A rhythm game that can help you learn Japanese? What madness is this?
Before I talk about Hiragana Pixel Party itself I should explain something. The Japanese language essentially has three different alphabets you need to learn to be able to fully read and understand the language. Hiragana consists of 48 symbols and is generally used to form native Japanese words. Katakana also consists of 48 characters but is generally used to form words that have a foreign origin. Than you have about 2,000 kanji characters that represent specific words. Basically the Japanese language is a beautiful and fascinating mess that Hiragana Pixel Party hopes to try to help you make sense of by teaching you hiragana and katakana.
The game works by assigning four hiragana or katakana characters to the face buttons. The girl on the screen says the sounds of certain hiragana or katakana characters while your character runs to the right and you repeat them by pressing the corresponding button to progress. The buttons change with each verse so you need to stay on your toes a bit. It can be challenging in its own way to keep track of which hiragana or katakana symbol is tied to which face button and which series of sounds the girl just gave while still keeping to the rhythm.
This approach would be a bit flawed for teaching English because in the English language different letters can have different phonetic sounds depending on about a billion different circumstances but hiragana and katakana characters always have the same sound associated with them. For example the character あ is always pronounced as "Ah" and え is always "eh," so you don't have to worry about confusing a prospective new Japanese speaker with long vowels or something crazy like that. It results in a rather cute and novel approach to potentially take a major step towards learning a new language.
I don't play many rhythm games so I don't have many points of reference to go off of here but this game feels a lot more forgiving than other games in the genre I've played. You get up to five little bird followers that represent how many times you can mess up before failing the stage and succeeding at the button prompts eventually bring back any of your fallen avian brethren. It's a good thing the game is so generous because it sometimes becomes a bit too fast for my taste, which makes it easy to burn through your bird brethren and lose track of which set of symbols is coming up next or which buttons you need to press. I have had a few game overs that felt a bit unfair because of this.
While Hiragana Pixel Party could theoretically work as a standalone teaching tool I am not entirely convinced it's going to be the best way to learn hiragana or katakana. It doesn't offer any sort of help with memorizing specific hiragana or katakana symbols that you might be having trouble with, which is particularly problematic when some of the symbols look fairly similar to each other, like つ, which is the hiragana character "tsu" and う, which is the hiragana character for "u." I also wish that the game toyed around a bit with different fonts for the Japanese characters. There's a difference after all between knowing what お is in the specific font used by Hiragana Pixel Party and being able to recognize お as the hiragana character for "oh" regardless of how it is written out. This is something a video game is much more well suited to teach you as opposed to something a deck of flash cards would showcase, which makes it a strange omission.
The bigger issue though is that it doesn't give any sort of warning about the fact that trying to learn both hiragana and katakana at the same time is not a good idea due to the fact that they can easily be confused with each other, especially if you're planning to learn how to write in Japanese as well.
The visuals are generally nice. The sprite-based artwork forms silhouettes against a vibrantly colored background, creating a nice minimalistic look that manages to be visually pleasing without being distracting. The game also has a decent set of chiptunes for its soundtrack. It's not what I'd call visually impressive but it's hard for me not to call the visual style a success.
Hiragana Pixel Party's main issue is that it is just merely an okay rhythm game on the Switch eShop. Even as somebody who doesn't play a lot of rhythm games I have a hard time believing that there are not better games in the genre available for the Switch. If you're interested in learning Japanese, the game might be a solid investment but otherwise the repetitive nature makes it difficult to recommend to anyone who isn't both a fan of rhythm games and interested in learning Japanese.