Review by FFandMMfan

"Another overlooked DS rhythm gem"

The DS has had several notable rhythm games over the years, and while games like Rhythm Heaven and the Elite Beat Agents/Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan series have been relatively popular in the west, others like Jam With the Band and the Taiko no Tatsujin DS series have been completely overlooked by western rhythm game fans. Utacchi is no exception, and even I, a huge rhythm game fan, didn't know about it until 8 months after it was released in Japan, and found that almost no one else knows about it either. I'm here to fix that, and to tell you that Utacchi is just as good as many of the other major rhythm games for the DS.

GAMEPLAY
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In Utacchi, notes will scroll down from the top of the screen and you must play them in time with the rhythm, just like nearly every rhythm game ever made. There are 4 kinds of notes in Utacchi, red ones that you tap, yellow ones which you slash upwards to clear, blue ones which you hold down for the length of the note and green ones which work like blue ones, except you must draw a zigzag pattern while keeping the stylus held on the note bar. As you correctly play the notes, a meter will fill up, and if you can raise it to a certain point and keep it there till the song ends (naturally, playing badly reduces the meter), you will clear the song and obtain money to buy more songs from the shop.

The game begins with a small handful of songs, but as soon as you start winning money by completing songs, you can start buying more. At first, there's only a few to buy, but as you complete more songs, more will be available to buy, and eventually the song list will grow to 40 songs large.

Not only does the game have 40 songs of varying difficulty levels, but there are multiple general difficulties as well. By default, there are 3 rows that the notes scroll down on, and this can be played with an either easy or hard note chart. There's also an easier mode with only one row that the notes scroll down, and this also has both easy and hard note charts. Finally, there's a 5 row mode, but this one only comes in hard mode. As you might expect, the hard note charts and 5 row mode can be rather challenging, but this isn't surprising since this is actually an entry in Konami's popular Pop'n Music series, which are known for their difficulty at high levels, though I would imagine it's still a bit easier than the other Pop'n Music games since it uses the DS touch screen rather than big buttons.

I should also probably mention that the game is extremely easy to play without any Japanese knowledge, and even so, there's a translation FAQ (though it doesn't cover everything) that you can use if you ever get confused.

Overall, the game is extremely fun and is definitely a worthy entry in the DS' already extensive rhythm game library.

MUSIC
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The song list is one of the most important parts of a rhythm game, and thankfully, Utacchi doesn't disappoint in the least, especially if you're an Anime fan. This game has several popular songs from several popular Anime, including, but not limited to Asterisk from Bleach, Haruka Kanata from Naruto, Blue Bird from Naruto Shippuuden, Sorairo Days from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, Zankoku na Tenshi no Teeze from Neon Genesis Evangelion, Happy Material from Mahou Sensei Negima!, Cha-La Head Cha-La from Dragon Ball Z, Pray and Donten from Gintama, Sobakasu from Rurouni Kenshin, Zetsubou Billy from Death Note and Sousei no Aquarion from... Sousei no Aquarion. This is of course supported by several other J-Pop songs, and a few Konami originals as well.

But... the good news ends there, unfortunately... See, while the songs themselves may be good, the covers are... a mixed bag, to say the least. Some of them sound great (the guy who sings Cha-La Head Cha-La sounds almost exactly like the original singer), but some of them aren't nearly as good as they could be. But the vocal covers aren't the problem, it's the MUSIC covers that are the problem. Some of the instrumentals are just WRONG, like they played it once and regardless of how it sounded, they went with it anyway. Some parts just have a wrong note or two, but some sound like they were ripped out of an entirely different song. The guitar in the part just after the beginning of Asterisk for example is COMPLETELY wrong, and that's just one example, there's plenty of instances of this, and it really makes some of the covers sound cheap, regardless of how well the singer did.

In addition to the covers being less than perfect, the songs are also extremely short. Most of the Anime themes only cover the TV-size versions of the songs, and most of the J-Pop songs are about the same length - only covering up to the end of the first chorus. The Konami originals however didn't get this same treatment, and many of them are about twice as long as the Anime and J-Pop songs.

There's also one other little problem with the songs... See, the game bases all of it's notes on the vocals, so you'll never find yourself playing to the instruments, and because of this, some songs have huge empty sections where you're not doing anything. Some songs actually have almost as much downtime as playtime, due to having long intros, instrumental sections in the middle of the song and long ending instrumentals, and there's no way to skip them. There's not even any fancy animations to distract you during this downtime, like the Elite Beat Agents/Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan games have, since your character only has a few frames of animation and that's really the only thing on screen besides the note chart. This can be pretty annoying at times, to say the least.

But regardless of the quality of the music (the audio quality isn't the best either), the game is still extremely fun to play and I highly recommend it.

FINAL THOUGHTS
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If you've got a DS and are itchin' for a new rhythm game and have already played all the other greats like Elite Beat Agents/Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan and Jam With the Band, then I highly suggest Utacchi. Despite it's shortcomings, it's still a fantastic game and a must-have for DS rhythm game fans.

Pros:
+ Fun gameplay engine
+ Great note charts
+ Great soundtrack of 40 songs
+ Relatively easy to gain enough money to buy new songs
+ Multiple difficulty levels cater to all player skill levels

Cons:
- The covers could be better, especially the instrument covers
- The songs are rather short
- Low audio quality
- Long stretches of no gameplay in some songs
- There's an Ali Project song
- There's no One Piece song


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 11/11/10

Game Release: Utacchi!! (JP, 02/25/10)


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