In 1999, Konami, who had cemented themselves as masters of the arcade Rhythm Game with beatmania and the recently released Popn Music and Dance Dance Revolution, decided to expand their horizons into games that didn't just involve hip-hop and dance. It began with GuitarFreaks; a game that involved playing a relatively simplified rendition of a guitar by holding down one or more of the three buttons on its neck (colored in red, green, and blue) and using a switch at the bottom to "strum" it. Konami knew what they were doing so much, that with the release of GuitarFreaks 2nd Mix later that summer, they also introduced a companion series known as DrumMania (which was Exactly What It Says on the Tin, having to use a five-piece set of drum pads attached to the cabinet as instructed). The two games could also be linked for multiplayer in an arrangement they called "session play".
Much like other Bemani franchises, the series uses a soundtrack with a mixture of original music by Konami's in-house artists, along with songs from J-rock acts and U.S. or European rock bands (the latter occurs infrequently in recent versions, but was more common in the early era). In 2010, Konami pulled a IIDX and introduced an upgraded version of the franchises known as XG; which brought revamped cabinets with a more powerful sound system, high definition screens, and redesigned instruments (specifically, the guitar now has five buttons, sustains and an effector pedal, and the drumset got two additional drum pads, double bass pedals, and a raised stage platform)
In its homeland of Japan (which is, as usual, the only place you'll really find plenty of it), you'll rarely find matching versions of the two games separated from each other. In fact, when new versions come out, they now come out at the same time, the PlayStation versions always compiled the two games together, and the Portmanteau Series Nickname Gitadora (ギタドラ) is used as shorthand to refer to both GF and DM at once, and became the official name of both games beginning on the 2013 version (which also introduced new cabinets best described as white, downsized versions of the XG cabinets. So much so that the guitar cabinet only supports one player now).
The series has been most prominently cited as the influence for Harmonix's franchises Guitar Hero (originally published by RedOctane, a company whose other claims to fame include making third-party dance pads for DDR, and publishing the In the Groove home version. Later turned into a Cash Cow Franchise by Activision before its untimely death in 2011), and Rock Band (which took Guitar Hero and added drums, plus karaoke built off its work on fellow Konami franchise Karaoke Revolution, and lots and lots of Downloadable Content). While the first GuitarFreaks got a U.S. release, it flopped. Konami hasn't officially released the series in America since: when faced with the aforementioned competition, it decided to play Follow the Leader with itself and release the dismal Rock Revolution instead, and then played a HeelFace Turn as the publisher for an arcade version of Guitar Hero.
Okay, let's start! Are you ready?
- Announcer Chatter: Early GF mixes had an announcer say things like "Good!" and "Cool!" when reaching certain combo counts (like DDR). Later mixes only have the announcer talking during song selection, and not at all during actual gameplay (like Beatmania).
- Bonus Boss: Early mixes of GuitarFreaks had Extra stages that are played if you do well enough. Starting with GF 4th, Encore stages are also playable if you do well enough on the Extra stage. Early DrumMania mixes actually had no Extra and Encore stages until DM 3rd.
- Starting with GF/DM 10th/9th, any song can be selected as the Extra stage but only the actual Extra stage songs (usually colored red) will let you play the Encore afterwards. And from GF/DM V3 onwards, throughout the "life" of a mix, new bosses are cycled in as the extra and encore.
- Continuity Reboot: First in 2005 with the shift to the "V series" (beginning with GF/DM V, then V2, etc. This also fixed the long-standing issue of DrumMania always being one number behind its brother series).
- Then we have XG, which ran in parallel with the V series as a Spin-Off (kinda like beatmania IIDX) for two versions until it was phased out (GF/DM V7 and V8 just used the content and portions of the UI from their XG counterpart grafted onto the legacy engine/gameplay). Now we have the shift to "GITADORA" as the name of the series for the newest release in 2013 (which, for all intents and purposes, is XG4). The title screens brand them as "GITADORA: GuitarFreaks" and "GITADORA: DrumMania" respectively.
- Co-Op Multiplayer: One of the biggest draws of the series is that multiple players can play as a band together: two on GuitarFreaks and one on a linked drummania cabinet. Two versions of the pair allow linking up with Keyboardmania as well for a five-player "Super Session", but the songlist drops in quantity dramatically when playing in Super Session mode.
- Copy Protection: Much like DDR 2013 and beatmania tricoro, GITADORA requires a connection to Konami's e-Amusement network in order to run.
- Cover Version: A frequent sight throughout the series, mostly of Japanese songs ("Tentai Kansoku", "Luvly Merry-Go-Round") with the occasional English song every now and then ("Born To Be Wild", "Paranoia").
- Downloadable Content: The 2014 release, GITADORA Overdrive, is essentially a patch (similarly to other Bemani games as of late) rather than a complete upgrade kit, as was the case for previous installments.
- Gratuitous English: Being Bemani, some songs have their fair share of these. "Departure", however, is this series' most prominent example; it even comes with karaoke lyrics for anyone to sing along with.
- Harder Than Hard: Master difficulty, introduced in XG, which is available on select songs.
- Idiosyncratic Difficulty Levels:
- Konami Code: A variation back in the very first DrumMania. While selecting the difficulty, inputting "hi-hat, hi-hat, snare, snare, high tom, low tom, high tom, low tom, bass, bass" would enable the selection of Expert Real (what Extreme was called back then).
- Mascot: Prior to the 2013 release, they were a drummer with a Bucket Helmet, and a guitarist with a Brown Bag Mask. GITADORA replaces them with Otobear, this odd Mix And Match Creature with a speaker for a face.
- Medley: The series has a number of these as playable songs:
- The "Classic Party" series by Hideyuki Ono, which are medleys of rock rearrangements of classical music.
- "Riff Riff Paradise" and "Riff Riff Orbit" by Mutsuhiko Izumi, medleys of Izumi's various songs in the series.
- "Pot-pourri d'orange" and "Pot-pourri d'marmalade" by Orange Lounge.
- "Jake in the Box", a medley of classic GF/DM songs.
- Boss Rush: "ENCORE CONQUEST" is Exactly What It Says on the Tin, a medley of five boss songs note compressed into 2:26 of pain.
- Overdrive added two more, "The ULTIMATES -Brightness-" (the unlocked Encore songs from Gitadora), and "The ULTIMATES -Darkness-" (a medley of unlocks from Extra Rush cycles).
- Mercy Mode: Starting with V6, failing the first stage will still allow you to continue playing.
- Miniscule Rocking: Most BEMANI songs are already short enough by most people's standards at only 90-130 seconds, but "Thank You For Playing" from the console version of V3 holds the honor of the shortest playable in any BEMANI game ever at five seconds long.
- Nintendo Hard: The drummania portion stands out in being not only hard to master (in fact, it's one of the hardest BEMANI games at the highest levels, alongside Pop N Music and beatmania IIDX), but also hard to learn. Whereas other BEMANI games can be simply learned by figuring out which buttons, panels, or part of the screen to hit or step on, drummania requires you to understand some real-world drumming basics (for one, non-drummers may see crossing one's hands to hit the hi-hat as Violation of Common Sense) since you are playing on a real simulated-drum set and not just pressing buttons; failure to use proper technique can be damaging to your hands and even your back. And once you start trying to learn the charts, you realize that many higher-end charts require you to keep multiple rhythms in your head at the same time.
- No Fair Cheating: In more recent mixes, playing Extra stages with "Auto" on will not allow you to play the Encore even if you reach the requirements.
- One-Hit-Point Wonder: Early V mixes had Hazard mode, where making only two mistakes (anything below a Good) ends the current song in failure but allows you to continue playing if you have stages left to play. Later V mixes replaced this with Risky mode, where you can select the number of mistakes to failure (4, 2, and yes, even 1) but is identical to Hazard otherwise.
- Sequel Difficulty Spike:
- Its not as bad as Beatmania's difficulty curve, but songs have been getting harder as time goes by, especially on drums (and especially drums on XG).
- XG introduces two additional fret buttons a la Guitar Hero and Rock Band, two more drums, and one more bass pedal, resulting in a more difficult experience all across the board.
- Sequel Escalation: GF/DM 5th/4th changed the difficulty system to use Basic, Advanced, and Extreme difficulties out of 1 to 99 for ratings. In GF/DM 7th/6th, the songs were re-rated on a 1-99 scale, pushing many songs' ratings down significantly to account for harder charts. XG changes this to use 1.00-9.99 ratings (and used different level names entirely until GITADORA). An unlockable "Master" difficulty also became available on certain songs beginning on XG.
- Spin-Off: Keyboard Mania. 3rd Mix could also link with GF/DM on a limited number of songs in a mode known as Super Session: with guitar, drum, and keyboard playing at once. You thought GF/DM alone was Rock Band before its time? This is Rock Band 3 before its time.
- Readings Are Off the Scale: When "Rock to Infinity" is played as an Extra Stage on V5, all of its Extreme charts have a rating of infinity. When the song is selected outside of this circumstance, its charts are rated 99 instead. Not exactly infinite, but it's still the highest possible difficulty rating.
- Required Spinoff Crossover: Yes you, Nadeshiko Rock. (V5)
- "FLOWER", which has appeared on every other Bemani series. Since it's a trance song and not a rock song, it was retooled into a remix for this series.
- "CaptivAte ~裁き~" is an interesting case; it is part of a series of songs that originated from IIDX (which are typically remixed vocal versions of IIDX ending themes), but made its first appearance on GF/DM V2 as the Extra Stage song.
- V5 introduced a re-arrangement of "VANESSA" from IIDX 14; even better, the video also features the same painting from the original version, but with a fitting twist in the end.
- Updated Re-release: GITADORA Tri-Boost Re:Evolve
Well, we're done practicing. Alright then, let's enjoy GuitarFreaks/DrumMania!