Fans of video game-themed webcomics have no doubt seen or are familiar with the Nintendo-inspired Brawl in the Family strip. Though the comic has concluded now, its creator – Matthew Taranto – went on to create a music themed game featuring the art that made his comic so popular. Tadpole Treble is a wonderfully charming experience (which originally enjoyed success on Kickstarter), featuring satisfying gameplay and a catchy soundtrack that you'll find yourself returning back to over and over.
The premise is quite simple. After hatching out of her egg a young Baton swims throughout Tadpole Pond, encouraged to explore by her mother and father, Melody and Timbre. Things quickly go awry, however, when Baton swims just a bit too far and is snatched up by a hungry pelican. Thus begins Baton's journey to find her way back home, meeting all sorts of friends and foes along the way.
The main campaign features about a dozen levels, all of which are set to the speed and rhythm of the featured song. Baton swims automatically along a music staff, with the notes being represented by spiked mines that must be avoid. Tapping a face button makes Baton kick, something which is useful for hitting certain objects along the way in tune with the beat. Your score is constantly ticking up, but there are numerous ways to bump it up ever higher. Avoiding obstacles causes a score multiplier to go up, while additional points are awarded by successfully hitting beats and grabbing collectables like Bubbles and Pure Water.
Of course, the main draw of this game is its soundtrack, and it certainly doesn't disappoint. There's a wonderful variety of songs here; there are easy-going and cheery songs, fast-paced and exciting tunes, and even a couple that feature some talented vocalists. You never quite know what to expect next on the first playthrough, and all the songs are well-written in such a way that they never lose their charm in subsequent runs for high scores.
The visuals are another highlight, displaying Taranto's artistic talent to great effect. Everything has a hand-drawn, coloured pencil look to it that isn't seen often in video games, and the animation quality rarely disappoints. Bright colours abound throughout all the levels, and while the game is somewhat limited in what it can display due to being restricted to showing the staff at all times, it still manages to be quite a visual treat. Be it a whimsical snowscape or an 8-bit wonderland, the locales are as varied as the music tracks that they feature, and make for quite a show.
Though the main game mode may be seen as a bit short to some, it is more than made up for by the sheer replayability on offer. Every stage has five medals that cover a broad array of challenges that suitably lengthen the experience. Be it finding that stage's hidden Challenge Fly or getting an "F-Rank" for getting the lowest score possible, these medals often have you playing the game in new and interesting ways. Moreover, they add a sufficient amount of difficulty to what is otherwise a fairly easy game. Also, collecting bubbles throughout stages allows you to unlock new features, such as a music player and a bestiary that contains brief bios and descriptions of characters and the environments.
For those of you who are more creatively inclined, there's also a fully featured composition mode where you can create stages of your own. The interface is quite easy to use, featuring a touch screen interface that brings Super Mario Maker to mind. All sorts of sounds and instruments can be employed and you can set a few different themes for the background art. While there's no means of sharing these in-game, a QR code can be generated from your finished product which can then be shared with friends.
All told, Tadpole Treble is a wonderfully rounded experience. The excellent soundtrack is matched by equally fun gameplay, which can be surprisingly deep for those looking for a challenge. On top of that, the level editor adds a virtually limitless amount of content and replayability to that which is already offered in the main campaign. We'd highly suggest you pick this one up - it's a charming and memorable rhythm game that stands out as a real gem on the eShop.