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Review: Hatsune Miku Project Diva Mega Mix

14 May 2020

I’ve been a fan of the Project Diva series of rhythm games for nearly a decade now, ever since I picked up the PS3 release of Project Diva F back in 2013. I’d never even heard of Vocaloid or Hatsune Miku at that point, picking the game up on a whim as I wanted another rhythm game to play.

I pretty much fell into the Vocaloid hole after that. Putting together playlists of songs to listen to at work, importing games that hadn’t been released in America, and even attending a live show in Seattle back in 2016. Hell, it was the Project Diva series (and Tales series) that let my decision to pick up a PS4 over an Xbox One back when those systems launched.

Aside from a couple of 3DS spinoffs and arcade machines, the Project Diva series has, until now, been present exclusively on Sony consoles. However, with the extreme popularity of the Nintendo Switch, it’s very hard for a publisher to resist the allure of publishing a game on it.

And so, for the first time, the Project Diva series makes its premier on a non-Sony console. But how well does it fare?

Developed and published by SEGA, Hatsune Miku Project Diva Mega Mix is set for release on May 15th, 2020, for the Switch.

Twist and Shout

At first glance, the gameplay of Mega Mix is hardly different from any other entry in the series. Notes corresponding to face buttons appear on screen and icons float toward them; press the correct button when these overlap and you’re golden. While notes can appear anywhere on the screen, they are typically laid out in such a way that the player can glean the rhythm from the spacing between them.

When it comes to the Project Diva series, there is a distinct split in gameplay style. Prior to 2017, games in the series were primarily developed for consoles (PS3, PS4, PSP, and Vita), with gameplay and notecharts built around typical PlayStation inputs. With the release of Future Tone in 2017, SEGA took a different approach – directly porting the game’s arcade releases to consoles.

This caused some issues, at least for myself. Whilst the general inputs for both the console- and arcade- focused releases are the same, the button layouts are different. Rather than the diamond-shaped layout of a standard console controller, the arcade releases of Project Diva set out the inputs in a straight line.

A seemingly minor difference, but one that has significant impact when playing at higher difficulties.

It was obvious in Future Tone that the notecharts were designed around this layout. Charts have the player flowing back and forth along the buttons, multi-input commands were laid out on screen in such a way to guide the player to the correct inputs, there are inputs that you have to hold down to increase your score, and speedy inputs that often required “dual wielding” inputs on console-focused releases (the D-Pad acting as a secondary trigger for each face button) were significantly reduced. Playing these charts on a PS4 controller just felt off to me, and hitting triple-input commands was extremely difficult.

These exact same issues carry over to Mega Mix because, essentially, Mega Mix is a somewhat stripped-down version of Future Tone. I found myself running into the same issues in playing at a high level here as I did on the PS4 release. The issues were compounded by the fact that the Switch’s JoyCon’s tiny buttons just aren’t good for speedy, jumpy inputs (and the third-party pro controller that I have has a terrible D-Pad, so that didn’t help much either).

This is a situation that will differ from player to player, though. It is certainly possible to learn these charts and play them well on a controller, and the songs are charted well…for the button layout they’re intended for. The game offers multiple assist modes, such as customizing the note icons to face buttons, D-Pad directions, PlayStation face buttons (surprisingly), and various combinations of each. A mode can also be toggled that will show an image of your controller on the screen with directions on what buttons to press when a triple-input command appears. Despite all of this, though, these charts still feel disorienting for me to play on a controller.

New to this Switch release is what the game calls “Mix Mode,” an input mode made specifically for use with the JoyCons. Holding each of the JoyCons upright, notes move in from the top of the screen, requiring you to tilt each JoyCon to move your target then click one of the trigger buttons with your thumb to register an input.

It’s an interesting addition to the game, but not one that really works well, mostly due to the awkwardness of the controls. Playing this mode requires you to hold the JoyCons vertically, then twist your wrists outward to catch notes, whilst keeping your thumbs wresting on the top of the controller to click notes. Twisting outward feels awkward to me, and quickly caused some wrist pain after about 30 minutes from having to keep my thumb locked on top of the JoyCons while twisting. I had more success here by switching the JoyCons to opposite hands so I could twist inward instead…but this meant, of course, that my hands were now controlling targets on opposite sides of the screen, rendering faster maps confusing.

On to some smaller things. As mentioned earlier, one of the icon options you can set are PlayStation’s face buttons. This was a massively welcome surprise; the arcade version does use the same icons, but I was still shocked to see them carried over to a Nintendo console. I turned on this option immediately and was able to jump into Mega Mix with no issues, as I didn’t have to retrain my brain to register Nintendo controller icons.

Speaking of options, there’s a strange carry-over from the original Japanese version here: the option to turn on “arcade controller support.” At the time of writing, there are only two replica arcade controllers I am aware of on the market: an officially licensed one made by Hori that hasn’t been made available outside of Japan, and one made by arcade replica maker Gamo2. Perhaps this is a hint that the official Hori controller will make its way west, but as of now, this is a just a weird vestigial option in the game.

Lastly, and most frustratingly for someone who has been playing this franchise for years, the max difficulty mode for each song is locked behind completing each song on a lower difficulty. It’s not as harsh as console-focused releases like F 2nd or X, which required completing a song on Normal to unlock Hard, then again on Hard to unlock Extreme; you only have to do the latter here. Still, with over 100 songs, all using notecharts I’m already familiar with, having to slog through Hard mode on all of them again was nothing but a chore. I absolutely believe every difficulty should have been available from the get-go here.

Better and Brighter

One of the things that I’ve always disliked about Future Tone and the arcade Project Diva releases has been its visual style. The character models are plasticy and doll-like, coming across as extremely off-putting. Mega Mix changes this up, reverting the designs to something more akin to Project Diva X – bright and much more…well, anime.

I’ve seen talk that this was done because the Switch can’t handle the visual style of the arcade release, but I believe this design change is an absolute and unequivocal upgrade. The game also runs at a smooth 60FPS which means, for the first time, I can watch the animation for “Rolling Girl” with both a smooth framerate and attractive character models.

The soundtrack here is noticeably paired down from Future Tone: 101 songs in the base release compared to 224. SEGA seems to have selected some of the best tracks at the very least, as there wasn’t any particular song I found myself missing from Future Tone. To be fair, that game had a massive amount of filler and just-plain-bad songs, so I’m willing to give Mega Mix a point in the “quality over quantity” department.

Somewhat disappointingly, though, Mega Mix only includes ten new songs. Much of the selection here is made up of the same tracks fans of the series have been playing for years, so I really wish SEGA would have gone a step further with introducing more new tracks to the series. The new choices are solid, at the very least – there’s none that I can say are particularly bad additions.

Mega Repetition

Overall, Project Diva Mega Mix is about as solid as the rest of the series has been to this point. Most of my issues with the game are carry-overs from Future Tone, mostly in the fact that these notecharts are so obviously not made with the intention of being played on a controller. If you can get past that fact, the main arcade mode here will be a solid experience for you. The Switch-exclusive Mix Mode, though, is an interesting experiment, but ultimately forgettable.

What everything here is really going to come down to is just how long you’ve been playing this series. I’ve been playing since 2013, pouring tons of time into each game, and the lack of notable new content here is disappointing. If you’re new to the franchise, (and especially if you haven’t played Future Tone), I think you’ll take much more a shine to this game.

I can’t see myself continuing to play this game, though, especially since I already have a copy of Future Tone with all of my scores and everything unlocked in it. The fact that Mega Mix is portable means little to me, as my Switch nearly never leaves its dock anyways.

Mega Mix will likely be a fun entry for those newer to the series, but for veterans, it really doesn’t have much to offer. Stick to Future Tone instead.

~ Final Score: 7/10 ~

Review copy provided by SEGA for Switch. Screenshots taken by reviewer.