It’s been a while since I played a rhythm action game on the trusty Xbox. In fact, I think the last one was quite possibly Guitar Hero Metallica, all the way back on the Xbox 360. So, when it was announced that not only was there a new musical masterpiece in the pipeline, but that it was going to be coming to Game Pass, I was all over it. The game in question is from Bandai Namco, titled Taiko no Tatsujin: The Drum Master!, and as I’m sure you can guess from the title, it is a clarinet simulator. Nah, not really – this one is all about the drumming, the very roots of rhythm. So come with me to a world of beats, bass drums and banging…
Now, around about here I normally run an opener covering the story and narrative of any such game, but all we need to do in Taiko no Tatsujin: The Drum Master! is make some noise. That’ll save my fingers, I guess, as they are about worn down to nubs with the hammering of the buttons of my Xbox controller. We are guided by Don-Chan, a drum with a face, led to drum along to a massive variety of tracks, ranging from Anime theme tunes through to classical music. Quite how I feel about hitting a drum with a face on I’m not sure, but he doesn’t seem to mind, so its game on.
As you may imagine from a rhythm action game, the graphics are not really going to set the world on fire, but they do have a quirky charm all of their own. Don-Chan looks great as the host, and as we go through the song, depending on how we perform, he gets more and more animated as we get a higher score. There are also many, many backing dancers to have a look at as well, and these add a huge amount of visual flourish to what is, at heart, a fairly simple game screen.
The well worn rhythm action game staples are here: a kind of horizontally scrolling conveyor belt, with various notes dotted on it, and a point on the screen where we have to hit the buttons when the notes cross it. There are red notes and blue: Red require a push of the A button, and blue needs you to hit B. There are other buttons that you can use instead, should you wish, but I found A and B the easiest to hit accurately when things get a little frantic.
But as you may expect to hear, the sound is the real star here as the tunes are uniformly brilliant, whether it be my current favourite – a tune called Homura from an Anime title that features a beautiful melody – through some truly finger bleeding fast tunes from the other end of the spectrum.
As you play through the tunes on offer and manage to complete them, you are rewarded for your efforts. Not only will you be awarded various different colour crowns for finishing a tune, you will also receive varying amounts of coins. The crowns are interesting, and the top level crown – the rainbow crown – is rewarded only for a perfect run through a song, with every single note being rated Good. The closer you get to where Taiko no Tatsujin: The Drum Master! deems the perfect timing of the note to be, the better, basically; it’s a testament to the design that as you become familiar with the tunes, the rhythm of the music sinks in, and you can almost play the tune with your eyes shut. Almost being the operative word there.
Now, the crowns are lovely and all, but it is the coins that are the best thing to be rewarded. After all, what do coins make? Purchases of course, and the in-game shop should be your destination for all your customising needs. In the shop (the menu for all the modes is accessed by pressing right on D-Pad from the main game screen, in case you were wondering), you can purchase not only new songs, expanding the repertoire of Don-Chan, but also a lot of cosmetic items as well. As an example, my Don-Chan now has a very fetching shark outfit on, and I have also changed the sound of the instrument as well. Yes, you can buy and use a fart sound for when you hit the drum, and not only is it comedy genius, there’s even an achievement for doing so. Nothing says that you are playing a high brow and serious game than drumming along to the Can-Can music with each drum beat being a fart noise. There are many, many things to buy in the shop, and so spend , spend, spend!
That is pretty much the majority of the game, apart from the obligatory multiplayer modes and nicely you can drum along with a friend on the settee. This is good fun, but there is also a Ranked online mode to have a crack at. I would recommend getting some practice under the belt first, as the matchmaking algorithms seem to be a little broken. You see, on my very first attempt at hitting the online scene, me, a lowly level 3 player, was matched with a level 128. While the net code copes really well, I had my ass beaten like a drum, as you can imagine. There are people out there playing, but they all seem to be properly good, so practising offline first is my top tip.
It may not be that much of a surprise but Taiko no Tatsujin: The Drum Master! is massively enjoyable. While the songs range from easy to “surely only an octopus can hit all these notes!”, the challenge can be tweaked to suit everyone, and it turns out that a little drumming is a surprisingly relaxing pastime. The music is great, the action is fun, and the whole atmosphere delivered here is one of almost Zen-like calm.
Taiko no Tatsujin: The Drum Master! is available from the Xbox Store