Image source: 歌マクロス公式【8/3配信開始】 on Twitter

A new free-to-download rhythm game based on the popular long-running Macross franchise has just hit the Android and iPhone smartphones in Japan.

The franchise is celebrating its 35th anniversary with a variety of projects and events; this game, entitled Uta Macross: Sumaho Deculture! (Song Macross: Smartphone Deculture!), being one of them.

For those that are unaware, the original Super Dimension Fortress Macross was a 1982 series which came right at the peak of the “anime boom” where certain toy-based anime business models were starting to become outdated, and fandoms were starting to become organized enough to create their own intellectual properties. Macross was one such experiment.

Originally a parody-like project supposed to please potential sponsors with its requisite transforming robots and spaceships designed to market toys. Content-wise, it was a fusion of hard SF and a somewhat satirical look at the contemporaneous pop culture climate (as the idol boom was well underway at the time with the likes of Seiko Matsuda and Akina Nakamori dominating the airwaves). The franchise has seen a resurgence of sorts in recent years, again coinciding with the modern idol renaissance we are seeing in the Japanese pop scene today.

Many long-time fans outside of Japan who got into the franchise through the original series appear to consider the space-opera, military drama, and robot action aspects of the show the main driving force behind its popularity. However, when one compares it with its contemporaries like Mobile Suit Gundam and Armored Trooper Votoms, one can see that a key thematic distinction from those is in the role that the singing performances play in Macross—both within the actual plot and also a way of adding another element of entertainment to the anime medium.

Therefore, within derivative media such as videogames, the singing aspect is just an important as the action is, in order to fully embody the entire range of what constitutes Macross as a whole.

The basic game mechanics of Uta Macross consist of silver spheres rolling down towards the player that must be hit with accurate timing according to the rhythm of the song that is being played. This in itself is very similar to other smartphone rhythm games. It’s that simple, fundamentally speaking, but there are many extra details that give a lot more depth to the game—making it more quintessentially “Macross-like”.

Image source: 歌マクロス公式【8/3配信開始】 on Twitter

Firstly, the plot is set up so that the various generations of Macross characters are able to interact with each other, even though they originally come from separate time periods. This is done by introducing the main menace of the “Bird-Human” (a giant bio-weapon engineered by our ancestors, the Protoculture, which appeared in 2002’s Macross Zero), which is wiping humans’ memories. It’s up to the legendary singers of the galaxy to trigger the memories of humanity’s greatest songs in order to combat this threat.

Many nice surprises are in store for Macross fans in the game. For example, you have the ability to choose which singer you want to have performing on-screen, and as you progress through the game you are given the opportunity to not only unlock more singing characters from most of the series spanning three and a half decades (such as Lynn Minmay, Sheryl Nome, Freyja Wion, and Mikumo Guynemer, etc.). Each song also features its own dance choreography, multiplying the incentive to replay certain songs time and again in order to see every girl’s interpretation of the moves.

Additionally, new costumes and abilities are unlocked through collecting a variety of “episode plates” that feature illustrations depicting famous scenes from each series, and “strengthening” them by adding the rewards gained from good performances in the songs. 

Image source: 歌マクロス公式【8/3配信開始】 on Twitter

Rounding off the game’s “Macross-ness” is a sequence involving the transforming fighter mecha: the Valkyrie. Typically, an enemy would appear and begin to attack in the middle of the song. Through some skillful rhythm combos during this section, the player can make the Valkyrie pilot target the enemy and shoot it down.

Image source: 歌マクロス公式【8/3配信開始】 on Twitter

If successful, there is the possibility to proceed to the “Songstress Mode” and “Super Songstress Mode” where scenes from the various anime series fitting the particular song are played in the background of the performance.

Image source: 歌マクロス公式【8/3配信開始】 on Twitter

The many Macross series frequently feature scenes in which the pilot characters are locked in battle with an enemy and have to ward them off using the power of song, and this combination of high-speed battle action and pop music has now become perhaps the most recognizable aspect of what embodies Macross through its many incarnations. Thus, to see it being successfully reproduced here in an interactive format is a boon not just for fans, but also serves as an introduction to those starting out and wondering what the fuss is about.

Macross’s delicate balance of varied concepts was always going to be somewhat difficult to pull off in game form. Over the years we have seen action games utilizing the dogfighting action of the 3-type transformable Valkyrie to its fullest, strategy games simulating the grander scale of interstellar war, and even dating sims, since it must not be forgotten that Macross is also famous for its beautiful girls. Overall, many genres of games have appeared that use the Macross name and depict some aspect of the franchise. But how many can encapsulate the whole thing?

1993’s Macross Scrambled Valkyrie on the Super Famicom was an action-packed side-scrolling shooting game featuring new Valkyries that were equipped with special booster packs that had apparatus resembling speakers and sensors. In the game, the player could utilize these to activate something known as the “Minmay Cannon” to bring some enemies over and fight alongside with. This is a story concept that was later brought to fruition in the 1994 TV series Macross 7, where the fighters deployed with optional parts which served as speaker/amplifiers, that would transmit “song energy,” snapping brainwashed pilots out of the enemies’ control. In that sense, the videogame served as a stepping stone to bridge the gap between the first two TV series, and thus can be considered a fairly important entry in the franchise.

In 2000, the Game Boy Color received a hand-held iteration of Macross 7 that was also a shooter, but this time, used a Dance Dance Revolution-style attack system for boss battles. Here, the player matches the beats of a certain song along a scrolling line with the action buttons on one hand, while trying to control the mecha and dodge enemy attacks using the other. The experience is very similar to a typical episode of the Macross 7 series itself, where the protagonist Nekki Basara is committed to avoid attacking the enemy and instead make them listen to his song.

Lastly, the 2013 PS3 game Macross 30: Voices Across the Galaxy (and also the series of PSP games from developer Artdink) also attempted to “weaponize” musical numbers to mix 3D Valkyrie action and singing into a frantic action RPG world exploration game.

So now, we have the next stage in evolution. In Uta Macross, we have this wholly new way to experience both the Macross world and the musical performances within it. Some of these songs are so famous that fans have gotten very used to them, but now, by making them into interactive experiences, the way that the listeners interact with the music is changing. One is no longer watching a pilot shoot down an enemy with a cool song in the background, nor is one playing the role of a pilot shooting down an enemy with a cool song in the background—instead, the player is the singer helping the pilot defeat the enemy with their performance. That is probably what is the newest, most refreshing, and most “Macross-like” element in Uta Macross.

It’s early days yet, but more in-game events and unlockable characters and items are soon to come with further updates, so let us keep our eyes peeled for more surprises in store.

For those interested, the late Macross music composer Kentaro Haneda’s Healthy Wings Orchestra will be reforming and performing an orchestral concert of pieces from the soundtrack to the original series and the Do You Remember Love movie in Tokyo on September 17th, to commemorate 35 years of Macross as well as remembering 10 years since his passing in 2007.

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