Taiko no Tatsujin: King of the Rhythm Games
Up this week on the Jungle is a game which, I believe, is an aspirational game that most otaku hope to play in their lifetimes, and which I have been remiss in not reviewing until now. I am referring, of course, to Taiko no Tatsujin (occasionally localized as “Taiko Master,”) the über-famous Namco game, whose name alone is valid as shorthand for either “rhythm game” or just simply “Japan.”
Taiko is hardly the newest game to be reviewed here. In fact, it may be the oldest so far, tracing its roots back to 2001. But the modern arcade gets new software every couple of months, as per the norm here.
For those who have never heard of this classic, the gameplay works thus: notes (with cute little faces) scroll by on a horizontal bar. When the notes reach the left side of the screen, you must beat the drum in time with the music. The drums are sensitive enough to detect whether you’ve hit the left or right side, however, so some notes require either a specific-handed strike or a double-strike. For added difficulty, the rim is also touch-sensitive—its notes on screen are differentiated from the head vis a vis their blue color, to the head’s cheerful red.
Whereas one might expect a game about the ancient art of Taiko to be stodgy and boring, however, Taiko no Tatsujin takes things to the other extreme. This game is simply overflowing with neon colors, electronic beats, aggressively “KAWAII” voice acting, and more little chibi characters spilling over the screen than you can shake a stick at. While the music selection does pay some homage to the Taiko’s traditional roots, the vast majority of the songs on offer are upbeat J-pop, game and anime music, often fresh off the airwaves. Anyone with even a limited knowledge of modern J-pop is sure to find at least one or two songs they know in this game’s wide roster.
If you see this game in the wild, however, don’t be surprised if you have to wait in a sizeable line for your turn. The reason being: this game is beloved by both ends of the Japanese gaming spectrum from the casual to the hardcore. The casual may love this game because of its disarming design, cute characters, and familiar songs, but the hardcore gamer is well-catered to as well, with technically dazzling songs requiring a skill all their own—quite different from the Beatmanias and Sound Voltexes of this world.
Overall, Taiko is one of those rare games with something for everyone. Everyone, that is, who appreciates the wilder, wackier side of Japanese culture. Which, I assume, is everyone reading this blog.
Taiko no Tatsujin uses the Banapassport save card.
P.S: That’s me in the video this time