More than twenty years after its initial inception, chances are you know by now whether or not the Taiko no Tatsujin franchise is for you. Featuring rhythmic gameplay via four methods of control (buttons, touch screen, motion controls, or the drum accessory itself), the new entry from Bandai Namco — Taiko no Tatsujin: Rhythm Festival — does little to freshen up the tried-and-tested formula, but instead focuses on providing more of the same for existing fans.
It’s a largely successful approach, but those hoping for a more in-depth gameplay experience similar to something like Taiko no Tatsujin: Rhythmic Adventure Pack may find Rhythm Festival a tad lacking.
Rhythm Festival takes place in the fictional city of Omiko, where you’ll be working to become the very best Taiko Master. Characters like Don-Chan and Kumo-kyun will be with you every step of the way and often provide cute and amusing anecdotes as you improve your skills. Within Omiko City, you’ll find five key areas of interest that act as the game’s various game modes. The main one, ‘Thunderclap Shrine’, where you’ll find the franchise’s staple ‘Taiko Mode’, offers up 76 songs for you to take on in whichever order you see fit.
The available songs are grouped into distinct categories, including game music, anime music, classical, and more. There are all sorts on offer regardless of your personal preferences, such as music from Super Mario Bros., Frozen II, Pirates of the Caribbean, One Piece, and classical composer Ludwig van Beethoven. Each track can be played on one of four difficulty settings ranging from 'easy' to 'extreme'; trust us when we say you'll need the reflexes of a cat to nail the highest difficulty level.
Of course, 76 songs is a pretty generous amount and certainly nothing to sniff at, but Taiko no Tatsujin: Rhythm Festival sets itself apart from previous entries in the franchise by introducing a new in-game subscription service called the ‘Taiko Music Pass’. This season pass model shoves another 500+ songs into the mix, offering up an insane amount of content if you're willing to put down the required moolah.
At the time of writing, the Taiko Music Pass isn’t actually available yet, so we can’t say for definite whether its inclusion will be worth your money or not, but judging from the preview list available in-game, there is at least a strong variety available should you choose to subscribe. Otherwise, the game offers up extra DLC packs if you’re looking for specific song packs, such as the Studio Ghibli pack, the Hatsune Miku pack, and the Dragon Ball pack.
As for the gameplay itself, it remains as strong and accessible as ever. If you opt for the button control method, you’ve got the two distinct music beats — ‘don’ and ‘ka’ — mapped to ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘X’, and ‘Y’. You can play with one Joy-Con if you wish, but we found that alternating between two makes for a more intuitive experience, particularly when you ramp up the difficulty.
Alternatively, you can go for motion controls, which are okay for the most part, but ultimately prove to be slightly unreliable when you’re trying to nail songs that are a bit more fast-paced. Touch screen controls, meanwhile, work great if you're okay leaving a whole bunch of fingerprints on your Switch's screen (we're not okay with this, by the way). Ultimately, the drum accessory is the way to go if you’re after the most authentic control method available, but keep in mind that the Rhythm Festival bundle that includes the drum itself won’t be available for another couple of weeks at the time of writing.
Aside from the main 'Taiko Mode', Rhythm Festival offers up a slight variation on the standard gameplay with Taiko Land's party games. These are split into two options: 'Great Toy Drum War' and 'Don-chan Band'. The former sees you and up to one additional player take on missions to earn rewards, which normally consists of going up against a CPU opponent and sending distractions their way by hitting certain notes. The latter is a loose take on the Rock Band formula, in which you and up to three additional players take on a particular role in the band, whether it be backing vocals or guitar, and you'll each need to follow your own corresponding rhythm to keep the song going.
Finally, there are a ton of customisation options available, including outfits for Don-chan (such as a rather fetching Mario costume), name tags, and online greetings. These are housed in the 'My Room' option from the main menu, but it's honestly a shame this wasn't expanded on beyond a set of text-based options; like, there's no actual room to get decked out and procrastinate in. Oh well. Still, with so much to unlock, there's plenty of incentive to stick with the game for the long haul, regardless of whether you're interested in the subscription model or not.
Ultimately, Taiko no Tatsujin: Rhythm Festival is just more of the same, albeit with a boatload of songs locked behind a subscription service. It's not a good look for a game that near enough costs full whack, but with 76 songs available right from the off, there's at least plenty to be getting on with for a good while. The Taiko Land party games offer up nice variety and make for some fun multiplayer sessions, while the online mode is genuinely quite thrilling when you're matched up with someone of similar skill. For those new to the series however, you might be better of opting for the more comprehensive package available with Taiko no Tatsujin: Rhythmic Adventure Pack.
Taiko no Tatsujin: Rhythm Festival is another solid entry in the franchise, but it's also a very safe one. The core gameplay is still a lot of fun and that might well be enough for some players. For others, the distinct lack of modes on offer may result in a rather short-lived experience, particularly if you're not looking to dive into the Taiko Music Pass subscription service. Still, with a chunky amount of songs available from the start, Rhythm Festival is a no-brainer for fans of the series; you know what you're getting into, and we think you're going to like it.