Drum Roll, Please

HIGH Finally finishing a song in Hard mode.

LOW Not having a drum controller to play with.

WTF Songs are too easy on Normal but impossible on Hard.

Rhythm games have largely fallen out of favor in the last few years. After long runs of Guitar Hero and Rock Band, it seems that players have had enough of pushing buttons on fake plastic instruments for a while. Despite this shift, the Taiko no Tatsujin series has kept going since 2001 on the Nintendo DS, PlayStation 2, Nintendo Wii and even on Android.

The Taiko series is rhythm gaming at its most basic — bang a drum along with songs, and it’s tailor-made for arcades in Japan where players use a real taiko drum with two sticks. The goal is to keep in rhythm by playing the only two possible sounds, Dom (center of the drum) and Ka (outer rim). Most of the entries in the series never made it to Western shores, but that’s not a huge surprise since this is a culturally-Japanese game in both looks and concept. 

The tracks in the series are mostly plucked out of anime and Japanese videogames, so unfortunately there’s no Free Bird or Band on the Run. However, the usual classics are here such as Flight of the Bumblebee and selections from One Piece and Yokai Watch, and there are also pieces from Monster Hunter 4 and Soul Calibur 2. I’m not sure that there’s something for everyone here, but with more than 130 songs there’s plenty to choose from.

Unfortunately, Bandai did not provide a drum controller for this review, but since most gamers will probably play with a regular controller, let me be upfront about it — this is a miserable way to play Taiko no Tatsujin. Sure, it’s possible to use a joypad or the Joycons, but one never gets the drum ‘feel’ that really sells the experience.

Putting the lack of drums aside, Rhythmic Adventure brings a major change to the series — JRPG elements to go along with the classic gameplay. Granted, this isn’t a hardcore RPG fans as it features a basic anime-flavored plot where everything is rather silly and played for laughs, but the standard JRPG gameplay of walking around on a map, talking to characters and moving between places is juxtaposed with taiko drumming for battles. The player tries not to make mistakes, can use a special power if enough good notes are played, and makes sure that their team survives.

There are two complete adventures available here, but they mostly play the same with minor differences. For example, in the second adventure it’s possible to avoid some of the random battles. The player can also have up to nine characters in the party, as opposed to just four in the first title, and so forth.

Graphically, it’s appropriately colorful and full of quirky characters, but it does retain the roots of originally being a 3DS title. The isometric maps where the player moves around feature some basic 3D graphics, but everything else sticks to simple, efficient 2D sprites.

There’s little to complain about overall, but the main problem I had with Rhythm Adventure is that the songs in Normal mode are too easy — I could finish most of them on my first try with only one or two mistakes. But, as soon as I switched to Hard, I was desperately trying to keep up with triplets and fast rhythms. The Rhythm Adventure Pack really needs a medium difficulty instead of going from zero to 100. Also, there’s no co-op or versus mode of any kind, unfortunately.

Ultimately, the new JRPG gameplay in the Rhythm Adventure Pack doesn’t change much about the Taiko no Tatsujin series — at its core, it caters to a very specific drum-loving audience, although I’d guess that kids would also have a blast with the percussive gameplay and songs from anime and game IPs.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Bandai Namco Entertainment. It is currently available on Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on Switch. Approximately 8 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and one of the two games in the pack was completed. There is no multiplayer mode.

Parents: The game is rated T by the ESRB for Crude Humor, Fantasy Violence, Suggestive Themes and Use of Alcohol and Tobacco. The plot’s content is on par with that of an inoffensive anime and the gameplay is simple and immediate — it’s totally fine for kids.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: this is a rhythm game with plenty of emphasis on the songs. It is possible to play with no sound just watching the notes appear on screen though, also with HD rumble on.

Remappable Controls: The controls can NOT be freely remapped but can be modified. Usually, the shoulder buttons act as the “Ka” hit and the four buttons for the “Dom”. It is possible to play with a drum controller or regular controllers.

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