Backlog: Nick Was In Japan and Forgot to Post This edition

Yeah. So, the way the Backlog works—theoretically—is all our staff members pitch in with a personal written contribution. One of us then volunteers to clean everything up and package it into one easy-to-peruse digest for you, our beloved readers. It usually works pretty well.

However, a few weeks back everything kinda failed to come together. Fortunately, I still managed to hammer out some thoughts on my trip to Japan and the games I played while I was abroad. Unfortunately, that's as far as this post got.

Rather than lump this in with tomorrow's real, honest-to-goodness new Backlog, I decided to get this thing I wrote out ahead of time. I'll have some new thoughts about Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and a bunch of other newfangled stuff for tomorrow's modern update. In the meantime, here's some weird stuff that happened while I was wandering around Tokyo.

Cheers.  – Nick Cummings

Nick

♫ I’ve got two turntables and I might get owned ♫

♫ I’ve got two turntables and I might get owned ♫

Intercontinental travel is one of those things that, to the rational brain, makes sense. Time zones are a thing; the sun can only shine on certain parts of the planet given rotation and alignment; etc. Yeah. Sure. Fine. I get it. But no matter how hard I try, the return trip is always just brutal.

I’m writing this at 12:30 a.m. on Saturday, October 18th, en route back home from Japan. Except we’ve crossed the international date line by this point, so I guess it’s closer to 8:30 a.m. on Friday the 17th in Seattle, where I’ll be landing in a little bit. I think I slept for about an hour. I have a headache and I don’t want to be thinking about time zones. I want to be sleeping.

The flight staff are preparing to serve us breakfast. They’re doing this to perpetuate a shared myth that we didn’t just board a plane seven hours ago at 5:30 p.m. Apparently we're supposed to forget about the dinner they served shortly after takeoff. Instead, it’s the middle of the night (our current relative position to the sun be damned) and they just handed me a cup of orange juice.

Anyway. Video games. They exist in Japan. I played a few.

Taiko no Tatsujin, or Taiko Drum Master as it was called in its very limited Western release, is still a big attraction at many of the arcades that populated literally every place I visited in Japan. Whether traipsing through the less-seedy portions of Akihabara or blocks away from open fields and ancient temples in Nara, I managed to find a modern Taiko machine with a playable version of the hit single from Frozen, “Let It Go.”

Seriously.

Taiko drums are large, traditional Japanese drums that produce markedly different sounds depending on whether you hit them in the center or on the rim. Taiko no Tatsujin takes this concept and runs with it, creating one of the simplest rhythm games to learn. Big icons mean hit the drum hard; small icons mean you should use a softer touch. Red means hit the center, and blue means hit the rim. Congratulations: you are now a Taiko drum master.

I was a little less successful with Beatmania IIDX, another wildly popular rhythm game that barely made a dent in the United States. The game, now on its 22nd version, is considered the grandfather of the “Bemani” series of rhythm games that includes other Konami hits like Guitar Freaks and, of course, Dance Dance Revolution.Beatmania attempts to mimic a DJ’s setup by giving the player a partial piano keyboard and a turntable and builds a complex, demanding, esoteric but strangely compelling experience out of the whole thing.

I hadn’t touched a Beatmania controller since my college days, but the old skills came back to me: walking up and down the black and white keys, banging out arpeggios, and spinning the turntable with quick, minuscule taps from my pinky finger. Unfortunately, the rules for failing haven’t changed; bomb the last few measures of notes and your success meter tanks, meaning even the strongest performance can be shot to hell if you can’t finish it with a bang. In hindsight, I always felt like it was a much more forgiving system than the one in DDR—screw up too badly in the middle of a song and that’s it.

That sums up the highlights of the arcade scene for me. Otherwise, it was business as usual: lots of Super Smash Bros. on my 3DS and a handful of chapters in Fire Emblem Awakening. I also spent a bit of the return trip starting over in Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, a game that already heralds signs of dull repetition down the road but compensates for it with the ridiculous heapings of Luigi-themed charm that it spews out. I think that’s a net positive for me.