A slightly bigger fish in a much bigger pond.
A small team originally released Tadpole Treble on Wii U among other platforms in 2016, and it was a tremendous game that was held back by the wasteland that the Wii U was five (or six, seven, eight…) years ago. The developers at BitFinity have returned for another performance five years later, and it’s still a fun game that didn’t come to Switch cleanly but is still worth your time.
Tadpole Treble features what has to be the youngest player character in gaming: you control a tadpole named Baton who is taken away by a pelican as soon as they come out of the egg. Their job is simple: get back home by swimming through a group of waterways. The path itself is laid out like a musical staff, complete with each level starting with a treble clef. As Baton swims, they have one move: a tail slap which runs off every button. The slap doesn’t affect the predators in the water, but can be used to hit reeds of bamboo or cymbals that give Baton extra vertical movement. Each level has 100 bubbles in it, which start out by pointing out the best path to take to avoid obstacles but quickly goes crazy, with a ranking from F to S based on how many bubbles are hit and how few obstacles are ran into (though Baton can take a few hits before the level ends, there are auto-kills in some stages.) There’s also a full composition mode that definitely requires more musical composition chops than I have to sound good, but people with those chops will be able to make magic with.
It was nice to be able to get a quick credit roll in for Tadpole Treble; those who want to get through it quickly will be able to swim to the finish in probably 90 minutes to 2 hours. If you want to go for 100% though, there’s plenty of ways to play it; each level includes a “Challenge Fly” for meeting a specific, not-revealed objective. These objectives range from hitting every bamboo pole to avoiding a specific threat, and one level even requires the dreaded F-rank. Rolling credits unlocks a “Concerto” mode which gives one life to beat every stage in the game. Some of the stages are definitely more difficult than others: “Piranha Jungle” features a bunch of super-predator fish who move along with you for most of the second half of the stage. It’s the only time in the game I can confirm that there’s an obstacle whose position isn’t fixed, which is annoying in a rhythm-based game. I would expect something like that in the three-stage final boss level, but Piranha Jungle is halfway through the game. Another issue that I didn’t recall cropping up on Wii U when I reviewed it there were bugs: although I wasn’t able to replicate it in a second attempt, I did have a softlock (every button responded but pause after my character randomly vanished) which necessitated rebooting the game.
The graphics and music definitely hold up today. The art by Matthew Taranto (formerly of the Brawl in the Family webcomic) is dynamic with a bunch of sight gags that people who are observing the game will notice even if the player is too busy playing. But the highlight is the music: it’s all original tunes, and I have “Thunder Creek” stuck in my head again after only getting it out sometime in 2019. I got a new appreciation for the final boss tunes this time, especially the third stage music “Another Refrain” which… final boss music should be that good, but I don’t think I’ve heard a final boss theme that is so bouncy and gleeful.
A lot of people missed Tadpole Treble the first time around, but it’s definitely worth doubling back to now that it’s been rescued and brought to Switch. There will be moments of frustration (thanks, piranha) but I spent more time smiling and bouncing to the music than I have in most of the games I’ve played in the last year.