Steady rhythm gameplay doesn’t hide the fact that I’d rather play the original songs and not the modern throwbacks.
Video games and chiptunes go hand in hand, so it seems to reason that Old School Musical - a long-in-development rhythm game from La Moutarde - is a natural fit for the concept. Drawing naked inspiration from classic video games, this Switch title is made up of a variety of songs where you press buttons in rhythm to the music while often zany actions go on in the background. It’s cute and the gameplay is sound, but a lack of memorable music and some repetition makes it more of an imitator than its own successful musical experience.
Old School Musical tries to focus on a story, which is a little too abstract and elongated for its own good. The heroes are Tib and Rob - a pair of shapes or something - and they get sent hurtling through various dimensions to find out why everything is glitching. That allows a loose excuse for all the game references in the various levels and songs. The brightest spot of the story is the weird sojourn into a battle with chickens, which is thankfully built on in a lengthy post-game mode.
The heart of rhythm games is always the songs, though, and the variety of chiptunes here range from serviceable to good. A few standouts include a cool remix of Korobeiniki (aka the Tetris song) and a few interesting Zelda-inspired songs. The songs reference everything from Mega Man and Castlevania to the old Konami Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games. It’s fun, but the songs don’t necessarily stack up to their inspirations.
The rhythm gameplay is easy to understand but still ramps up in challenge nicely. The face buttons are used for most of the gameplay as the notes fly in from the outside into the center. Occasionally, the notes switch to using the shoulder buttons, which is usually a good change of pace in the middle of songs. Multiple difficulty options allows for a sort of difficulty customization. I’m a fan of rhythm games and generally alright at them and I found the hardest difficulty to be challenging.
Old School Musical operates in a weird space. I find the rhythm gameplay to be really good and dependable, but it’s almost like empty calories. If anything, it makes me wish Nintendo or Capcom or Konami would just take their old music and put them into rhythm experiences like this (or akin to Square-Enix’s Theatrhythm games). The best part of Old School Musical is what lies beyond the story, which if you want a chiptune-fueled rhythm game with a lot of retro gaming references, is worth getting through. The fun here makes for a good time, but I can’t help but wish it was backed up by the actual soundtracks from the games it was referencing instead of chiptune artists calling back to better songs.