The Taiko no Tatsujin series isn’t exactly a hot commodity outside of Japan. While plenty of rhythm gaming enthusiasts note the series among their favorites and even go out of their way to play imported console releases or track down imported arcade machines, it isn’t the massive, all-ages icon that it is in Japan. Bandai Namco has been making slow strides to give the series a following overseas in recent years, localizing the latest console releases on PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch. The latest English release in the series, though, isn’t just another little two-button music game. With Taiko no Tatsujin: Rhythmic Adventure Pack, Bandai Namco has delivered a rhythm-driven monster-collecting adventure RPG that I’m pretty sure nobody saw coming.
Of course, these games aren’t exactly a surprise for Japanese fans. Taiko no Tatsujin: Rhythmic Adventure Pack is a set of two upgraded, HD versions of 3DS entries in the series from a few years ago that never made it outside of Japan. The first launched in 2014, while the follow-up released in 2016, but for overseas fans this is our first official taste of the many genre-bending Taiko no Tatsujin spin-offs. Both of them follow a pretty similar formula in terms of story and style, too, making the double-pack nature of the release feel all the more natural.
In both titles, you play as walking, talking taiko-drum brothers Don and Katsu. They’re both air-headed mascot characters with hearts of gold, and they’re surrounded by equally simple yet charming characters in each game. Both adventures see the plucky pair roped up in space-time adventures where you’ll be traveling throughout multiple iconic eras of the past and future to recover special items needed to save the world. Both stories fully embrace the all-ages appeal of Taiko no Tatsujin and deliver simple characters and uncomplicated plot lines rather than any sort of mind-bending time-travel twists or multi-layered heroes.
At first, it felt like the writing was a little too simple and kid-friendly to get much enjoyment out of. There were a few genuinely silly moments that I got a laugh out of, but for the most part, the adventure has massive Saturday morning cartoon energy. For me, most of the charm came from the incredibly cute art throughout both adventures. Characters and creatures are drawn in a sharp, chibi-esque style that I couldn’t get enough of. Character portraits in the first adventure are clean and a little basic, but there’s a way more personal and casual style to the illustrations of the second game that I was obsessed with — as if the character art were lifted from little Twitter comics.
The meat of the Taiko no Tatsujin: Rhythmic Adventure Pack Story Mode sees you traversing various open RPG maps as you track down treasure chests and land yourself in plenty of random encounters. These battles play out just like regular Taiko no Tatsujin gameplay, with music playing as blue and red notes fly across the screen that you need to hit in tune with the music. Your rhythm drives the battle happening above your note chart, though, as the top half of the screen is populated by characters from your team, a collection of enemies, and health bars for each crew.
Good performance in the rhythm game will deal damage to your enemy, but missing notes or landing too many mistimed “OK” hits will end up dealing damage to your own team. Your team earns experience at the end of each fight, and you even get to recruit new monsters after beating them or find jaw-dropping crossover characters in the world like Monster Hunter Palicos or… Reimu from Touhou?!
These battles are fun, but they aren’t without fault. Each area of the game seems to only pull four or five songs from the nearly 60+ song-strong set list of each game, meaning you’ll hear the same songs many, many times in a row as you explore each map. On top of that, the difficulty settings are a little flawed. If you decide to bump things up from Normal to Hard, the note charts in battles will be a fun rhythm challenge, but it also seems to give enemies more health and attack strength, leading to situations where you can’t win battles despite a stellar rhythm performance unless you decide to grind the levels of your various creature companions. The second adventure adds some quality-of-life improvements like making monsters overworld encounters instead of random ones and adding some more depth to the creature-team system, but these two big flaws of repetitive songs and misaligned difficulty settings remain an issue.
Of course, at the end of the day, if you just want to play some good old-fashioned Taiko no Tatsujin, then you can do just that. Both games let you dive into a pure music mode to play any of the 130+ songs across both titles. The first adventure only has a few classic bangers, but there’s a huge amount of insanely cool music in the second game that I was super happy to see. As a pure music game, the PlayStation 4 Taiko no Tatsujin might have this one beat. Still, what makes this game special is that, with the charming adventure modes, it’s so much more than just a simple music game.
A review code was provided by the publisher.