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Content – According to the internet, Pop’n’Music Portable is a port of the arcade game Pop’n’Music 15: Adventure. It features 82 songs, a number that blows anything else I’ve seen in portable music games out of the water. As if this wasn’t enough, each song has seven note charts: one for 5, 7 and 9 button mode respectively, a hyper (i.e. usually significantly harder) chart for each button mode, as well as an EX chart, which is what you see in those videos titled “Crazy Japanese Guy Playing Music Game”. Really, I wonder if the developers themselves can beat them, or if they just put them in there to see if someone else steps up and does it. Every song is associated with a character, who will dance in a window displayed next to the notechart and is animated with a surprising amount of detail. The soundtrack itself is also top-notch, featuring a variety of original songs, remixes of tunes from classic Konami games and a few licensed songs that you might have actually heard before – the opening song of Neon Genesis Evangelion, as well as Tales of the Abyss’ intro song are in here. You will find vocalised J-Pop and Rock songs, great instrumentals and some intentional joke songs. The soundtrack is very Japanese, however, so not everyone will like it. It also features some hilarious Japlish lyrics, for example: “I want to fire, take me to the higher!” Most songs are in Japanese, though.

I also like how you pass songs in this game. Instead of losing “health” for missing notes, you get a Groove Gauge that charges or depletes according to your performance and is nearly empty at the beginning. To clear a song, you have to charge it past a certain level. It works very well in this game and is more fun, because instead of getting punished for playing badly, you get rewarded for playing well. Nothing feels better than pushing the Groove Gauge just over the edge by hitting the final note in a tough song.

Controls – If you have ever seen an actual Pop’n’Music arcade machine, you might wonder how the controls work on the PSP. The answer is, not too well initially, but you get used to it. 5-Button mode works fine, and 7B mode may take some practice, but 9B mode is the real problem. Seriously, pick up your PSP and try to figure out an intuitive control scheme for a music game that has nine columns for notes displayed in a horizontal line. You won’t be able to as the PSP doesn’t have enough buttons to emulate that. The game suggests, from left to right: Left, L, Up, Down, Right or Square for the middle note, Triangle, X, R, Circle. Jumbled as that may seem, it actually makes sense when you play the game, and is about as good as it could get. You can set up your own custom control scheme if you want to, but after spending some time with the game I would recommend not doing so, especially because it will almost certainly make certain chords impossible to hit. It will take you hours to get used to the default button layout, especially if you already learned DJ MAX, but you will eventually learn it.

Adventure Mode – One of the game’s main features, which can also be seen on many screenshots, is the Adventure Mode. Here, you jump around on a board-game like map and run into characters who will challenge you with missions. To clear those, you will have to pass a certain song and also deal with at least one Norma. Normas are special requirements, e.g. getting a 100 note combo or reaching 80.000 points. It can also mean any kind of visual effect that ranges from mildly obtrusive to making the game almost unplayable, e.g. changing the look of the notes or having the enemy character dance on top of the notechart. Konami got really creative here, and some of these distractions are downright funny.

For clearing missions in Adventure Mode, you get Pop Points that you need to be able to take the Popper’s Test. Passing the Popper’s Test increases, you guessed it, your Pop Level. This is needed to unlock harder missions and tear down certain barriers on the map. The map jumping itself can also get pretty challenging, as the board features teleporters, trap floors and other hazards. You can also unlock items that make exploring the map easier. This mode is surprisingly long, by the way – completing it will take you no less than 15 hours.

Adventure Mode initially seems like the best idea ever, but it is insultingly easy. The game literally forces you to play every mission on easy mode first, which is confined to 5-Button-Mode. Optional difficulties feature 7- and 9-Button-Mode as well as tougher requirements, but you get absolutely nothing for beating them and the game doesn’t even bother to check them off, so you have to keep notes if you want to know which missions you have beaten. Considering the length of Adventure Mode and the fact that 51 out of the game’s 82 songs have to be unlocked here, what seems like a great feature early on quickly becomes a mandatory exercise in boredom. Don’t get me wrong, it’s commendable that the game offers easy missions even at the end, so nobody will face a roadblock and end up not being able to unlock later songs – it just shouldn’t force you to play on easy.

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