This past weekend, Konami had a location test for the newest installment of the franchise, entitled "Guitar Freaks/Drummania XG," and it looks like they're finally seriously renovating a pair of games that have desperately needed it for a while now. Guitar Freaks is easily the most laughable music game that Konami still releases new versions of on a regular basis. The controller only has 3 fret buttons, which means that most songs tend to look something like this:
Goddamn, Guitar Freaks is retarded. Every solo in every song tends to look something like what you see in the above video. Harmonix had the good sense to try to transfer some semblence of actual guitar technique into Guitar Hero's play mechanics in the form of hammer-ons, pull-offs, and note charts that at least look like something other than utterly random conflagrations of notes thrown into a spreadsheet at the last minute. How Guitar Freaks lasted sixteen iterations is beyond me.
The only rational explanation is that sessioning with Drummania (read: Guitar Freaks and Drummania machine gets hooked together, allowing players to form a "full band") kept the game afloat despite its inherent awfulness. That's the only rational explanation because Drummania is rad as hell, and does a lot of things better than Rock Band's drum mode, I think. You don't get penalized if you freestyle and insert notes that aren't actually part of the song, and you have far more options for adjusting the scrolling speed of the notes on the screen, just like every other music game Konami makes these days. Little things that I really wish Harmonix would implement into Rock Band, y'know? It also has a more realistic setup, with actual electronic drum cymbal pads and the like; if you buy the PS2 versions of GFDM, you can just plug a retail electronic drum kit into your PS2 and bam! You're playing with effectively the same hardware as the arcade. It's all pretty dang great.
...Whoever's overseeing development of GFDM must've felt like something was up, though, because Guitar Freaks/Drummania GX is a total overhaul of both games. Not only do both games have gorgeous new cabinets with widescreen displays and the like, but they're also upgrading the input. Guitar Freaks finally gets 5 fret buttons and sustain/long notes, while Drummania goes out of control and gets a hi-hat pedal, another cymbal, and a floor tom. The original DM setup already had a hi-hat, cymbal, snare, two toms and a kick pedal, which was enough to accommodate hundreds of songs worth of unique note patterns. I'm really looking forward to seeing what they do with the expanded design space they've afforded themselves.
These location tests are usually incredibly anal about folks recording video of their unfinished game, but some undercover gentlemen managed to snag video of the game and put it on Nico Nico Douga. Check it out if you've got an account. I'm a little concerned about the readability of 9 note lanes in Drummania (I had a hard enough time parsing the kick pedal lane in the original DM), but that's a sacrifice you gotta make, I guess.