Voltage? Vortex? Just what is Voltex?
This week we turn our attention to an arcade game that is as visually stunning as it is hair-tearingly frustrating. Sound Voltex is the name of the game, although it’s anybody’s guess whether “Voltex” is a clever portmanteau of “Voltage” and “Vortex,” or whether it’s a simple transposition of “L” and “R,” as is all too common in romanizations of Japanese words. Or in this case, romanization of a katakana word that was an English word to begin with. AltaVista Babelfish, anyone?
Anyway, Konami’s Sound Voltex (2012, latest update 2016) bears more than a passing resemblance to another arcade covered previously in this series: the fearsome Beatmania. The controllers used in gameplay are remarkably similar. Whereas Beatmania used seven buttons and a turntable, Sound Voltex employs six slightly larger buttons and two volume knobs. Just as Beatmania’s controller is meant to evoke the look and feel of a live DJ performance, Sound Voltex also has a real-world parallel: an audio effects mixing board. A Sound Voltex player, if the official literature is to be believed, steps into the role of an audio engineer, mixing effects into existing songs rather than playing the songs themselves. That’s as far as the real-world metaphors can stretch, however.
The reality of Sound Voltex is that it is one of the most immersive fantasies to be found in the mélange of rhythm games available to the Japanese audience. This game is one of the slickest-looking, most visually appealing arcades out there, with a massive portrait-oriented screen, an arcade panel full of pulsing LED under-glow, and a pumping sound system that can cut through the din of even the loudest game centers like a hot knife through butter. Every screen is elaborately animated, every song given its vibrant background, and gameplay is awash in flashing lights and spinning screens—all clever ruses to distract from just how hard this game can be at its highest levels.
Sound Voltex gameplay mirrors Beatmania in the basics.
During gameplay, notes appear on one of four tracks; each track corresponds to one of the four main buttons. When the tracks glow a burnt orange, that’s the cue for the player to hold down one of the two “FX” buttons underneath, which adds distortion to the playing music. Neon pink and blue trails often crisscross the playing field, which the player must follow by turning the volume knobs to the left and right, usually while continuing to hit buttons with their free hand. What is remarkable about this game, however, is its speed. Sound Voltex is probably the fastest, most frenetic rhythm game of them all, requiring reflexes and dexterity from its player that almost border on precognition for its hardest songs. Don’t believe me? Just watch this YouTube video, and know that this is in no way an uncommon sight to see in your average Japanese arcade.
If that performance didn’t leave you speechless, dear reader, then you are much too hard to impress. Perhaps, with practice, you too could become a Sound Voltex master. For my part, I’m content to simply watch.
Sound Voltex runs on the Konami E-Amusement Pass.