Seven years of development have led Old School Musical’s rhythm game stylings to bring its game parodies to Switch.
Four years have passed since Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call came out and while other good rhythm games have come and gone since then, nothing has really captured some of what drew me to that game. The Final Fantasy music was a big draw, but so was the relatively no-nonsense interface. Old School Musical, from new developer La Moutarde, isn’t identical to Theatrhythm, but it’s a game that rekindled some of my adoration for the series. While I was off playing the pair of Theatrhythm Final Fantasy games though, Old School Musical had a rocky development.
Seven years ago, Francois Bertrand and La Moutarde started working on Old School Musical. Initially, it was made using Microsoft’s XNA game development framework and eventually morphed into an Xbox 360 and Vita project. The goal was relatively simple: make a chiptune rhythm game that was as fun to watch as it was to play. Early versions of the game were more focused around mini-games and the presentation was a little more chaotic, evocative of the Hatsune Miku games with buttons flying in around the screen. The style was a retro throwback with send-up and parodies of various classic game franchises.
According to Bertand, the team started from scratch in 2015 with their eyes set on a PC release. By this point, one of the only remaining elements from the earlier versions was a Legend of Zelda parody. As they progressed through putting together the game, the Nintendo Switch came out, and as fate would have it, their Zelda parody would find its way home in a roundabout way since the game seemed like a perfect fit for the platform. With so much turnover of content during development, Old School Musical was, in Bertand’s words, “made with lots of developer tears.”
The mini-games that were more prevalent early on started to wash away, though that’s more because they put together an ambitious and crazy post-game mode that “started as a joke but it went so far,” according to Bertrand. I’ve played that mode and I can confirm it is both ambitious and crazy.
But neat unlockable modes aside, the story is the heart of Old School Musical, telling the tale of Tib and Rob, two box-shaped beings who are tortured by their maniacal mother and wind up involved in a dimension-spanning mishap where the world starts to glitch out. The glitching conceit takes them to a variety of environments inspired by classic video games, whether it’s Mega Man, old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games, isometric RPGs, or even 2D Zelda. There’s even this level that I can only refer to as “vaguely outer space Tetris” that features one of my favorite songs in the game. All of the songs come from different chiptune artists, including Dubmood, Zabutom, Hello World, Yponeko, and Le Plancton. The songs paired with specific game parodies are definitely of that series’ soundtrack style.
Gameplay is simple but can get complex as you work your through or hit higher difficulty levels. The center of the screen features a circle where notes come in, represented by up, left, down, and right arrows - all corresponding to face buttons. Occasionally, the note highway changes and you will instead use the shoulder buttons for a brief time. Since it nevers get overly complex, the controls allow you to focus on the songs themselves and not fight with inputs - something I personally really like about my rhythm games.
The inspiration comes from Dance Dance Revolution and Space Channel 5, two of Bertrand’s favorites. DDR inspired the simple elegance of the controls and inputs while the zany story is cut from that old Ulala cloth. Large swaths of the rest of the game came from wanting to give the players as many options as they could. The pick-up-and-play nature of the Switch is highlighted by the “Quick Play” feature that lets you jump into a random song right from the splash screen. A multiplayer mode also allows players to work on songs together, with the best score being counted (and the players being informed who did the best and worst). While the multiplayer wound up more co-op-focused, it first started as a split-screen competitive idea, but the Switch’s screen for tabletop play won out to make it a co-op, single-screen concept.
Old School Musical is right around the corner, due out on the Switch on September 13. After seven years, La Moutarde’s debut will finally hit virtual shelves. It’s evident that, like Bertrand told us, they “made it with [their] hearts and not with money in mind.” A lot of love is packed into the songs, visuals, and content of Old School Musical. The game parodies are all picked from the dev team’s personal experience and favorites. The development of this game might have predated the Wii U’s release, but maybe it’s fate that it lingered around long enough to make an entrance on Switch - a system that feels ideal for a warm, colorful rhythm game experience.
And completing the circle of this preview, I asked Bertrand what type of Theatrhythm game he’d want to play (because all normal people think of how cool a Theatrhythm Zelda would be, right? I mean it’d be awesome, right?). He went with his nostalgic heart, hoping for a Breath of the Fire 3-focused one as well as some kind of “chiptune greatest hits” collection with stuff like Yuzo Koshiro’s killer Streets of Rage soundtracks.