Kratos. Master Chief. Solid Snake. All of them are tiny little baby men, unfit to bear the title of ‘hero’ in the presence of Baton, Tadpole Treble’s titular frogspawn. You’ll forge Baton’s legend over the course of a dozen or so levels – somewhere between rhythm game, bullet hell, and endless runner – each set to a different, often hilarious music composition. Freezing lakes. Piranha-infested Bayous. Storm-battered creeks. All these obstacles are but motes of dust, cast into the rushing currents of the past and forgotten, discarded with a triumphant flick of a wriggling tadpole tail.
At least, I assume that’s how Baton feels. Personally, I found Tadpole Treble pretty tough. It’s one of those games you can grasp the basics of in about a minute, but still envision the dozens of hours needed to master it stretching before you, like a vast mountain range made up of the imprints you get on your thumb when you mash the Switch buttons too hard. This is by design, I’m sure. You can bungle your way through the whole thing in a few hours, but the real meat here is racking up perfect ranks and excavating secrets in stages that are designed as much like a platformer as they are a traditional rhythm game.
The first hurdle is acclimating yourself to the movement. The basic idea is to avoid the black notes that make up each song, while collecting bubbles and health pickups. Baton, fittingly, traverses the sheet music styled stages in half-steps. Pickups and obstacles are scattered accordingly. This fixed movement feels stilted, initially, but starts to make sense the more you get used to the rhythm elements. There’s still a sense of friction when you attempt to make rapid, fluid movements, but ultimately, this is where most of Tadpole Treble’s challenge comes from.
Each stage comes to life in the way Baton’s journey through it is themed around a song, whether that’s diving through the pixelated, 8-bit visuals of ‘Chiptune Lagoon’, or tail-slapping cymbals to avoid lightning strikes in ‘Thunder Creek’. Calling something a rhythm game can evoke images of a disconnected UI that’s information-rich but thematically barren, but Tadpole Treble doesn’t skimp on the aesthetics or texture.
This is where comparisons to a more traditional platformer come in. The variety of contextual traversal points – often activated with a one-button tail slap – means it feels like you’re exploring these stages as much as just being rushed through them. It’s incredibly entertaining the way the game weaves each stage’s theme into its design, and how each stage tells a tiny story, another stage in Baton’s journey.
The only real complaint I can muster is that the Switch edition is around twice the price of the Steam version. That said, it’s still relatively cheap and the Switch-exclusive Encore Edition adds a bunch of new collectables and developer commentary on each level, plus a new stage. There’s potentially a lot of game here, depending on how concerned you are with replaying to shoot for the more difficult rankings, but it would be a crime to only run through each stage once, as there’s a ton of love and attention put into each of them.