If there’s one way to turn a game event into an absolute cacophonous mess, it’s to give people drums and stick to hit them with. Outside of giving everyone a soundproof booth to play in, a room full of clashing songs, rhythms and incessant miscued drumming is the only way to go for Taiko no Tatsujin Drum ‘n’ Fun! – made all the more confusing by the booming bass drum of the changing of the guard in Windsor.
If you don’t know what Taiko no Tatsujin is, then you’re missing out. The Japanese name has withstood the western localisations, but would translate to Taiko Master. In essence, it’s Guitar Hero, Rock Band or any number of other rhythm action games, but with a Taiko drum controller instead of guitars, microphones and, well, drum kits. Optionally, you can play with motion controls, but hitting an actual drum’s always going to be more fun!
It’s a simple and sturdily built bit of kit. The base is plastic, with a set of Switch-esque buttons embedded on the bottom edge, but the surface of the drum is a thick rubber that nicely absorbs your hits. When playing, you’ve got the main face of the drum to hit as well as a distinct rim around the edge, with the game tracking which side of the drum you’re hitting. Most of the time it doesn’t matter, you hit the face with a red Don and the rim with a blue Kat, but when you see a large note racing across the screen you have to hit with both sticks at the same time.
Even on normal difficulty, I found it easy to become overwhelmed, though I’m putting part of the blame on the noisy setting. Part of it is also down to the visuals of how the upcoming hits flow onto the screen. You have a line for the start of each musical bar, but none of the beats or rests between, making it trickier to anticipate the timing and shifts in rhythm. Ramp up the difficulty and this could actually be marginally easier, because the number of hits increases and you can potentially see the rhythms better.
That doesn’t stop it all from becoming a blur, a frenzy of shifting rhythms and patterns that’s difficult to keep up with sometimes, especially as the game shakes things up regularly and changes a particular pattern or flips it around so that hits are reversed. It’s so easy to get out of sync and then stay out of sync, with the points where you have to drumroll of fill a balloon note are a blessed second or two where you can try to recover.
You can make things a tad easier by picking from the different characters in the game. Don and Katsu are the default two drum-shaped characters and come with no bonuses, but others like Kirby, the Splatoon Squid, Hatsune Miku and more have performing skills. These can loosen the timing of hits, boost your spirit gauge gain, support you on balloon notes, reduce the impact of missed notes, and more.
As hard as I found it, it’s still a lot of fun. There’s a reason why everyone was flocking to play this game before going hands on with Bandai Namco’s other Switch titles. There’s a good selection of music in there to choose from, ranging original tracks for Taiko no Tatsujin and famous classical music like Flight of the Bumble Bee, to Japanese Vocaloid and J-Pop songs, and then plenty of game music as well. As a Nintendo Switch game, it’s really nice to see theme music from Splatoon, Super Mario Odyssey, Kirby and more included alongside Bandai’s own Ridge Racer and Pac-Man staples.
I’ll admit I came away from Taiko no Tatsujin: Dum ‘n’ Fun! feeling a bit tired, the all-out assault on my senses from the event and the blur of struggling to keep up with the changing rhythms having worn me down, but there’s just something about it that makes me want to come back to it and play more. Very few of the Taiko no Tatsujin games have made it out of Asia, but it’s high time that the faint memories of Guitar Hero clacking in uni accommodation is replaced by a cacophony of Taiko drumming.