Where there is a group, music is probably stalking in the bushes not too far behind, like EA and a beloved studio. It’s as inevitable as there being one person everyone is talking about behind their back. Equally as common are rounds of our favorite games like Mario Party, Mario Kart, and Sega Genesis Clue . This is how rhythm games came down from the heavens and ruined all of our favorite rock ballads. But Rock Band and Guitar Hero are far from the only kids in Parappa town. There are rapping rhythm games, ones with DJ Soundboards, abstract Atari graphics, colored blobs, and, in today’s case, Taiko Drums. Yes, it’s the Taiko Drum Master series (or as the most recent entry likes to call it, “Taiko No Tatsujin”). It’s been absent in the west since the Bush administration and now it looks like Namco is taking another swing in the land of the free. But if you’re an obscure, cult Japanese game series looking to make it in western prime time, chances are they’ll shoot you in the knees before you pass the starting gate. In this case, one bullet was named “No Plastic Drum Accessory” and the other was “No Physical release, but we’re charging $50 anyway”. Add in a few cinder blocks tied to the ankles like “Frankly lazy translation work” and “$30 worth of DLC that locks out most of the Classical and Vocoloid Songs” and you’re set for a failure that Namco will surely shrug off as “I guess there isn’t a market for these games here”. But let’s see anyway if this horse that’s already half glue can still make it a few laps without breaking down.
Taiko Games are as simple as rhythm games get. You can control the game in three ways. First is with the aforementioned plastic drums that can be bought literally everywhere besides inside the country. Second is the much encouraged motion controls, which I could not get to register the difference between a drum or rim shot, so that’s out. Finally, there are buttons, aka, the “better than nothing I guess” way to play. It’s an entry in the sub-genre of “hit the drum in time to the notes that are flying down the line”. If you do this with timing better than a joke being told and your grandparents getting it, you fill a soul gauge. If the gauge is above a certain point when the song ends, you win. Red notes mean hit the drum, blue notes mean hit the rim and yellow means drum roll for your life. There’s a few other variations of drum roll for your life, like popping a balloon by drum rolling for your life a certain number of hits, and the golden drum which is basically a fancier balloon worth extra points. Any of these can be made easier by selecting a character with a certain buff, such as making notes easier to hit, or starting off with half the soul gauge filled. That’s really it for core gameplay, and it’s simple. Simple is good when you’re trying to process information at 220 BPM. It’s a good foundation for the rest of the game to sit atop. Which is to say, an excellent vehicle for the songs.
Track lists sell any game based around music. While Drum ‘N’ Fun doesn’t have Bohemian Rhapsody or Strawberry Fields, it has a ton of weird, wonderful Japanese hits. Fellow weebs out there will notice the Japanese theme song to the Pokemon Sun and Moon anime “Alola!”, the credits theme to Season 1 of Blood Blockade Battlefront “Sugar Song To Bitter Step”, and a handful of Studio Ghibli classics (also behind a wall of DLC). Less Pocky filled players will notice the Japanese version of “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana nestled in the anime section (Ha), as well as three Nintendo songs. One is the English version of “Jump Up Super Star” from Super Mario Odyssey, which I think legally had to be in there. Another is a medley of Kirby songs that includes Green Greens, the King Dedede Boss battle theme, and the victory jingle. Finally, there’s a Splatoon 2 medley consisting of Rip Entry, Now Or Never!, and a little bit of the results screen music. Other notable inclusions are The Alphabet Song (Yes, in English), Gustav Holst’s Jupiter, Hungarian Dance No. 5, and for the love of all that is right in the universe, the theme song to Pop Team Epic. Overall, it’s a solid lineup of songs you may not have heard a ton of, but is worth listening to. If anything, this track list is unlike anything you’ll find in any other rhythm series. You’re bound to find something here you’ll enjoy, even just as a joke.
The songs all make use of the game mechanics, which is surprising considering the instrument. None of these songs are exactly known for their riveting drum solo’s, but the game manages to make them all work with a loud, booming Taiko drum. The game is satisfying thanks to a great sense of highlighting where your drum strikes would be most effective in what part of a song. You are never out of place, which is important in immersing you into the song. Which is, by extension, important if you want to get farther than a stone thrown by an ant.
Besides the basic Drum mode, there’s also a lot of party mini-games. Like, really a lot. It’s practically a Rhythm Heaven Mario Party without the board game. There are some unique ideas on display here, like playing Red Light Green Light by rapidly drumming and stopping, or playing hop scotch to the beat using both sides of the drum. Definitely a mode designed to be played with friends, which is hard to imagine given the implied 4 Plastic Taiko Drums all lined up to the Switch. Outside of those two modes, there isn’t a whole lot going on. Wireless multiplayer and a bunch of settings is the cherry on top of this hot fudge cake, but nothing like a single player campaign or a ton of unlockables. It’s a mostly arcade style experience, but like all rhythm games, the mileage you get depends on how much enjoy both the song list and the game around it. Taiko Drum Master: Drum ‘N’ Fun is a strong one to go with if you’re looking for a good time with friends. There isn’t a ton of single player content outside of simply mastering each song. For the lonely, you’re better off buying something like VOEZ, which is cheaper, more complicated, and the sheer number of songs makes up for the lack of many extras. But Taiko is undeniably more fun with friends, be it them watching and chuckling at the Youtube Theme, or playing the party games with them. That is worth a thousand drum strikes if you’re looking for something a little bit different. Something that isn’t a Nintendo local multiplayer romp, or something that isn’t your typical rhythm game. You will have just as much fun with Taiko as with any Rock Band or Mario Party out there. But those don’t have Jump Up Super Star.
HautDeForme is a collector, a self proclaimed historian, and most of all, a player of video games. When he’s not writing about that, you can find him writing music for no particular reason and advocating for the localization of Mother 3, whether people listen or not.