TAIKO NO TATSUJIN: THE DRUM MASTER Review
Rhythm action games have fallen out of favor in recent years, which is heartbreaking for a connoisseur of plastic instruments like me. It’s a physically cathartic experience that’s rarely replicated these days, unless you’re clone hero at least, and the time/money well spent usually isn’t worth the effort for a global market. Still, in the wake of accessible rhythm-action games that can be played on a normal controller, it’s only fair that other franchises try to join us, like TAIKO NO TATSUJIN: THE DRUM MASTER for example.
This is the first main title of the Taiko no Tatsujin series to be released on Microsoft platforms, namely the Xbox One and the S|X series. For series veterans, it’s just another new edition of the hit drum game, widely popularized in Japan due to the huge taiko drums that the arcade versions have. While other versions of home consoles have smaller taiko drums that you can purchase as a peripheral controller, The Drum Master!’Not so lucky is Xbox and PC’s exclusivity, which is an immediate offense right off the bat.
Although not an immediate write-off, the optimal experience you can get while playing a Taiko no Tatsujin the game really depends on the device you are playing on. If you have a rock band 4 drum kit for Xbox One, or a USB drum kit for PC, then you can bypass and have a hell of a time that’s, for the most part, untouched. If you don’t have either? So you’re in for a tough ride, despite the simplicity.
The game’s controls rely on two distinct drum hits, called “Don” and “Ka”, which are red and light blue, respectively. The names come from the onomatopoeia a taiko drum does, whether you hit the actual drum or the wooden edges on the side for a cleaner sound. Both of these are spread across the face buttons, triggers, bumpers, and directional pad of the Xbox controller, with tricky but not impossible customization. There are a few presets that attempt to lay out Don & Ka evenly, but what if you can think of a control scheme that works outside of the given presets? You will need to visit Xbox Accessories for assistance.
It doesn’t sound so bad at first, and indeed, when you play it, you’ll wonder what it’s all about, but Taiko no Tatsujin has incredibly deceptive difficulty despite its two-button scheme. You’ll play something like “Homura” on Hard, or maybe even “Bad Apple!!” from Touhou Project and say to yourself: “Well, I don’t see what it’s all about!”. Shut up, reader, these words will come back to bite you.
Part of that is because some of the mechanics are shared or even copied. Sometimes you’ll need to pop a balloon or “Party Popper”, and both involve pressing “DON” notes aggressively and quickly. Drum rolls also share this problem, where some of them will sound like massive “DON” or “KA” notes, implying that you have to press more than one button in the chaos of buttons. There’s not a whole lot of rhythm there, but in the long run your score is usually more important, with each song increasing to 1,000,000 points in each difficulty.
With The Drum Master! being the first Taiko An upcoming title for Xbox and Windows PC, the track listing is a varied “greatest hits” compilation, with a focus on original music created for the series, as well as some of Bandai Namco’s latest releases. Tracks like “Saitama 2000”, the theme song for Katamari Damace, and the “Bad Apple!!” mentioned above return as staples and reminders of the series’ legacy, but it also debuts some weird choices that work really well.
SubtitleThe two best songs from (“Megalovania” and “Hopes & Dreams”) return after a few inclusions in the previous ones Taiko games, as well as two very breathtaking covers of “Last Christmas” by Wham! and “I Want You Back” by The Jackson 5, respectively. These four songs highlight The Drum Master!‘ is an introduction to one of Japan’s most revered rhythm-action game series, but it doesn’t come without stipulations.
Most of the time, it comes down to how difficult it is to play the game on an Xbox controller. It’s the sacrifice you make when you favor wireless controllers, and it’s the input lag that controls how well you’re going to be able to play. Color grading can’t do much to save face, and the wildly variable timing when it comes to different tempos in songs can be either a blessing or a burden. It’s oddly easier to hit all the “GOOD” notes in a song like xi’s “Freedom Dive” than to hit all the “GOOD” notes in “Homura.”
There is a silver lining in The Drum Master! being released on both Xbox and Windows 10 consoles, and it allows the use of a keyboard instead of a controller. While there’s less tactile feedback when slamming the keys for notes, it’s an immediately more comfortable experience trying to stay in tune with some of the trickier models than the Taiko games are known for. The game also lets you bind controls to keys of your choosing, with the only stipulation being that you can only use four keys in-game, which limits the possibilities for button mash-ups.
In the long run, most of this won’t matter unless you plan to play against other players online, which is still just as slightly unbalanced. You can choose your starting rank right off the bat, which can be ‘C’, ‘B’, or ‘A’, which will have you playing on ‘Easy’, ‘Medium’ and ‘Hard’, respectively. There is also the “S” rank which makes you play on “Extreme”, but you have to get there first.
It would be fine if the game hosted some sort of skill-based matchmaking, but it doesn’t. You are just as likely to be an A-rank player playing a C-rank player on Easy difficulty as you are an A-rank player playing a S-rank player on Extreme. Both of these situations are not optimal, as C-rank players have fewer points to lose, and S-rank players are obviously there because they are good at the game, and there will rarely be an exception.
It’s an optional, but essential adventure if you plan to purchase items from the in-game store, which houses a treasure trove of cosmetics and bonus songs. There are hundreds of items here, with the cheapest category being 300 coins, and a win will usually only get you 200 coins. While there are frequent double coin events for two hours at a time, these take place at set times, meaning you’ll need to be more dedicated than necessary.
These are still options you don’t have to take, but it indicates the nature of how The Drum Master! is designed, that is, they threw everything down the kitchen sink. It’s rough around the edges, but passes the mark by just filling a hole in the rhythm-action genre on Xbox and Windows. Whether it’s something you want to play constantly depends on whether or not you care about a control scheme that’s not suitable for the controllers found on these platforms.