Taiko No Tatsujin | Switch Review

The physical section on my site, the stuff you can touch, has been neglected for some time – much like the giant panda I keep under my stairs or the actual cartridges I own. I’m all about the Nintendo eShop games really. But, we need a bit of a flow and variety so without further ado, let us butcher’s at – Taiko No Tatsujin: Switch Version, shortened to Taiko no Tatsujin as I pay myself by the word. I got mouths to feed.

I did ponder if there was a different version as my copy of the game is from Japan (get her) but it’s the same other than here it’s called Taiko No Tatsujin: Drum ‘n’ Fun. Very clever as you play a drum, and it’s enjoyable… sorry, fun. The family (mine, not the mafia) were on a trip to Nihon last year, and I said to get me a game that I was unlikely to get in the UK. Well, you can get it in the West – first, it was digital, then a Switch physical, so it’s not like I can show off to my mates, but at the time it felt exclusive.

The menu system for Taiko no Tatsujin
No ramen on this menu

A little around this time last year, I got a Line image come “Do you want this one?” – “Yeah, go for it” – I’d played it in the arcades many a time. In fact, Taiko No Tatsujin had been in practically all the arcades I’d been to in Japan, but it was also more common in the big shopping malls. My experience, outside of the UFO catcher/claw games, was this fabulous drum game in the arcade at the local mall. The drum was filthy like a prop out of CSI, and aside from not knowing many of the tunes, you could barely hear anything with the sound of pachinko balls. Playing in the comfort of your own home is much better as you can actually hear the songs. Plus you can do it in your pants without fear of do-gooders telling you about ‘exposing yourself’ and stuff like that. It’s political correctness gone mad, I tell you.

Tap This!

As a rhythm game, the concept is simple: play the required note in time with the music. Unlike something like Guitar Hero, notes scroll from left to right, and they’re super easy to play and get used to as there are only two buttons to press, but with variations on what you do with said note. You’d be forgiven for thinking this is a kids game, but whack up the difficulty, and this gets pretty mental.

You can play with a joy-con, pro controller or the drum kit from Hori. The drum is a lot of fun but very much a novelty as there aren’t any other games you’re likely to play with it. In brief (ish), with the drumsticks, you hit the top as you’d expect, and with certain notes, hit the side of the drum – making an unpleasant sound like you did something wrong. If someone gave me the drumkit, I’d happily take it, but I don’t plan on buying.

Squaring off in the loading screen for Don Katsu fight
Young, dumb and full of drum

What are my options?

The meat and potatoes in the drumming stew is Taiko Mode. Here you play either on your lonesome or as a two-player in co-op mode or against each other. Who wants to go in co-op though? You’re bound to fall out when one of you misses a note and ruins the song – cut to the chase and beat one out. Yeah, I said it.

Party Game is the multiplayer mode for up to four players. I can’t endorse that one as a) don’t have enough controllers, b) don’t have that many friends. It looks fun. The same applies to the Local Wireless Session. A great choice to play against other Switch owners, but I genuinely don’t know any grown-ups nearby that play on a Switch, and I’m not going to invite my daughter’s friends over. That’s just not going to work.

There are plenty of modes and options in Taiko no Tatsujin. The game settings are pretty in-depth. To reduce lag or excuses from your pals saying “My joy-con isn’t working”, you can calibrate the settings for how notes appear both in docked and handheld mode. This is particularly useful for configuring the joy-cons and also the drum. If you own one.

When you’re ready to go, i.e. you’ve configured to your liking and chose a game mode, you then select a character to play. Now I’m going to be upfront here; I’ve played on multiplayer but not much on my own. In this case, I haven’t got a lot of the available characters. In fact, I haven’t even unlocked half of the roster, at the time of writing this (11:45 am). Each character has their quirk like easier timing, or you can go without any perks and use the main characters; Don and Katsu.

An example of an extreme level
Honest, I was doing this perfectly until the screenshots…

Beating one out

You could have the full list of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate fighters, but it all boils down to the songs available (and of course the actual gameplay). There’s a selection of genres you can choose from, but most will only be familiar with anime fans or fellow Japanophiles (that’s not a Yewtree violation). The choices are pop, anime, variety, classical, game music, Vocaloid(?) music and Namco Originals.

I’m not too familiar with most of the pop songs but know a few of the well-known anime titles such as those from One Piece or Dragonball Z but as this is gaming related, let’s look at a few of the other titles. Jump Up, Super Star! Short Version from Super Mario Odyssey, the Kirby Medley from Kirby’s Return to Dream Land and Ridge Racer – for those retro fans.

Since updating the game, there have been a few extra tracks added for free. None of which I know but are ok to play. I attempted to connect to the eShop from within the game, but Japan was closed – they’d all gone to beddy-byes. As it’s a game from Nippon, the link was to the Japanese eShop. I have an account, what with my J-links, but my VK profile is on the UK store. What I’m saying is, I manually had to load up the eShop to look at the songs and seeing as you aren’t here for the tits, here are some of the additional titles, all 79p each:

  • Hungarian Dance No. 5
  • Pokémon: Let’s Go Pikachu!/Eevee! (£1.19)
  • Ainokatachi Feat. HIDE (GreeeeN)
  • Butter-Fly

Yeah, they’re all here so no need to scavenge sloppy seconds in Spotify, you can download AND play them in Taiko No Tatsujin. Bloody brilliant. There’s also a Studio Ghibli pack for the high rollers as its currently £3.99 – just in case you get bored of playing Sanpo from Tonari no Totoro (My Neighbour Totoro for those reading this in English), you now have a few more songs to irritate your neighbours with.

Drumming up the courage for a witty headline

For a game that only uses two buttons, it’s bloody hard. Not that it is as technical as say Guitar Hero or Rock Band even, but it’s the combination of speed, staring at a sea of red and blue dots that make your focus go or that perhaps you’re trying to take screenshots for a review for your website that resets your combo, and then you fumble the rest of the way through. This is how you do it though – check out the YouTube link below:

It’s marvellous to be involved with a song you know and pretending to be playing it. The actual sound of the drums and the repeated clicking of the buttons have no relation whatsoever, but turn it up, you too become part of a hair metal rock sensation (X Japan reference).

If you time each note in succession, you build up a combo and score multipliers, sorta. Your score is based on good notes, ok and bad. All of which is based on your timing and pressing the buttons at the precise time. At the end of each song, you’ll get a breakdown on the quality of notes, your max combo and drumroll. If you get a certain percentage of points, you’re in the clear zone, and the screen will change to indicate how bloody brilliant you are. Say what you want, I’m pleased with my scores in normal mode.

Chicken Drumstick

I hadn’t played this for a few months so when I loaded the game up a software update was required. Included was a mode called Don Katsu Fight. In summary, you compete against another playing building up your drum power to attack your opponent, knocking off their health. It’s a bit like the fever mode in Puyo Puyo Champions. Kinda. You win with a KO and this can be expedited with a few power-ups such as the Drum Boost to speed up your power gauge, Fake Notes which mean a note can’t be played, or the Super Don/Ka Cannon to attack at three times the power. Who said there isn’t variety in playing the drums?

Granted, it’s Kirby and normal mode – but still a full combo!

Additionally, I’ve found that playing on my own, I used the handheld mode (before it was through the biggest rectangle in the house so I could play with my minions). What’s the big deal other than being portable? Touchscreen. Playing this way is by far my preference as I found that I was actually hitting successive notes and in many cases, completing with a perfect song. It feels much more natural, but of course, it’s whether you have the luxury of having the Switch to yourself or playing against friends who brought their own device. And a bottle.

With party games, you need a group to play with or at least with another person as a minimum. How does it hold up on its own? I played with myself for hours on end, then jumped on Taiko No Tatsujin. I’m here all week. This is a game that’s fun for those who like their own company, a collector of shells or people who aren’t allowed out. It will keep you coming back – not in a sense you can’t put it down, but a quick pick up and play you can even do on the commute, as long as you have headphones.

Disclaimer: Having been born with earholes, I like music very much. More than playing games. Sorry folks. But, the fusion of cheese and ham, Tango and Cash and of course gaming and music make Taiko no Tetsujin a brilliant combo. It’s more geared towards those who love Japanese culture and perhaps a little obsessed with it. Some songs you’ll know, others you won’t, and several will have you gauging your eyeballs out with a rusty spoon. Better than 1-2 Switch, better than syphilis.