Beat Down

This DJ simulator is nothing to rave about.

If you've gazed at a record player and imagined you could scratch as well as the next guy, you're not alone. Guitars, drums, bass -- all these instruments appear to require real skill or at least blisters. But who can't drop a needle?

The problem is, cutting beats and transplanting samples isn't that easy. It takes work. And practice. And that's not fun. Which is why Konami's Beatmania seems so promising. The game is supposed to let you play DJ without the fuss. It even comes with a sweet-looking plastic turntable controller.

But, like real DJing, Beatmania isn't as easy as it looks. In fact, in the time it takes to master this merciless outing, you could actually learn to be a real DJ instead of just a pretend one.

The plastic turntable controller is anything but intuitive. By the time you reach the end of practice mode, you'll detest the alien piece of plastic at your fingertips. It's a struggle to keep up with the blur of beats on the screen, and don't even think about looking at your fingers to see which of the seven keys you're supposed to press. You'll just lose your place in the song, and it's nearly impossible to recover.

Beatmania's draw is the chance to spin and scratch on its miniature turntable, but you'll quickly learn that the game is 95 percent keyboard and 5 percent scratching. You'll end up feeling more like Christopher Cross than Kris Kross.

Worse is the disconnect between what's played and what's heard. The same button that makes a drumbeat is used to make saxophone squeals or keyboard plinks later in the same song. This leads to the feeling that you're just playing an overcomplicated version of Simon.

If Beatmania's dull look and play mechanics feel outdated, that's because they are. Launched nine years ago in Japanese arcades, Beatmania actually predates Dance Dance Revolution as the papa of music games. Yet in its first American release, no attempt is made to bring the game up to date. Music games have come a long way in eight years -- Guitar Hero, anyone? -- while this game has aged as well as the Macarena.

Beatmania claims to offer the feeling of being a DJ. This is patently false. No DJ in the world simply stabs the right buttons at the right time for hours on end. Keeping up with hordes of note bars falling like Tetris blocks does not constitute "cueing and mixing."

A music-based game featuring crappy music is as worthless as Color Me Badd's entire back catalog. The tracks on Beatmania -- a nauseating mix of generic house, trance, hip-hop, and techno -- run the gamut from boring to ridiculous: a screechy remix of Britney Spears' "Toxic"? A lame version of "Funkytown"? Something called "Mr. T (Take Me Higher)"? I pity the fools who think this is club music. This is what happens when you let computer geeks make mixtapes.

If you're looking for an authentic DJ experience, you're better off going down to the pawnshop to buy a Technics turntable and some stacks of wax from the bargain bin. For by the end of Beatmania, you will have mastered only one beat: the thump, thump, thump of your skull bouncing off the wall.