Muse Dash is a peculiar little side-scrolling rhythm game from the Japanese studio Peropero Games. Playing as one of three Japanese high-schoolers, you must battle your way through waves of candy corns, robots, cat cloud things and floating ghost cars. Why you ask? Who knows.
There’s no story to Muse Dash. No explanation as to why any of this is happening. Instead, you just have 85 songs/levels that you can play on easy, hard or master difficulty levels. Pick a tune and enemies will fly towards you from the right side of the screen, either in the air or on the ground, and you simply attack them in time to the music. Hit enough enemies successfully and you get Fever Mode, which gets you extra points (think lifting the guitar in Guitar Hero), and you’ll fight a boss if you get to the end of the level.
These are all a perfectly serviceable mechanics and it makes for a nice change of pace from the Guitar Hero and Beat Saber school of rhythm action game, with the fighting mechanics being an interesting touch. We all know fighting and rhythm go hand in hand – the Arkham series started out in its early days as a rhythm game and it is easy to see why – there’s often a flow to combat and those who excel in martial arts generally make for good dancers.
Sadly, while good mechanics generally make for a good game, it’s not the be all and end all, which is where Muse Dash falls flat.
You start the game as Rin, a thuggish high-schooler who fights through the level with her bass guitar in hand. Levels are generally J-pop, Chinese pop or something a little dubstep, so if you like that kind of music, there may be something for you here. Each level comes with a set of challenges – get a combo of X, a score of Y, miss exactly Z enemies – that reward you with exp, levelling you up, unlocking more songs to play, and earning ‘chips’ as you complete them.
These chips are used to unlock extra characters and skins. Collect eight diaries, for instance, and you’ll unlock Marija, a bassist-come-witch who has a passive power to keep your combo going if you mess up before a combo of 100. Similarly, collecting eight paper planes will unlock Buro, a young girl who becomes invincible when you burst into Fever Mode.
Sadly, this is where the game falls flat. Collect eight black bows and Rin becomes a Bunny Girl, or eight presents and she becomes a Christmas Gift – wearing nothing but a box and bow, bashfully running her hand up and down the length of the ribbon keeping her costume together. While each unique skin grants a unique ability, such as giving you a health or accuracy bonus, I can’t help but feel that you’re not meant to pick a skin based on the ability it gives you.
The two other characters aren’t safe from some gross oversexualisation either. Marija and Buro are both fellow high-schoolers, but Buro is arguably a 12- or 13-year-old girl, which makes the skimpy Joker costume and its excessive amounts of underboob all sorts of wrong – her dialogue lines knowingly play up the possible sexiness of her costumes as well. Even if they’re 16–18, it goes too far with Marija and Rin, with an obvious upskirt shot of Marija in some of the game artwork and with Rin slowly jiggling her boobs on the character select screen. There are several costumes which are perfectly fine as well, which just leaves me wishing they’d spent this effort in adding some kind of story instead.
You don’t need much story to make a game like this compelling – Guitar Hero is literally just you wanting to make the big time as a musician and Jetpack Joyride has barely half a minute’s worth of exposition – and Muse Dash has even less story than that. Instead, can interact (flirt) with characters on the home screen, but that doesn’t do much other than make you wonder why you’re prodding a small child.
Oh, and just because someone will eventually ask what ‘peropero’ means, it means ‘licking’. Now, this can be cute and innocent, like a cat licking its paw, but given how eroero (erotic) some of these skins are, I’m not so sure…