Whenever I have a long trip or an extended commute ahead of me, I always make sure to be prepared with one or two my of favorite handhelds. Wallet, keys, and PlayStation Vita are all I need to survive the journey I play a lot of different things on these long trips, but the one genre I always come back to is the rhythm game. Whether my commute is five minutes or fifty minutes, I can always get at least one good song in before it’s time to pack it up. One rhythm game I’ve always wanted to indulge in while I was on the go, though, was the Taiko No Tatsujin series. Thankfully, with the official localisation of Drum ‘n’ Fun, I can do just that.
Taiko no Tatsujin is a long-running arcade series in Japan that’s seen a bevy of home console adaptations over the years. Part of that long-lasting appeal can be attributed to the inviting simplicity of the game. While most rhythm games have multiple note types or directions to worry about, Taiko no Tatsujin only burdens you with two: red notes representing the center of the taiko drum, and blue notes representing the wooden side of the drum. In the authentic arcade experience, you’d be smacking a big drum controller with sticks to hit the drum as notes fly across the screen. Playing at home doesn’t quite reach that level of authenticity, but it’s still a hell of a lot of fun.
The Switch release of Taiko no Tatsujin packs in a number of different ways to play the game, but none of them capture the same visceral impact of the arcade drum – unless you buy the seperate drum-controller peripheral for the game. The closest way to capture that magic is with Joy-Con motion mode, which sees you holding the seperated Joy-Con and swinging them as if they were drumsticks. You need to swing straight down to hit red notes, but in order to hit blue notes, you need to swing at a specific side-angle to emulate hitting the side of the drum. Even though this control scheme was fun enough for the easier songs in the game, I found it a little too cumbersone and finicky to be a reliable way to play the more intense songs on offer.
Beyond motion control, you can use any and every controller for the Switch in regular button mode to play. With certain face buttons registering to blue or red notes depending on your selected play style, this method is the most accurate and consistent way to play the game, even when using a single Joy-Con during multiplayer. In portable mode, you can also use the touchscreen to play, a virtual drum popping on the screen that you can tap away at in lieu of button controls. It was a little tricky to find a comfortable way to hold the Switch for extended play sessions in this mode.
Long Taiko no Tatsujin sessions will happen more often than you’d think, thanks to the absolute swathes of content available. In regular Taiko mode, you’re given free reign to bash your drums to 64 different songs, with ten more unlocking as you continue to play the game. For fans of anime, video games, or Japanese pop culture in general, the selection of songs is sure to please you. I was shocked by the inclusion of songs from incredibly recent anime series like Pop Team Epic, and incredibly happy to see a number of tracks from Nintendo games like Splatoon and Super Mario Odyssey. Also coming out this week for PlayStation 4, Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum Session!
If you need a change of pace from the regular song-and-drum of it all, you can hit up Party mode for the Rhythm Heaven sequel you didn’t know existed. In here, you and three other players – or CPU if you’re lacking in the friends department – can face off in quirky rhythmic mini-games like ninja training or ramen eating. Much like Rhythm Heaven, you need to listen and watch for precise cues to hit your button in order to be successful and gain points. There’s 20 of these mini-games available, as well as unlockable expert difficulty versions that really test your mettle. I loved these so much, and even when I was playing solo I had a blast with each of these rhythmic challenges.
While the simplicity of the gameplay is a big selling point of the series, the utter cuteness of the game is also a huge drawing point. Every menu and gameplay screen is fitted with sharp, adorable drawings of Japanese animals, cutesy drum-characters, and more. The presentation is impeccable in this game, and I never felt like a certain map or menu was lacking. While your player character is usually an adorable little drum, you can unlock additional characters that even come with their own difficulty modifiers. It’s a nice bit of visual customisation that also adds some replayability and lets you balance the challenge in the game.
Any complaints I have about this iteration of Taiko no Tatsujin are minor. While all the modes in the game are multiplayer, Party mode supports four players and regular rhythm mode only supports two, which might lead to some awkward moments if a group of friends want to dip into both modes and someone’s hogging the controllers. Additionally, there’s a loading screen between every menu and selection you make in the game. While the loads are only a few seconds long, they happen so frequently that, when seen multiple times in quick succession, they can get a little frustrating.
Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum ‘n’ Fun is, in all honestly, a near-perfect rhythm game. Every piece of the puzzle that makes up this game is meticulously chosen to create a wonderful experience for newbies and pros alike. Beginners will be instantly engaged by the simple two-button gameplay, while advanced players will be able to test their strength on the insane speed of higher difficulty tracks. No matter which side you fall on, there’s enough content here to keep you engaged for a long time.
Version tested: Nintendo Switch