I still find a certain thrill and enjoyment when playing retro games. Throwing a cartridge into your console and just playing a game is satisfaction enough. But, there’s something more than the simple joy of a quick start. The music and graphics of the 80s and 90s, too, are special. The original tunes to games like Mega Man or Dr. Mario are forever engrained into the depths of my brain. So, when I first caught wind of Old School Musical, it only seemed fair for me to leap at the opportunity to review it.
Much like retro games, simple rhythm games have weaseled their way into my heart of hearts. I can’t tell you how many hours I poured into both Donkey Konga titles, along with the Guitar Hero franchise. Even early music games like Bust A Groove on the original PlayStation had a hook in me. At this point, I’m still unsure if it is the challenge of the mashing the perfect buttons through each song or genuinely enjoying the songs themselves. Either way, Old School Musical brings together all of the aforementioned loves in music games while still managing to squeeze in bits of story and adventure.
Super bit boys
In Old School Musical you guide the duo of Tib and Rob through various environments in order to fix the world that’s crumbling around them. Without revealing too much of the story, you’ll adventure through various environments in the effort to discover the root cause of the world glitches happening around them. This is also the first time the two will leave their humble beginnings on their secluded island.
If you’ve checked out any of the trailers for the game, you’ll see that there are heavy influences on the overall style of the game. Some levels include heavy references to titles like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Rad Racer, and role-playing games of the past.
Gotta mash’em all
The mechanics of the game are fairly straight-forward. During a scene, you will have a set of scrolling buttons that correspond to the X, Y, B, and A buttons on the right Joy-Con. There is a reticule on the center of the screen in which you must push the corresponding button as it passes through this eye. When it’s time to match and mash the shoulder buttons, two slender lines appear above the screen in correspondence to them. This might sound simple, and at times can be, but your reaction and timing is also pitted against a health bar that you must maintain through each level. Much like any rhythm game, you can never get too comfortable in your abilities, especially when the difficulty is ramped up beyond medium.
Throughout the game you’ll learn more and more of the circumstances leading up to the circumstances surrounding what has caused the glitches. It isn’t just song after song, though. Old School Musical incorporates small instances of platforming and exploration with a few levels allowing you to talk with NPCs and engage them in brief conversation.
Level with me, bro
Although the game does have a remotely engaging story, I did find it a little on the short side. There is another set of playable levels that open up called the Chicken Republic: The Untold Story from Old School Musical. Here you will fight herds of chickens (yes, chickens) in the form of a turn-based RPG. I haven’t completed this section yet. However, I am currently plowing through level 25 at this time, still not coming to the end of this welcomed extension of the game. These were probably some of the more engaging levels, some of which introduce new challenges, such as the note indicator going blank or warping beyond recognition.
My first portion of the game was played with the vibration feature turned off. After turning it on, I was more surprised to find that it changed the feel of the game in a more positive way. I could actually count the notes, often feeling more immersed that I was hitting the correct buttons and sequences with the vibration function turned on. I ended up cranking it to the highest setting for good measure. Honestly, it felt like a new game to me at this point.
The one area that I felt wasn’t as engaging as other musical titles were mostly with the buttons corresponding to the prompts on the screen. Although I was hitting the circles and amping up my combos, I never really felt rewarded for doing so. Sure, you’ll get an indicator when you’re on a tear of notes. The “FURY!” symbol starts to glow in rainbow colors at the top of the screen. There is also a change in tone (like the music playing unmuted) when you nail a precision push. But unlike games like Guitar Hero, there’s no star power or additional bonus for doing so. This process becomes even more clunky when you jump into the multiplayer section of the game.
Old School Musical features a local-only cooperative mode. Here you can take apart the Joy-Con and play with another person. There is one shared screen where the notes fly. Up to four players can play along with a shared health bar. I did find that the vibration was a little out of sync for notes in this area with the buzzing going off at random times. A small nitpick I also had here was the ease of going back into the single-player section from the multiplayer. At this point, it’s rather cumbersome to resync Joy-Con just to exit the multiplayer menu to simply return to the main screen.
Old School Musical is chock full of retro nostalgia. Although the vast majority of the songs are original pieces, some having noticeable themes from other games, you’ll still find a lot to like about its song choice. In fact, you can check out the full playlist here.
The main story for the game is a little on the short side. The only reason I thought of it as a downside to the game was mostly that I was having a good time running through the 8-bit and 16-bit time machine the game offers when taking you through the era of iconic games that have come before.
Don’t expect a deep experience here, folks. What you will find is a rather expansive list of artists and songs paying homage to one of the best eras in gaming. I just could have used a little more refinement in its mechanics and the mixture of the additional levels outside the story to do something a little more spectacular during my main playthrough.