I haven’t been this excited about an arcade game in a very VERY long time, and since there doesn’t seem to be much English-language fan-blogging about it, I thought I’d share this discovery with you. After checking it out for the first time in Japan back in January, I’ve been playing it a lot in Hong Kong, and hope it will make its way to North America soon.
[Sept. 2013: Sega has now released an updated version, MaiMai GreeN. You can read my write-up about it here.]
Released in mid-2012, maimai PLUS (or just “maimai”) is a touch-screen-based rhythm game developed by Sega, kind of like DanceDanceRevolution for your hands. Colored circles ripple out from the center of the screen in different speeds and combinations, depending on the level and the song, and you have to either push buttons or touch the screen in matching rhythm as the rings cross a large circle on the screen to score points. This incredibly sparkly promotional video from Sega gives you the introductory gist:
Gameplay is pretty simple. There are 3 kind of “rings”: pink circles, yellow circles, and blue stars. Pink circles appear individually, so you tap the button one at a time. Yellow circles appear in pairs, so you have to use two hands to push two buttons together at the same time (or do it fancy one-handed on the touch screen if you have a large hand-span). Sometimes the circles turn into long ovals, and that means you have to hold down the button a few beats, instead of just tapping quickly, until the oval disappears. Blue stars can appear individually or in pairs, and after you push the button, a dotted line appears across the screen and you have to swipe across the screen with your hand along the line, at the same speed as blue star, which will also be moving down the line. It’s a little difficult to describe how to play using only words. Just watch a person play once, though, (or search on YouTube) and you’ll figure it out immediately. There is also a tutorial mode on the machine for new players.
Some players, including me, prefer to use only the buttons and just touch the screen to swipe down the blue-star-line. Some people play entirely on the touchscreen. There are dotted points around the screen that you can touch instead of pushing buttons. I’ve found that there are pros and cons to either method. Using only the touchscreen allows greater versatility (e.g., the one-handed yellow-ring move I mentioned before) and speed when playing, but it’s often hard to get good accuracy when you want to aim for a “perfect” sync as the rings cross the line. Using buttons is more accurate since you have a larger target to push, and you get the personal satisfaction of slapping buttons, but it’s harder to do trick moves and really challenging on the fast and difficult songs. So take your pick! I’ve seen players at all levels use either method.
There are dozens of songs to choose from, most of which are quite new and popular. The most often-played ones are in the “J-Pop” (lots of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and AKB48 songs) and “Variety” categories (here’s a track list: http://maimai.sega.jp/song.shtml). A few of my personal favorites are “Samurai Bloodshow”, “LukaLuka★Night Fever”, and “WORLD’S END DANCE HALL”. The machines are always updating with new songs, which keeps the gameplay fresh.
To start playing, I recommend getting an Aime card, which usually costs around US$4.50/HK$35, so that you can save your progress as you level up and unlock new songs. There’s a sensor on the maimai machine where you place your card, and it will recognize your individual card number so your “saved game” comes up on the machine. The first time you use the card it will ask you to make a username on the machine. Afterward, you can go to the maimai website (https://maimai-net.com/maimai-mobile/login.htm), sign up for a SEGA ID, register your Aime card, and keep track of your scores, gameplay, trophies, and levels. You can change your username and thumbnail icon (which appears on a screen at the top of the maimai machine when you play) anytime online.
When you first start playing, you can play on Easy, Basic, Advanced, or Expert level for each song. You can clear a song and level up by ranking A-minus or above (i.e., A, A+, AA, S, SS). After every song, the screen above the machine gives you your stats and tells you how many rings you got “perfect”, “great”, “good”, or “miss”. When you rank “S” on an Expert-level song, you unlock the “Master” level of that song, which is often SUPER HARD but SUPER FUN. You can get “trophies” for certain accomplishments, such as clearing a whole category of songs, ranking S on a certain number of songs, getting to level 10, 20, 30, 40, etc. Once you get to level 100, I think the game makes it so that you level up more slowly, but you can still get trophies for other things. Check out the Japanese wiki of the game (http://maimai.wiki.fc2.com/) for all sorts of interesting information. You can feed it through Google translate to get a fairly understandable English translation.
There is also an option to record your gameplay so that you can upload it to the Japanese video site NicoNicoDouga (or maybe keep for yourself? I’m not sure), but I always just hit “disagree” on recording when I get the prompt. Even if you “agree” and it records your game, you always have the option to delete the video at the end of the song if you don’t want to keep/upload it.
I’ve been enjoying this game for the fun catchy songs and the good cardio I get from playing on Master level. In the beginning, I was of course super-slow and missing lots of rings, but after practicing, much like on a musical instrument, I could almost feel the neurons zapping in my brain as my hand-eye-coordination improved with each round. It’s definitely worth a try, no matter what your age, and can be quite relaxing once you get the hang of it. In the Hong Kong arcades I’ve visited so far, I unscientifically estimate the player ratio for maimai PLUS is about 40% girls, 60% boys, so the game definitely has wide appeal. (And the girls do play at a high level! It’s not just the dancing booth babes on easy mode you see on YouTube!)
Right now, it costs anywhere from US$0.75/HK$6 per person for each 3-4 song round to US$0.65/HK$5 per 2-3 song round. In Japan, it’s 100yen per person for 3-4 songs, if I remember correctly. There are also consoles in various cities in Asia, such as Singapore, Jakarta, and Taipei. You can search for them on the Zenius website (http://zenius-i-vanisher.com/v5.2/arcadelocations.php#location:0,0,1). Just scroll down, click on “Music Game” and search for “maimai” or “maimaiPLUS”, but be careful, some of the “maimai” locations might not have Aime card readers. Lesson learned in Singapore: if you want to you use your Aime card, go to the arcade in Bugis Junction, not Bugis+.
(Update – April 23, 2013: A recent jaunt to Manila has revealed that even a maimai Plus machine might not have Aime card readers. The one at Quantum arcade in SM City Manila currently does not have this capability. I am not sure about other locations in the country. I guess it has more to do with whether the individual arcade has Aime hooked up, which probably needs an internet connection. It was very impressive watching the people there play. They all have to play as a “guest” and S-rank an expert level song to unlock the master level EVERY SINGLE TIME. On top of it, they don’t get to save their progress or get trophies! Lots of people were still playing excellently, though, so that must mean they had to practice many many times without the benefit of a saved game. That’s love and dedication!)
I’m not sure if Sega will release this game outside of Asia, but the version outside Japan is all in English, so it could easily be imported to North America. If it does get there, I hope the game will still be as affordable to play as it is here. In the meantime, if you happen to come to a city in Asia where there is maimai PLUS, give it a go!
(And if you have to wait your turn to play at the arcade, you can always do what all other Hong Kongers are doing right now and play Candy Crush Saga on your phone! ^^)