pop'n music

konami, 1998

ah... pop’n my love... pop'n music is actually one of the oldest arcade rhythm games, from the same era as dance dance revolution and beatmania iidx. it was probably the first “pure” rhythm game: there are no pretenses that you’re doing anything remotely related to “real” music like playing an instrument, dancing, or djing. it’s just you and nine huge, colorful buttons begging to be slapped when the pop-kuns in the corresponding lanes reach the bottom of the screen (it is still, however, keysounded: pressing a button plays a note in the song). maybe it’s because of this that it’s always played second fiddle to its siblings iidx and ddr, quietly chugging along for years in the background while only occasionally attracting attention from konami. or perhaps it’s because pop’n’s branding has always been deceptive: its cutesy and playful art style, while so iconic that it attracts fanart from artists who don’t even know it’s a rhythm game (it helps that the style is easy to imitate as well), also make it seem like a casual children’s game. in reality, pop’n is a brutally difficult rhythm game on par with iidx (they have the same miniscule timing window, for example). it’s not terribly surprising when you consider the sheer number of charting possibilities that nine buttons result in, and the fact that chart creators and players have had upwards of twenty years so far to explore them.

the enticing, extremely satisfying buttons along with the art style make pop'n one of my top games, although unfortunately i don't come across it very often. it never really made it over to the US in an official capacity, probably because it was believed that it was too weird and japanese to be successful, similar to taiko no tatsujin (ironically, nowadays that would probably a plus). a handful of older round 1s in the US have ancient pop’n music cabs, running a version of the game from over ten years ago. it doesn’t get enough love for many independent arcade owners to consider having it as well. even in japan it's not found in many arcades anymore, and the cabs you do find are ancient CRT cabs in cobwebbed corners, the site of pilgrimage for a couple of grizzled vets who started playing back when the cab was brand new. they have made newer cabs but for some reason they're quite elusive, i've only ever seen one and it wasn't even anywhere close to japan. the average age of a pop'n cab has got to be at least 15 years old. it is interesting, though, how they've managed to keep deploying successive updates to such old cabs. the software probably has some of the most hardware backwards compatability of any game ever. particularly intriguing are the cabs that have the standalone IC card reader stand, since the oldest cabs didn't come with built-in card readers.

i would say my one gripe with pop'n (besides its rarity) is that the music selection isn't quite to my taste. i like fast bpm, hype music, and unfortunately that doesn't mesh very well with pop'n's style, so there's not a whole lot of songs in it that i get hype while playing. mostly i stick with crossover songs from other games like iidx.