Review: Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX may look small, but it dreams big

The Hatsune Miku rhythm games bear an enticing peculiarity. It’s almost as if Vocaloids themselves were designed specifically for the purpose: their compositions are intentionally complex in a way that makes it more practical for a virtual singer than a real one, and the inherent specificity of the rhythms and tones sets high expectations for the player’s precision.

These distinctive elements come at a cost, though. The syncopation and unpredictability of the beats can be intimidating, and expecting such a high level of skill from newcomers limits a game’s appeal to an elite few with native ability. As fun as they can be, the Project Diva titles aren’t for everyone.

It’s intriguing, then, that Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX seeks to broaden its appeal, but what’s more impressive is how it succeeds without compromising what works so well for Diva‘s existing fans.

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At its core, Project Mirai DX is about hitting buttons in time with the music. Well, or tapping, I guess. The game supports either one, and while buttons are naturally more precise, tapping works well enough for fans of Theatrhythm and Elite Beat Agents to do things that way. Completionists will have to do both, as the game keeps track of both methods separately and generally wants you to play each song six times as a result.

Like the Diva games, Mirai DX likes putting button prompts all across the screen in unpredictable formations, but it’s nice enough to draw you a line between them so it’s a bit easier to follow. This, along with a more generous margin for error before failure, is helpful in getting away from Diva‘s “practice run” problem: your first play, while certainly leaving room for improvement, can be fun and even a success. Going for that S+ ranking is another matter, though. Attaining that rank on the highest-difficulty songs certainly rivals the worst the Diva games can throw at you. These songs are long, too. Impressively so for a rhythm game. Of course, that comes with its own implications when playing a game on the road, so if you only have a minute or two, keep that in mind.

This game doesn’t — even for a second — stop being the most adorable thing it can possibly be.

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Also helping this along is the song selection, which is robust but tailored for the Nendoroid aesthetic. This means that some of the more frantic, devious tracks aren’t here, because, well, they aren’t cute. Whether that design choice was based on the 3DS’ younger, friendlier audience is unclear, but the resulting commitment to theme works to Mirai DX‘s benefit.

This game doesn’t — even for a second — stop being the most adorable thing it can possibly be. You can’t even get to a screen that doesn’t feature a Nendoroid Vocaloid. (Side note: Nendoroid Vocaloid would be a pretty great band name.) Playing Puyo Puyo? There they are. How about some Reversi? Yep, still there! Even in the menus, there’s the singer of your choice, just chilling on the top screen. This could totally come across as creepy, and some very similar things do in the other Miku games, but there’s something about this chibi mascot approach that keeps it away from that.

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Streetpass_4_1440621050There are certainly some weaker elements in the Mirai DX package. It occasionally tries to implement voice controls, mostly in the interaction-based Hang Out Mode, but these basically don’t work. English has always been a more difficult language to interpret than Japanese, so I bet these functions worked much better there, but thankfully these functions are generally redundant and avoidable.

In fact, that’s really the thing with the game: most parts that aren’t very good are totally okay to just ignore. The choreography options are limited and inevitably repetitive, but making new dance routines is never something you have to do. It’s cool that the game comes with a bunch of AR cards to let you place performances on various surfaces around you, but that the 3DS’ augmented-reality tech is still finicky won’t hurt you too much, since no one’s intention is to spend hours watching low-res Miku atop a coffee cup. (Unless you want all the game’s Stamps, in-game achievements tied to basically everything.)

Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX is a great rhythm game for beginners and veterans alike, with a heaping helping of extra silliness if you just like Vocaloids.

Streetpass_7_1440621051Even ignoring those options, there’s a lot in this package to make it feel worthwhile. Mirai DX thankfully replicates StreetPass functionality as a SpotPass one, so you won’t have to rely on the nigh-impossible task of finding local like-minded Miku-buds. It’s nothing amazing, but you can share your favorite Vocaloid in your favorite costume, compose a little jingle for your friends and… also leave a comment on a music video? Okay, add that last one to the weird-list. It’s mostly good to network with friends to get the cash bonus to spend on a bunch of silly stuff in the store, like new duds and weird room decorations.

If you just want to listen to the songs without the frantic game atop them, boy, does Mirai DX have some ways for you to do that. There’s a jukebox accessible through the main menu for pure song play, as well as a Theater Mode that lets you watch the videos and a Jam Along Mode to let you play along with some instrumentation if you wish. (The lyrics have captions but not translations, so you can learn to sing the songs but you’ll still have no idea what they mean.)

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Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX is a great rhythm game for beginners and veterans alike, with a heaping helping of extra silliness if you just like Vocaloids. It occasionally gets so excited about making you happy that it trips over itself, but even that comes across as endearing in this packaging, and none of that flawed execution makes its way to the rhythm game proper. It’s certainly worth your time.

Score: 9/10
Publisher: Sega
Release Date: September 8, 2015
Developer: Sega
Platform(s): 3DS
Questions? Check out our review guide.
A review copy was provided by the publisher or developer for this review.

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