I hope you like Japan… like a lot.
I’ll be honest: I didn’t expect Bandai Namco to release Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum ’n’ Fun in North America. Not only has the series not seen an American release since 2004, but this game is just as obscure and Japanese as its gets. Then again, I was thrilled when they announced the title was coming to the West. I’ve been wanting to get into this series for quite some time, and I’m happy to say that it’s been well worth the wait.
Traditionally, Taiko games are played with a drum controller. Red and blue circles fly across the screen that indicate when to hit the center or the edge of the drum. The circles match up with the rhythm of the music, which can move pretty quickly depending on your difficulty level. Although this gameplay is similar to many other music games, the rhythms are natural—almost as though I’m jamming along with the band. Especially at the higher difficulties, I didn’t feel like I was just coordinating buttons; I was playing music.
While it is possible to import a drum controller, at the time of writing, doing so costs more than the game itself. Luckily, plenty of other control options are present for you to try out: the Pro Controller, motion controls, or touch controls. I vastly preferred the Pro Controller over the other two options. I couldn’t get the motion controls to accurately respond to my movements, and the touch controls felt cramped on the Switch’s small screen.
This game’s soundtrack is the most wacky collection of music I’ve ever seen. There’s over 70 tracks – most of which are playable from the start, but there are a few that are unlocked as you play the game. You’ll see some classical music, Japanese pop songs, and original tracks, alongside music from Super Mario Odyssey, Splatoon 2, Pac-Man Championship Edition 2, and other Nintendo and Namco games. Regardless of the style, all the songs compliment the gameplay. Most are fast and upbeat, hyping you up enough to drum along.
Complimenting the classic Taiko mode is a party mode packed with 20 rhythm games. I’ll admit I glanced over these games at first and jumped right into the Taiko mode, but they’re really worth checking out simply for how creative and downright wacky they are. Some of the gameplay here is very simplistic, especially compared to the expert modes in the main game, but they’re still quite fun and a welcome break from the repetition of Taiko mode. A few of the games had unclear instructions on how to play, but I was able to figure them out pretty quickly regardless. All corners of the screen are jam-packed with visuals at every moment. There’s characters and objects everywhere that move with the music, creating an endless feast of color and personality.
When I first saw footage of the Japanese version of this game, I figured an American localization would bring with it tons of changes to tone down the overload of Japanese songs, references, and language. That simply didn’t happen with this release. Aside from menu items and descriptions, nearly everything in the game is unchanged—even the voiceovers are still in Japanese. That being said, I think this absence of translation is absolutely appropriate for this love-letter to Japan. Sure, I would prefer everything to be in English, but the Japanese language just adds to the blissful obscurity of the experience.
Polished, fun and incredibly weird at times, Taiko no Tatsujin is nothing short of a blast to play on the Switch. The translation isn’t great and the motion controls don’t quite work, but everything else here is a pure delight. The core gameplay is simple yet addicting, and the party games make this a title you can enjoy with just about anyone.