Chunithm, the sleeper hit
Moving from the retro to the modern, let’s look this week at Chunithm, a Sega title from 2015. This particular rhythm game most definitely falls under the “obscure” category for western audiences. Even I, your humble author, had never heard of it before coming to Japan. This is a shame because Chunithm is one of the sleeper hits of any Japanese game center.
The gameplay and controller for Chunithm is on the complex side. At your fingertips is a smooth touch panel, divided into 16 capacitive “keys.” Notes on the monitor scroll toward the touch panel keys which you must tap in time with the music. These notes come in many shapes and sizes, from a full half-panel spread to a precise keystroke. Hold notes, slide notes (where you must drag your fingers across the keypad like Liberace doing a piano flourish), flick notes (where you tap the note followed by a quick flick of the finger in the indicated direction) and “Air” notes (this game’s true gimmick) liven up the game.
Air notes are particularly fun because, in addition to the touch panel, this game also has a matrix of infrared sensors floating above the panel. The sensors allow the game to detect when you’re hovering your fingers above the touch panel, and various “air” notes can either require you quickly to flick your fingers in the air or hold them level above the keyboard only to be dipped back down at the appropriate time. If this is all a little hard to follow, I recommend looking up some YouTube footage to give you a better sense of how it all works.
In spite of how complex Chunithm’s controls sound on paper, the gameplay experience is extremely satisfying. The controls are surprisingly intuitive and easy to learn—a rare quality for a rhythm game in a market for highly technical players. Songs have a fluidity of motion and dramatic flair to them that calls to mind a show pianist tinkling the ivories to impress the crowd. The song options, moreover, are of a much more otaku bent compared to our previous articles’ subjects. Many songs from Nico Nico Douga, Project Tohou, Vocaloid, and the latest anime and J-Pop albums can be found Chunithm’s library—a definite mark in the game’s favor for the consummate otaku.
Overall, Chunithm truly is a diamond in the rough that deserves much more exposure in the West than it has received to date. (There isn’t even an English Wikipedia page for it!) If you’re lucky enough to run into this game in the wild, give it a play—you’ll be jamming and slamming to tracks you probably know by heart in no time!
Chunithm, being a Sega game, runs on the Aime pass, which is also compatible with the Bandai-Namco Banapassport.