Osu is a free to play rhythm game that has steadily grown in popularity from 2007 and currently boasts 5.5 million users. But why? Its success is honestly quite confusing, and through this review I hope reveal some of its secrets. The game is incredibly simple, and doesn’t use any cool gadgets like RedOctane’s original Guitar Hero or Konami’s Dance Dance mat. These games brought the arcade feel home, and while the games themselves were fairly simple, a large part of their initial success was due to their innovative controllers. However, their sustained success was simply because we as a generation love music; Osu is no different.
My addiction to Osu began in the same way as most of my friends: I needed something to do during queue times in League of Legends. At first I thought that playing Osu would improve the accuracy of my mouse skills and reflex times, not to mention I’d seen my favourite streamer playing it. Considering it’s a free game, there was certainly no harm trying, so I downloaded it (http://osu.ppy.sh/p/download). While at first it was a game I played when I had an awkward 5 minutes to kill, I increasingly found that I really, really liked it. There was something addictive about hearing my favourite songs and clicking along to them.
The concept of Osu is very simple. There are three rhythmic hit elements: hit circles, sliders and spinners. Hit circles and sliders appear throughout the screen and the player must move their mouse and click them at the right timing. Clicking them produces a drum sound. Notes hit at the wrong time or missed altogether cause a life bar at the top of the screen to deplete. Each song has multiple difficulties based on multiple variables such as the circle size or beats per minute. The greater the difficulty, the more variety in maps and the more fun the game becomes. The game also features mods that allow the player to increase or decrease the difficulty in specific ways. For example, a person who knows they are very fast around the map, but knows that they don’t like small circle sizes, may want to use the double-time mod on a map they know has large circle sizes.
The beatmaps themselves are all made by normal players and posted on the website. As the game grew in popularity, so did the quality and quantity of beatmaps. While the majority of songs available tend to be J-Pop/anime songs, the game encompasses a large variety of genres. While at first you may simply download and play your favourite songs, as you play you begin to appreciate the art of a good beatmap and start hunting those instead. After playing Osu, the variety of music I enjoy has greatly increased to include Vocaloid, drum and bass, techno and even K-Pop.
In June 2008, the developer Dean ‘Peppy’ Herbert introduced the multiplayer capability, and with it the community really boomed. With an international ranking system, players became motivated to do more than just kill time: to actually practice Osu, raise their ranking and compete with their friends online. Furthermore, with an actual system in place, tournaments became viable, as top players from each country formed teams and competed in international tournaments. As players such as Cookiezi and WubWoofWolf made a name for themselves, content became more accessible and players began streaming and posting videos to YouTube. Consequently others learnt their tricks and became better, creating even more successful players.
However the success of the multiplayer and the introduction of the ranked system is potentially the games greatest weakness. As beatmaps are created, they are immediately available for download under the pending review section. As the name suggests, players test these beatmaps either passing or failing it. As more people try to publish beatmaps though, the general quality has declined. There is nothing more frustrating than playing through a badly made beatmap or one that takes lazy shortcuts to increase the difficulty. Players therefore prefer to primarily play already tested beatmaps which are certified as ‘ranked’. Furthermore, players really gain nothing from playing pending beatmaps; whereas playing ranked beatmaps increases their global ranking. Consequently, the current game success of the game is choking its potential for growth. The ideal solution is to implement dedicated beatmap testers, but this is not economically feasible. Unlike other freemium games, Osu doesn’t demand the players money and hence is barely sustaining itself. But ultimately, the problem is created by the community and it is likely that it will be solved by the community, either by promoting unranked beatmaps or educating people on how to make better beatmaps.
While less popular, there are 3 alternative game modes available: Taiko, Catch the Beat and Osu!Mania. The Taiko mode is based on Taiko no Tatsujin (太鼓の達人), which translates to Drum Master. As the name suggests, this does away with the mouse element of the game and simplifies it to tapping the keyboard to the beat. In Catch the Beat, players control Yuzu, a character who holds a plate above her head. The objective here is to catch fruits that fall in time with the song. Finally, Osu!Mania is a game mode similar to DJMax. Players have to press corresponding keys as notes fall from the top of the screen, again in time to the music.
So in conclusion, Osu is a fantastic game that is gradually growing to become one of the most popular free to play games available. With an increasing stream base, players can really interact with the pros and the community is extremely helpful. While there are issues, they primarily stem from the players themselves rather than the game itself and that is why I gave this game 5 stars. What started as something to kill time between games of League of Legends has now become my go to de-stress game after a long day’s work. While the PC/Mac game is the main version, Android and iOS versions are a testament to its success. So the next time you’re bored and have a few minutes to kill, why not have a go at Osu? Rhythm is just a click away!