konami, 2015

of all the button games, i think it’s got to be museca that’s the most unusual. not only does it have the biggest, thickest buttons by a wide margin (nearly the size of dessert plates), but the buttons also SPIN. i imagine that a konami designer suffering from creative block one day must’ve looked at the iidx turntable, then the iidx buttons, then back at the turntable, then back at the buttons, and had the brilliant thought: “what if... we COMBINE them!” oh yes, and i almost forgot to mention that museca also has a FOOT PEDAL for some reason.

the game itself comes off to me as quite stylish, with a distinct aesthetic that feels geometric, angular, perhaps runic. it uses lots of straight lines, vertical and diagonal, and sticks closely to a red and white color scheme. score grades at the end of a song are given using a single stylized kanji that looks cool but is unreadable to me. it seems to have some sort of high-concept theme running throughout, the interface refers to a bunch of stuff like "illustrations" you collect, there’s something called "grafica", notes are called "objects". most of it is explained in a lengthy tutorial at the start of the game that i skip through every time, because none of it is that relevant outside of the game’s story mode which is more or less unplayable now that it's impossible to retain progress since the game is offline.

in any case the gameplay isn't too bad, if a little easy, and having to both press or spin the buttons is neat and works pretty well. one (literal) pain point though was that my hands would always end up hurting after a few songs, just from pressing (slapping?) the buttons. i'm not sure if it was something to do with the design on their surface, or maybe i was subconsciously hitting them harder than usual because they were such big juicy targets. also, the foot pedal seemed really cool at first, but i’m starting to question its inclusion in the game because it’s so far out of left field (in a game that already has spinning buttons) that even the charters don’t really know what to do with it and include just one or two foot pedal notes at the very end of a chart as an afterthought, like they forgot the foot pedal was there and scrambled to tack on a token note for it after being reminded. they weren’t much fun for me either because i’d hover my foot above the pedal the entire song in anticipation (not sure if this is the way you’re supposed to do it, it can be quite taxing) and inevitably get caught off guard and hit them late (if at all) when one or two finally appeared at the end of the song.

my final complaint is that the menus were annoying to get through for each play, though that was mostly because the game was offline and so it would try to tutorial me every single credit. it would be nice if they had put a little bit more effort into the online patch to make things smoother, like maybe they could have removed all the story mode tutorials/explanations that are no longer necessary since the story mode isn’t really playable offline. also, i don’t understand why they didn’t unlock every song and chart in the offline patch, there’s really no point to gating anything anymore and it makes the game almost unplayable offline once you get good enough because all the hard charts will always be locked when you start a session. pump it up has the right idea with this, the offline patch for every version always unlocks all songs and all charts so you can still get lots of mileage out of an offline cab. god forbid that anyone has fun with an offline konami cab instead of paying them their due every credit...

i suppose museca’s stylishness was too much for the unwashed masses, because it ended up discontinued after a couple of years and only one major version update. from what i’ve heard, the initial version’s UI was so bad that it killed the game in the cradle, and not even a massive overhaul that improved the game significantly was enough to save it. to add insult to injury, old museca cabs are particularly difficult to find because konami, always looking to salvage some profits, sold upgrade kits to turn them into a completely different game called bishi bashi channel instead of allowing museca cabs a dignified retirement sitting in forgotten arcade corners. observant arcade goers will notice that bishi bashi channel cabs still retain four of museca's distinctive big spinny buttons and the glowy, vaguely-triangular transparent decorative part of the base.

for some reason round1 retained many of their museca cabs and sent them off to random locations in the US (their traditional dumping ground for old but still functional cabs), which are now the best place to find them, though they are slowly disappearing to make room for newer rhythm games (and more crane machines...) i encountered museca at several different locations to the point where it started feeling like it was part of the standard complement of round 1 rhythm games, and i used to play it every so often because people would leave a lot of free credits on the machine for some reason. eventually the annoying tutorials and inability to unlock more difficult charts got to me, though it seems it’s earned a devotee or two. i recall reading an article a while back in wired (of all places) by someone who got so hooked that they went on a quest to buy a museca cab for their home.