The Switch has become the go-to system for all manner of genres, and rhythm action is no different. You can’t move for rhythm games on the system, and even if you could, you would have to move to some sort of beat, because that’s the rule now.
Groove Coaster: Wai Wai Party!!!! is the umpteenth example to make its way onto Nintendo’s console, and while these days it takes something a little special to stand out among its countless peers, something a little special is exactly what it offers: and we don’t just mean its annoying use of four exclamation marks.
For those unfamiliar with the series, Groove Coaster is a mobile and arcade series that first started in 2011. After three phone games, five arcade instalments and a Steam release last year, this Switch entry marks Groove Coaster’s console debut, and it’s certainly been worth the wait – even if it may not initially look like it based on the screenshots.
As the name somewhat hints, Taito’s take on rhythm action has a rollercoaster theme to it. It’s a fairly minimalist one, mind you; the ‘track’ is a single, unbroken line that runs through the entirety of the song and goes through various turns, bends, twists, loops and other dramatic swoops designed to make the fact that it’s just a line as exciting as it could possibly be.
Meanwhile, your icon – a little avatar that starts off as an enemy from Space Invaders but can be changed for one of 100 other unlockable ones – follows the course of the line, encountering a bunch of rhythm-based icons along the way. It sort of goes without saying but your job is to trigger each icon by pressing the appropriate button or moving the correct stick as your avatar passes it.
You may assume that you can only do so much with a line, and in basic terms, you’d be right; but the game does a fantastic job of making sure each song has its own character. Background animations are eye-catching (though never in an overly distracting way), and some songs create unique effects every time you trigger a note. Take the brilliantly bad ‘USA’ song by Japanese boy band Da Pump and the dance version of the Bubble Bobble theme; both have a completely different visual style here, despite offering the same mechanics.
One of the lovely things about Groove Coaster on Switch is the way the game’s so flexible when it comes to your choice of button input. Standard beats can be triggered by hitting any of the four directional buttons, any of the four face buttons or any shoulder button, or even by moving one of the analogue sticks. More complex beats give you a little less choice, but you always at least have some options; even the ‘slide’ commands where you have to move the stick in a certain direction can be performed with the corresponding face buttons instead.
What this ultimately means is that Groove Coaster has one of the quicker adaptation periods you’ll find in a rhythm game. This isn’t something like Guitar Hero where you have to spend time programming your muscle memory so that when you see a certain colour your brain instantly knows what chord to hold down: instead, with so many different ways of triggering each type of note, you can spend a lot of your early hours with the game getting by on pure instinct.
That’s not to say it’s easy, of course. Each track has four difficulty levels: Easy, Normal, Hard and Master. Both Hard and Master offer enough of a challenge that you’ll likely fail a few times, but aren’t so impossible that they can’t be beaten with enough practice. Safe to say, though, and getting an S+ rank – for not missing a single note – on Master difficulty in every song is the sort of feat that only a select few rhythm game legends will ever achieve.
There’s one irritating feature, however, that isn’t a game-breaker by any means but will still wind up completists who fancy trying for those perfect scores. Each song has a number of ‘AD-LIB’ notes, which are hidden notes that don’t appear on the screen. If you can guess where they are and press a button at the right point, you’ll trigger them and add to your combo.
While these notes are entirely optional and you won’t lose your combo if you miss one, the only way you can get the ultimate ‘Full Chain’ ranking for a song is by hitting every note and every invisible AD-LIB note. Which is a bit ridiculous. Thankfully, the S+ rank gives you a separate ‘No Miss’ label, so you can easily pretend those ridiculous invisible notes don’t exist and focus on getting ‘No Miss’ on every track instead.
You’ve got a reason to do so, too. While it has its own separate DLC song packs – offering the likes of tracks from Undertale – the standalone game itself is absolutely loaded with content and a lot of it is unlockable, just like in the good old days. The Missions screen shows you a bunch of achievements that are linked together in a tree system: these range from things like ‘Clear 5 stages in the Vocaloid genre’ to ‘Achieve a Perfect in one stage’.
There are 300 of these missions in total and they unlock loads of stuff. These include the likes of 97 unlockable avatar icons to play as, 22 ‘navigator’ characters who appear on the main menu, 19 different game skins, and – most importantly – 29 unlockable songs, bringing the total track listing up from 71 songs to a nice round 100. It will take you an absolute age to unlock all of these, but completing songs (and some missions) will also earn you ‘G Coins’ which let you pay your way through any achievements you can’t complete. And no, you can’t buy extra G Coins in the eShop: it’s not that kind of game. At least, not now it’s on Switch.
The Switch version includes some other features that, to be frank, we could take or leave. There’s an optional motion control method that simply replaces analogue stick controls with waggling a Joy-Con; it’s accurate enough and we had no issues playing in this way, but it just wasn’t for us. Similarly, the option to play with up to four players – either through split-screen or local wireless – is welcome, but nothing unique. None of this really matters, though, when the main meat here is so delicious. Or something.
The only other thing you have to bear in mind here is that Groove Coaster is unashamedly Japanese. Almost the entire soundtrack consists of Japanese music, split into Anime/Pop, Vocaloid, Touhou Project Remix and Game Music categories, so if your tastes are more western in style you may not get along with what’s on offer here. Anyone else who loves the Asian scene or is at least open-minded enough to be introduced to 100 infuriatingly addictive new tracks will have a blast, though.
Yet another fantastic rhythm game to add to the Switch's ever-growing repertoire. It may be a tad on the expensive side, but its core mechanics are rock solid, its minimalist visuals are a treat to behold and the fact it's got to much to play through and unlock means you'll be happily tapping your toes to this one for months.