Wednesday, March 14, 2018

DJMax Respect Review (PS4)

After being released primarily on PSP and later on Vita and iOS and Android, the DJMax franchise finally makes its home console debut on PS4 with DJMax Respect. “Respect” is a great subtitle for the game, too, as it is clearly a heartfelt love letter made with respect for existing fans, but also a subtle warning for newcomers (like me and many other console only gamers) that this game is going to break even the most die-hard rhythm fans and you have to give it the respect it deserves. With a great selection of music, nice presentation, and brutally difficult but addictive rhythm gameplay, DJMax Respect is awesome. Continue reading our full review for all of the details.

Game Details

  • Publisher: Neowiz Games
  • Developer: Neowiz MUCA
  • ESRB Rating: “T” for Teen
  • Genre: Rhythm
  • Pros: Great music; addictive gameplay; satisfying when you get it right; tons of songs
  • Cons: Brutally difficult; can’t pay attention to pretty backgrounds
  • MSRP: $50

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DJMax Respect features more than 140 songs with a ton of additional DLC – all of the DLC from the Asian release of the game – also planned to be available ASAP. The song list covers a broad range of genres from hip-hop to jazz to electronica to hard rock and more and pretty much all of it is catchy and good and fun to listen to. I wasn’t familiar with any of the songs prior to playing the game, but I’ve definitely become a big fan of quite a few of them now.

Similar to the Hatsune Miku Project Diva games each song is also accompanied by a music video – usually with anime characters - that plays in the background. Unlike Project Diva, however, where the gameplay button icons just fly in from all over the screen so you can actually see what is going on in the background, the gameplay in DJMax requires you to be so focused on just one area of the screen you can’t really see what is going on elsewhere. It kind of feels like a waste, honestly, as a lot of the music videos are really cool and were made specifically to work perfectly with the songs, but you can’t really pay much attention to them. At least, I can’t. Maybe skilled players have an easier time. You can move the gameplay area from the center to the left or right of the screen, but you’re still too focused on the notes to pay attention to anything else.

The gameplay itself is what really sets DJMax Respect apart, of course, as it is much more challenging than most music / rhythm games on consoles these days. The user interface is as traditional for a rhythm game as they come where “notes” scroll down from the top of the screen and you have to press the correct button when the notes reach a certain point. The challenge comes in the fact that the game has different modes that require you to keep track of 4, 5, 6, and even 8 buttons (plus hitting multiple buttons at once or using the analog sticks at certain points) and it gets really complicated and difficult and confusing very, very fast. The buttons are mapped out on the screen from left to right according to how they appear on the PS4 controller – so left on the d-pad is furthest left while the circle button is furthest right – and is fairly intuitive, but still a heck of a lot to try to wrap your mind around when notes are flying at you at 200BPS and you have to keep track of 8 buttons. Most songs also offer different separate difficulty levels for each button mode as well, which can make things even more hectic if you want.

The game doesn’t necessarily throw you to the wolves right away, of course, and you can have a surprisingly good time in the 4-button mode for quite a while, but it is never particularly easy. This isn’t like most modern rhythm games with super easy difficulty options and “No Fail” modes. DJMax Respect makes you work for it right from the start. Even with just 4-buttons the game can get really fast and really complicated and pretty frustrating and I’ve had moments in songs where I’ve rage quit because I can’t understand how I’m possibly supposed to press buttons in that order that quickly. It’s crazy. I eventually was able to move on to the 5 or 6 button modes for some songs, but 8-buttons still makes my head explode. Anyone that can play on that mode definitely has my respect.

DJMax also does a couple of interesting things musically that most rhythm games don’t. First is that you aren’t penalized for extra button presses. All that matters score / combo-wise is if that you push the button it wants at the correct time, so if you accidentally hit buttons too early or the wrong one you can actually just sort of frantically mash on the correct one and still maintain your combo. There have definitely been moments of intense gameplay where I know I’m not consciously hitting the right buttons and just sort of mashing in a panic and still getting through tough sections. The other aspect of being able to press buttons whenever is that, unlike most other music games, you actually play a musical sound for every button you press, so mashing buttons makes the song you’re playing sound pretty terrible. Even being a little bit off and hitting notes at 90% accuracy (because, yes, the game does grade you on your timing) can make the song sound pretty bad.

The game has a couple of different modes, though gameplay-wise they’re the same. Arcade mode has you play through a three-song set of your choosing. Freestyle mode just lets you play anything. And mission mode tasks you with completing specific objectives on each song like meeting combo or multiplier requirements. You can also play multiplayer online or locally as well. It is important to note that not all of the songs are available from the beginning and you have to unlock the vast majority of the music. You seem to unlock new songs at a pretty steady pace just by playing, so I don’t consider this a big deal. I actually like unlocking things in games.

Also check out our reviews of Invector and Amplitude on PS4.

Presentation-wise, DJMax Respect is nice and clean looking. The menus are simple and the gameplay area is exceptionally simple – just icons scrolling down the screen – but it all looks fine. You can actually unlock new visual styles as well, but I honestly found the simple default ones easiest to use. For example, the option that used cartoon cat heads – which normally would totally be my jam – was just too hard for me to keep track of. As I mentioned above, each song also has a music video playing in the background which are very cool, though they can be hard to actually pay attention to.

All in all, DJMax Respect is another great rhythm game on PS4. Keep in mind it isn’t a soft accessible baby game, though. It is difficult right from the start. Despite how brutally difficult the game can definitely be, and how frustrated I occasionally got, I kept coming back. The music is just so good and the gameplay is so fun. And the sense of getting better and making improvements in my skills is really satisfying. This was my first DJMax game and I still mostly play on 4-button, if I’m being honest, but it’s a ton of fun. I’ll move up eventually. I do think it is probably a little too hardcore and casual music / rhythm game fans may not dig it, but higher skill level fans in the genre will love it. DJMax Respect is excellent. Buy it. 
Disclosure: A review code was provided by the publisher.