To paraphrase George Gershwin: I've got rhythm. I've got music. I've got DJManiax, Team Maniax's new rhythm game extravaganza. Who could ask for anything more?... Well, a solid-gold pony would be nice, but since I've also been looking for a music game with excellent tunes, some well-designed note charts and levels of challenge to appeal to both the casual and hardcore audience, I've got to say I'm pretty well satisfied.
Even if you've never heard of DJ Max Technika, the game that inspired DJManiax, you should find the mechanics easy enough to pick up on. After you cycle through the various unlocked songs and make your tune and difficulty selection, you'll be thrown into a world of thumping beats and crazed animation (Also, please note that to take a step back from that world, you must hold [ESC] rather than tap it). A line of circular "notes" will appear on the screen in time with the music, and as a laser-style line sweeps across them at the current pace of the song, you are to tap them out in time to the music, specifically when the reach the center of the circle. There are also "drag" notes which you must follow along holding, and "multi-tap" notes with which you must tap a constant beat. Generally, your ears will be more helpful than your eyes.Higher difficulties add more and faster notes. Keeping the rhythm fills your life bar, while missing notes depletes it. Miss too many and the song ends. Finish the song and you'll get a ranking and, with it, points that unlock new songs. There are two forms of control you may use, with different appropriate note charts: the keyboard, for a Guitar Hero/Frets On Fire type feel, or (my preference) mouse/tablet controls for an Elite Beat Agents/Osu! experience. Will we call you a DJ Master?
Analysis: First, a digression: Can we, as a community come to a consensus as to the proper onomatopoeia for "thumping techno beat"? Ootz Ootz Ootz Ootz? Doont Doont Doont Doont? It would have make writing out my (largely positive) thoughts on DJManiax much easier, and, the AP Style guide isn't much help.
Kidding aside, as compared to most other genres, "Rhythm" probably has the best reputation for friendliness to both the casual and hardcore gaming audiences. Whereas the 1337 may scoff at match3, and game novices may be justifiably flummoxed when confronted with real-time strategy, being able to tap out a beat to a catchy song is a nigh-universal experience. Whether it's your Great-Uncle Bob warbling out "Eye of the Tiger" on an easy mode or, well, this guy, rhythm games have proved adept at bridging the gap. DJManiax carries on that tradition in an attractive flash package. The easy modes are relatively gentle, the hard modes are crazy-intense, and the animated back-drops should appeal to all.
Of course, a rhythm game can have the best mechanics in the world, but still fail if the songs aren't great. Fortunately, DJManiax has a pretty sweet soundtrack backing up its gameplay. There are, of course, the trance and frenetic techno songs common to most rhythm games, but also some nice slow rock and chip-tune remixes (I think I gained a level in geek by getting genuinely excited by the inclusion of the Cheetahman theme).. You probably won't like all of the twenty songs to unlock, but the variety will ensure that you'll have at least one favorite. For me, it was the peppy J-Pop Anthem "Cirno's Perfect Math Class", which comes with a cute background video straight out of a badly translated Saturday morning anime. Plus, the thankfully included Jukebox mode will let you listen to all the unlocked songs, even if the note charts prove too difficult.
Some minor issues do mar gameplay: while I do appreciate the attempt to create an arcade-style song-select screen, the rotating interface kept acting up. What's so bad about a list? Also, in general, the game is quite processor intensive, which is frustrating. Considering it is a rhythm game, even a minor lag in the action can ruin your 100X combo. An option for limiting animations would have been much appreciated. Likewise, being able to make keys customizable would have made me want to explore keyboard mode in more depth, though I was happy using my mouse. Finally, while I know it's Team Maniax's prerogative to choose their scoring adjectives, but how is hitting a "Fantastic!" note better than hitting a "Perfect!" note?
These are minor, almost picky concerns. Fans of the rhythm genre should very much enjoy DJManiax, and neophytes will find it a worthy introduction. The developers have made mention of a DJManiax 2nd Style, as well as a possible platform spin-off. Until then though, DJManiax will ensure you can't stop the music.