Typical, isn’t it? You wait an age for some sugar-soaked drum-based rhythm action games to come to the Switch, and then two land on the very same day. Well, actually I couldn’t really wait – I’ve had Bandai Namco’s Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum n’ Fun on import since it came out in Japan a few months back, complete with the drum kit that brings this arcade classic alive, while I’ve spent the past week with Gal Metal, the extreeeeeme rhythm action title that’s been ushered into existence by Tak Fuji, star of E3 2010.
They’re fascinating, flawed games, both. First up there’s Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum n’ Fun, which is a straightforward port of a modern classic that’s seen over two dozen entries in the arcade since its debut at the turn of the century, and the very first game in the series to make it eastward. Not that it needs to do much by way of explanation; there’s a drum and you hit it energetically in time to a series of tunes in one of the most straightforward – and one of the more lively – rhythm action games around.
It’s something you’ll be familiar with if you’ve ever visited a Japanese arcade; near the entrance of any establishment worth its salt you’ll find a well-loved Taiko no Tatsujin machine, the drumheads visibly thinned by years of loving abuse. There’s nothing really sophisticated about this particular game – it’s just straight-up noisy, colourful fun, the kind of thing that’s absolutely perfect for people stumbling by.
And so there’s nothing that sophisticated about the Switch’s port of Taiko no Tatsujin. It’s Taiko no Tatsujin, on the Switch – in all its colourful, cacophonous brilliance, with all that joyous art spilling forth as the notecharts speed past. It’s Taiko no Tatsujin with a generous track list, too, complete with some absolute bangers; the Nintendo edition comes with a fine selection of medleys from Splatoon and Kirby, while Namco itself is represented with the Ridge Racer theme tune (though how I’d love to rip my arms out of their sockets by trying to drum along to Rotterdam Nation), and there’s some sweet anime joints via Dragon Ball Z’s opening song or, if you’ve got the DLC, the theme from Totoro.
Oh, and what’s it like to drum on the Switch? Okaaaaay. I went all in and got the accompanying peripheral, and while it’s never going to be as satisfying as the real thing – there’s not that same tactile feel, and comes off a little plasticy and cheap (unsurprisingly, seeing as it’s made entirely from plastic, though it’s worth noting that it’s not exactly cheap) – it’s definitely the recommended way to play. There are other options, though they’re not ideal; you can play with detached Joy-Cons imitating the sticks, but even with HD rumble there’s not that same feedback as with hitting the drums, and it’s all awfully imprecise. Play with the face buttons, meanwhile, and the simplicity of Taiko no Tatsujin – there’s only two inputs required, with one hitting the face of the drum and the other hitting the rim – means that you’re left with a very shallow experience.
It’s weird that Taiko no Tatsujin can’t get the Joy-Con-fuelled drumming down, when Gal-Metal – which hits the eShop on the same day later this week – absolutely nails it. This is a rhythm action game that’s endearingly supple, and one that leaves a lot of space for you to fiddle; here, it’s not about hitting notes on a notechart, and rather it’s about employing one of a variety of rhythms throughout any particular song, mixing them up as go along in order to push the high score even higher. The Joy-Con are responsive – maybe something to do with how this is a game custom-built for the Switch – and it’s easy and satisfying to work through rhythms. A shame, then, that that the music is so poor.
And that’s maybe partly to do with Gal Metal’s more diminutive standing – it doesn’t have the same budget as Taiko no Tatsujin, nor does it have the legacy and deep history to reach into – but still, the 13 songs that exist, limp metal takes on copyright-free classic standards, are a disappointment. You can’t fault it for its heart, though, and Gal Metal strings its slim catalogue out with a strange spin on Persona, where you’re building bonds with your bandmates and killing time in a twisting RPG. Does it work? I don’t really think so. Am I glad it exists? Absolutely.
I’m glad that both Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum n’ Fun and Gal Metal exist, really, for all their faults and shortcomings. They’re both exquisitely joyful games, examples of the kind of offbeat thing that was ten-a-penny at the turn of the century in that brief golden age for eccentric Japanese efforts on the PlayStation 2 and Dreamcast. Taiko no Tatsujin and Gal-Metal would fit perfectly amongst the likes of Gitaroo Man, Mad Maestro or Samba de Amigo – they’re all games cut from the same cloth.
And they’re both games that suggest we’re in the midst of another small golden age for offbeat games like this, enabled in part by the ongoing success of the Switch in Japan, and a more global marketplace where curios such as this are more readily available, and more likely to find their audience. It’s all quite heartening, really, and if you’ve any fondness for that particular era I’d highly recommend picking up both Gal-Metal and Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum n’ Fun. We’ve all been waiting a long time for games like this to make a proper return, after all.
Taiko no Tatsujin and Gal Metal are both available from the EU eShop from November 2nd.