thanks!

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    I’m jealous that you’re part of that community! I don’t think that there’s anything like that around where I live :(

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Ah, my mistake! Good to know.

  • Lauren

    OMG the guy in the video said ですとか。 THAT’S not proper japanese. just use YA や

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    Yeah?

  • http://twitter.com/Kamijou_Toumad Tony

    This article makes me want to get into rhythm games.

  • MENDES [A]

    Whatt? No acknowledgement for IIDX?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michelle-Montaño/774670200 Michelle Montaño

    I’m a DDR addict. I got a stress fracture in both feet some years ago from playing so much.

  • http://twitter.com/iruka11 Cla (iruka11)

    Oh and Gabrielle’s Ghostly Groove came out too but I never got it. (This was monstruo something in Japan) :)

  • http://twitter.com/Cupucuups Hamyo

    I think, Taiko and Maimai are the most addicted arcade. XD okonomikatsu.blogspot.com

  • http://twitter.com/Cupucuups Hamyo

    Hmmm looks like someone gonna try to get 100% sync on this one. :D

  • kuyaChristian

    If you have an iPad, you can play more Jubeat by downloading its iPad counterpart Jukebeat [IDK why the 'ke' slipped through] but it’s a legit Konami game. But you’ll have to pay a little extra for more songs. But then, it’s about the same price as going to the arcade over and over again.

  • Lauren

    i said what i said. accept it.

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    YA!

  • Kurone Shizuhi

    Looking at all the comments here, I’m glad I live in Singapore then. The arcade scene her is still quite going on, and we have everything mentioned above (cept for maimai, haven’t seen it around, but it might be around).

    I love Jubeat because it’s seriously thrilling, that and Taiko, because I love the feel of whacking a real drum.

  • http://www.facebook.com/nelemnaru Nelem Naru

    I went on a missions trip to Japan (which was fun), but I joke about how that was cover for me to be able to play the Miku Arcade lol! The Japanese people playing it were crazy good, some were using only one hand/arm to press all 4 buttons. The wait line can be long. One time I was there an hour and only got one turn (2 songs)

  • Flora

    There are some arcades left in the States, it’s just that they’re seen as a very “old-school” thing so they spend all their time catering to retro gamers. American arcade staples are still things like Pac-Man, Gattica, and Centipede – in all the arcades I’ve been to, the most recent game any of them will have is something from 1995.

    (In rare cases, a game hall like Chuck E. Cheese or Gatti-Land will have a DDR or Tekken machine from around 2004.)

  • Yuume

    My mall has an arcade. They have Dino Crisis, Tekken, Soul Calibur, Initial D (you can even insert your gamer card with all your info on it :D), DDR, one other knock off DRR game, among other things. The other things being American games.

    I went to visit my friend for Spring Break a while back (about two years ago), and they had an Aladdin’s Castle (omg I feel so old, my mall had one but they took it out. I didn’t even know these still existed o_o ). The arcade was chock full of Street Fighter, DDR, Marvel vs Capcom, an Initial D game as well, among other Japanese games. And one side of the arcade was ONLY Japanese UFO catchers. Luckily for me, I had read Viet’s old post about how to win at these games, and I won a cool Dragon Ball Z prize :D

    Tofugu is always pertinent to everyday situations!

  • LordKyuubey

    I LOVE rhythm games. On weekends I play Pump it Up, and on handheld I ocassionally bring out my copy of Ouendan. Speaking of Ouendan, I only knew of OSU’s existence until last week, and it’s a pretty solid experience I’m going to invest days on. XD

    I had the chance of trying out Taiko and Jubeat in Japan and almost missed a bus because of them. They’re just too addicting! Arcades in Japan are amazing. Although there are arcades around here in Honduras, they never have any rhythm games (with the exception of PIU and one Pop’n Music that mysteriously vanished), so it’s a pretty sad place for Rhythm game fans.

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    Ah, those were the early days of Maimai, before my Aime card, before I hit expert level. How young and naive I was.

  • Angstycoder

    I’ve been wanting to play that taiko game for a while. Did it at a couple of arcades on vacation a week ago (first visit); it was really neat. I didn’t get what exactly all the symbols and things were at first, but through the tutorial and context, I started to pick up the other things.

    I spent a lot of time watching other people at arcades play the other games you mention. I wasn’t brave enough to wait in line to play something I wasn’t sure I could understand, but it was still fun to watch :)

  • Chester

    The hoooooooooome version is aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaawesooooooooooome, buy it!

  • shiroshitsuji

    I love to play osu. Its like playing taiko but for free

  • Pikaboo

    I play Taiko no Tatsujin and DDR for the most part. I’m so happy that the mini aracade at a near by mall got a DDR machine so I don’t have to deal home mats xD

    I’m not really into Just Dance and Dance Central though…. I think it’s just the song playlist… /:

    But I’ve been wanting to get my hands on one of the Hatsune Miku Project Diva games, The iDOL m@ster, Rythme Heaven, and Parappa the Rappa. xD

  • Xasde

    my favorite is project Diva f and F i have it on my vita love it totaly worth the money for the import one thing to note it requires extreeme devotion and practice. BE WARNED THIS GAME IS LIKE A DRUG IF YOU START YOU CANT STOP :”"”"”"”"”"”"”"

  • AeroM

    Taiko no Tatsujin and Project Diva series are my favorite rhythm games. Most of songs quite easy to me even the most hardest song in project diva 2nd (hatsune miku no gekishou)

  • Bound to Earth

    I’m a Korean dude, the arcade is still going round here. It is weaker than it used to be, but nice to see most of the games on this list are in my local arcade.
    Strange that you didn’t mention beatmania IIDX, Reflec beat, sound vortex, and drumania and guitar freak. They’re awesome too give it a try.

  • JOOOAN

    The best game is SDO-X

  • fdsf

    osu.
    Eba? Yes
    Taiko? yes
    about every rhythm game where u press buttons? Yes
    catch fruit? Umm… Yes.