Hatsune Miku deserves your attention. The digital diva has won the hearts of fans across the globe, recently starring in two well-received rhythm games on both PS3 and Vita, and even boasts a hologram performance on The Late Show with David Letterman. The games she and her vocaloid friends sing in combine masterfully crafted J-pop with adorable choreography, and early next month Miku will make her long-awaited 3DS debut with Project Mirai DX. The game marks the pop star’s first foray onto a Nintendo console, but it’s also a noticeable departure from her previous tours on PS3 and Vita. It trades the slender, realistic singers fans have come to know for more compact, chibi forms adopted directly from the line of Nendoroid figures so popular with collectors. The results are immediately more kawaii than ever before, and while it may take some fans some time to adjust, I actually find the style to suit Miku and friends better than their more mature interpretations.
More significant than those aesthetic differences, however, are the changes seen in the core rhythm gameplay of Project Mirai DX. Unlike the Project Diva games, which saw button prompts flying in from all sides of the screen, Project Mirai DX puts them all on a single string that winds around the top screen. It makes following the button sequence substantially easier, and should prove quite friendly to first-time Hatsune Miku players. There’s even a choice between traditional button input or touch screen tapping, each with their own difficulty levels and quirks. It’s less about variety and more of an attempt to cater to each individual’s preferences, and I can see most players finding their footing in one or the other early on.
That accessibility has the potential to alienate returning Hatsune Miku players, though. It’s still too early to tell, but I’m beginning to worry that Project Mirai DX’s simplified design may have sacrificed too much in order to cater to a broader spectrum of players. Miku games have always bared their fangs at higher difficulties, but it seems like Project Mirai DX’s are a little less sharp than skilled players might like. The biggest red flag is the lack of an ‘Extreme’ difficulty setting, a step above ‘Hard’ and a challenge I embraced quite frequently during my time with both Project Diva entries. I haven’t ventured too far into Project Mirai DX’s ‘Hard’ difficulty setting just yet (playing through each song on ‘Normal’ in both button and touch input settings takes time), but I can’t imagine the game can successfully execute the same difficulty progression offered by the Project Diva games with only three difficulty levels. It’s a strange omission, and I can confidently say I would rather have that extra difficulty setting than the option to play songs with my stylus.
On the other hand, increased accessibility is a beautiful thing, because like the Project Diva titles, Project Mirai DX is a purveyor of pure, consistent happiness. Lowering the barrier to entry means more players can experience the unique, adorable and wonderful musical experience Hatsune Miku has to offer, and I implore anyone remotely interested in rhythm games (or fun) to download the game’s demo on the 3DS eShop right away. It’s a constant source of smiles that I haven’t been able to put it down despite my difficulty concerns. Look out for our final verdict on Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX next week.