November 14, 2008

Our Fake Plastic Ancestors

I’m not sure how many people realize this, but Guitar Hero wasn’t the first fake plastic guitar game. That honor goes to Konami’s GuitarFreaks.

This interview with Bryan Lam, who at the time worked for Red Octane, summarizes:

YVG: How much did Konami drop the ball? Their GuitarFreaks franchise has been around for a long time, but never hit American consoles. Now you guys swoop in and take over the whole genre — essentially making other music games look silly.

BL: It’s just being able to target who your demographic is. I believe [GuitarFreaks] mostly had Asian pop songs. It’s very niche, and doesn’t really translate into who the video game player is in general. Everybody has their own musical taste, but to put your game on the market and have people buy it, you need songs people can relate to or know of. Guitar Hero was able to put in some of the greatest bands of all time, and songs people already knew about. Another big thing is having the guitar peripheral work really well with the game. I can’t say whether or not Konami dropped the ball. They had a great idea, but it’s more being able to capitalize on that opportunity.

The arcade version of GuitarFreaks had two guitars, and they’re quite recognizable by modern fake plastic guitar standards — but they only have three buttons each.


Gameplay seems a little quaint compared to the 5 button guitar we’ve gotten used to from Guitar Hero and onward. However, it had both bass and lead guitar multiplayer mode long before Guitar Hero II did! And the tilt “star power” mechanism is in place as “wailing play”.

Konami also released the first drumming game, DrumMania. It had a foot pedal, three pads, and two cymbals — pretty close to the current Guitar Hero: World Tour drum layout, minus some positioning.


Gameplay is similar, but the kick pedal is its own “note”, not the horizontal bar that Rock Band introduced us to.

Neither game was never released in the US, technically. There was a Playstation 2 combo disc containing both DrumMania and GuitarFreaks you could import, which is reviewed here on GameSpot. You’d need the imported drum and guitar peripherals as well.

If an arcade contained both games, and they were the correct versions, you could link them — and play both drums and guitar at the same time.

One of the major selling points of DrumMania is its ability to be linked to another of Konami’s Bemani games, GuitarFreaks. This allows up to 3 players to play together, the music will play from both games, and the players’ guitar and drum sounds will be relayed between the two games as well. Linking only works with the same “version pair”.

Two guitars and a drummer? Shades of Rock Band!

But wait, it gets better — or worse, depending on your perspective. There’s no vocalist, but remember all that talk about a keyboard peripheral? There was a short-lived keyboard arcade game from Konami as well. Its name? You guessed it, KeyboardMania.

Seen only in two releases each of GuitarFreaks and DrumMania, Super Session (or Multi Session) allowed the games to be linked up with Keyboardmania 3rdMIX as well. In addition to having three players control the guitars and drums, two more could be added playing along on keyboards. However, when linked with Keyboardmania, only about a dozen songs are available to play. Keyboardmania 3rd Mix can be linked with GuitarFreaks 5thMIX and DrumMania 4thMIX, or GuitarFreaks 6thMIX and DrumMania 5thMIX.


Did you notice each player gets a 24-key keyboard? TWENTY FOUR BUTTONS! That’s incredible. Gameplay video follows.

Again: holy crap. Playing with a 5 button guitar with a single hand (+ strum) is plenty challenging for me. I can’t imagine using both hands on 12 buttons (keys), that’s easily an order of magnitude more difficult.

It’s a shame that Konami’s response to the popularity of Guitar Hero and Rock Band was the awful Rock Revolution. Between GuitarFreaks, DrumMania and Karaoke Revolution* they basically invented the entire fake plastic rock genre long before Guitar Hero hit the scene in 2005, much less Rock Band in 2007.

But as they say, history is written by the victors.

* (not to mention the Karaoke Revolution titles, which were ironically developed by Harmonix under contract to Konami!)

In San Diego, one of the malls here had DrumMania a few years before Rock Band came out. And I got super addicted. It cost $.75 and the best (most recognizable) song was Living on a Prayer. AND the drum sticks were held together with duct tape, and the cymbals were either broken or you had to hit them so hard it hurt your arm. BUT IT WAS AWESOME.

When Rock Band came out and I finally had a drum set in my own living room, with real songs, and no pay-per-play… it was like Christmas and Easter combined.

Off the subject: This is a great blog. Please keep up the excellent articles! I especially liked your opinions of the Stage Kit, and the wireless microphone. Thanks!!

November 20, 2008 at 4:32 pm

Are you sure Drummania was never released in America? I saw it (or something extremely similar) about 6 years ago in my local mall. Just curious if you could find anymore information. Thanks.

November 21, 2008 at 7:31 am

Guitar Freaks and Drummania are still going strong…in Japan and Korea. Konami never wanted to deal with licesing songs so they have created their own record label for most of the talent in their “Bemani” line (Beatmania, Dance Dance Revolution, Gutiar Freaks, and Drummania). Guitar Freaks is currently at version “V5” which roughly translates to “16th mix.” Arcades do still carry them, but they have to be pretty specialized since to upgrade the machine to a new version they have to connect it to Konami to install the license. This connection must be from the region the game is licensed for so Arcade owners must have a contact overseas.
I go to Arcade Infinity regularly. They usually get the new versions of GF and DM about 2-3 months after it’s released overseas. It’s in the City of Industry in Southern California (Off the 60 fwy at Fullerton Rd., in the Diamond Plaza). For the PS (Japanese only) you could get GF and GF 2nd mix. 3rd and 4th mix with DM 2nd and 3rd mix repectively were available for the PS2. Then there was a lull until “V” (Changed to get DM and GF using the same version designation), “V2”, “Masterpiece Silver”, and “Masterpiece Gold” were released for PS2 as well.

Happy Strumming!

November 24, 2008 at 1:37 pm

I realize this article’s old as crap, but I found it by Google so I guess others will too.

Just wanted to +1 Dalamar. You write this whole article as if GF/DM were a huge failure, which is kinda funny. It’s a giant, raging success – in its market, which is Asia. There’s millions of players, a massive enthusiast scene, national tournaments (videos of which later come out on DVD), live concerts, the whole thing.

Konami’s approach to the American market is generally to throw whatever they have at it and see if it sticks. If it does, fine (a la DDR). If not, oh well. They don’t put a lot of effort into it. Their primary market is Japan, then the rest of Asia. North America is a very distant third on the list. So they were never going to fuck with GF/DM excessively to try and ‘break’ the American market or something. They just don’t care very much.

In West Coast cities with big Asian populations, GF/DM machines are easy to find and very popular. Here in Vancouver BC there’s six or seven arcades with GF/DM machines, several of which are well maintained, kept up to the latest releases (a new GF/DM ‘mix’ comes out every 12 months or so), and extremely popular.

Just because it’s not that big in the U.S. or on consoles doesn’t make it a failure, guys, and it doesn’t make GH / Rock Band the ‘winner’. Just on the U.S. console market. Try going to Japan and see how many people play GH there…

Adam Williamson
January 15, 2009 at 3:37 pm

There was a old old Atari game called Guitar gods too.
It had ABC’s, and those type of songs on it.
But it was way way before guitar freaks.

May 21, 2009 at 9:35 am

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