Pentavision's DJ Max Portable has garnered somewhat of a cult following and the announcement that PM Studios would be releasing DJ Max Portable 3 in North America was indeed a welcome one. For those unfamiliar with the DJ Max series, it is a rhythm/music game on the PlayStation Portable and features a tracklist composed by a slew of remixers, several different game modes as well as a multiplayer component. DJ Max Portable 3 is the latest in the series and introduces quite a few new takes on the experience.
DJ Max Portable 3 offers five different game modes, each with a unique experience to offer. 4T and 6T are your classic four and six button game modes respectively. Notes are played using the D-pad and face buttons and the amount depends on which mode you're playing. In essence, it's the exact same gameplay in previous DJ Max titles. It's worth noting that every button is also customizable to suit your individual play style. As you hit the notes, a gauge builds up which can be used to execute "Fever" mode. This is essentially a points multiplier that can be stacked up consecutively up to five times. However, the more you stack, the faster the game plays.
The three new modes, 3.2T, 4.2T and 6.2T are completely new and are called Remix modes, introducing a very DJ-esque style of gameplay to the series. Much like the classic modes, players have to hit notes with the corresponding buttons; in addition, there are two more styles of notes. Turntable Notes are played by shifting the analog nub in the required direction of either left or right. Sampler Notes, on the other hand, are played with both the analog nub and face buttons. It's pretty challenging at first and the sensitivity feels rather cumbersome, but once you're over the learning curve, the satisfaction gained is quite a welcome one.
DJ Max Portable 3 features a new levelling progression system as well. Instead of unlocking pleasantries at certain levels or earning gold to spend on new characters, notes and gears, players now get the option of picking one of three random prizes every time the player levels up. Think of it as a "Deal or No Deal" type of levelling system where the prizes are concealed until the point of selection. It sounds great in theory, but feels relatively frustrating especially when compared to simply earning gold, buying your gear and knowing exactly what you are getting.
The Mission mode makes a return as well. Here, players have to achieve objectives ranging between combos, high scores, fevers and whatnot. Clearing each objective will unlock rewards. Missions are unlocked as progress is made through either the Arcade modes or by levelling up. In addition, players can clear up to 30 different "DJ Challenges." These are essentially to DJ Max Portable 3 what Trophies and Achievements are to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
The biggest downside of DJ Max Portable 3 is definitely the lack of a multiplayer component which featured prominently in previous titles like Fever. There is no way to hook up two PSPs via ad-hoc and get remixing together. Instead, in its place is an online leaderboard which doesn't even connect to the internet. Players will be given a passcode in-game which they'll have to use on the DJ Max website. Unfortunately, this feature is currently only available in Korea with North American rankings coming at a later date.
One of the high points of the game is its presentation. Pentavision has definitely brought the visuals and sound design up a notch or two. Music videos are rendered in high quality animations and graphics. More importantly, the soundtrack sounds incredible, especially with headphones - which by the way, is obviously what DJ Max Portable 3 is meant to be played with. There are 40 songs to play through, not to mention the remix versions. A number of the songs are in Korean but there is certainly a good variety ranging from hip hop to techno and even anime pop songs.
DJ Max Portable 3 doesn't exactly break new ground but definitely delivers a fresh experience. While the gameplay is essentially the same as previous titles, the new Remix modes do provide an interesting twist on the core mechanics. Higher quality visuals and the improved fidelity of the soundtrack are a definite plus. Unfortunately, the new levelling system is a bit of a drag when it comes to unlocking new items and the lack of a multiplayer component is quite disappointing. If you're looking into DJ Max for the first time, you may be better off with one of the earlier titles like DJ Max Fever, Clazziquai or Black Square, especially if multiplayer is essential. Otherwise, DJ Max Portable 3 is pretty much more of the same with a brand new soundtrack and a couple of new twists.