Beatmania IIDX is one of those rare gems that I have found over the years that gives me just enough difficulty that I feel I'll never actually reach the highest level of skill, but is accessible enough that I don't want to give up on it. It's a 7-key rhythm game with an eighth key being a turn-table. Players press the buttons based on the instructions on the screen in order to construct a song in real-time; pressing a key too soon or too late will make that sound play within the song too soon or too late as well.
It can be a painfully difficult game to play. Games like Dance Dance Revolution have a consistent feel to them making it easy to keep a beat. In Beatmania, you are forced to be the one to keep the beat most of the time as you're the one playing the sounds; if you go off beat; you're going to hear it off beat and will stay off beat unless you correct it yourself. You're responsible for your failures and you achieve your success in the game.
For the longest time, despite having access to a controller, I've opted to play on a mechanical keyboard as it doesn't require me to make any changes to my immediate surroundings to be able to play. Now that I have gotten my hands on an arcade quality controller, I am working on making the transition to playing on a controller rather than on a keyboard. It is a lot harder than it sounds.
One of the key differences in playing the game lies in the inclusion of the turn-table. It is one of the more challenging aspects of the game as you can spin it up or down; a series of 'scratch' notes will likely require you to alternate how you spin it in order to keep the pace of the notes. This is especially true when its a series of fast scratch notes, or if there is a 'scratch hold' note which requires you to continually spin the turn-table in one direction.
This can effectively remove on of your hands off of the notes, making it harder to hit the notes. At the same time, the scratch notes could be timed differently from the notes you're pressing, making it even more difficult to handle the scratch notes and the regular notes at the same time.
When I play on a keyboard, I use the left-shift and the spacebar as my 'scratch up' and 'scratch down' keys respectively. I also use 'zsxdcfv' for the seven notes to match up with the order of the notes on the screen. It's definitely a non-standard setup that I've been warned is actually a pretty terrible arrangement, but I've managed to reach the '11' difficulty level on the scale of 1-12.
Unlike other rhythm games, difficulty in IIDX can be deceptive. There are 10s in the game that feel more difficult than 11s. Difficulty can be somewhat inconsistent depending on how you play and what your strengths and weaknesses in the game are. The more you practice a particular pattern or style of notes, the better you will become at handling those patterns or styles in other songs.
If I had to guess, I would say I have a completion rate of around 80% for songs that are rated a 10 difficulty and a 10% completion rate for songs with an 11 difficulty. For example, I will fail songs that are heavy on scratch notes that have a 10 difficulty, but there are some 'stream' heavy songs that are rated as an 11 that I can pass. This is most notable with songs like Night Sky and Evans which look very difficulty, but somehow just manage to click for me. However, I cannot pass Snake Stick despite it being labelled as a 10.
One of the big reasons in this case is how heavy Snake Stick is on scratch notes when compared to most other songs in the game. Even though Night Sky actually has quite a few scratch notes, they are usually with other notes, making it easier to hit. Snake Stick has a lot of rapid-pace scratch notes which is both hard for me to maintain, and difficult when playing on a keyboard.
Changes in Play Style
Switching from keyboard to controller introduces a larger gap in between the buttons and an even larger gap between the buttons and the turn-table. This means I not only have to change how I place my hands when playing, but instead of being able to use my left to handle the buttons and the turn-table, I may very well have to decide how to position my hand when there are a lot of scratch notes as my left hand will be dealing with the scratches. I may be able to handle the first or the two first keys next to the turn-table, but my left hand cannot have a solid placement like I would if I were not using the turn-table.
This requires the player the make quick decisions on how they use their hands in the middle of a song. I've seen players move their hand differently when handling scratch notes based on whether it is just a few scratches here or there or if there are a ton of scratch notes with some opting to use their right hand to handle ALL of the notes instead of most.
The benefit of playing on a controller is having a bit more spacing for the buttons meaning that once you get used to it, you're less likely to accidentally hit a wrong button. The benefit of playing on a keyboard is both convenience and scratch notes, when not rapid, are easier to handle.
I'll post some pictures of the controller soon and update the blog as I assess what my skill level is with the controller. I was cleaning some 7s and 8s over the weekend, but I'll see if I can't handle 9s. 10s and 11s are going to be out of the question for quite some time since that jump in difficulty is immense.