Monday, November 5, 2018

Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum Session! Review (PS4)

Before Guitar Hero and Rock Band cluttered living rooms with plastic instruments, there was Taiko Drum Master. Released on PS2 back in 2004, Taiko Drum Master came with an awesome plastic drum accessory and it was a ton of fun to play. It was also, sadly, the only Taiko game to release in the U.S.A. despite being massively popular in Japanese arcades and having multiple releases on consoles and handhelds in Japan since then. Now, after all of these years, the wait for a new Taiko game to hit our shores is finally over with the release of Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum Session! for PS4. The bad news is that it doesn't come with a drum controller this time, but the good news is that it's still tons of fun to play with a controller and the song list is excellent. Continue reading our full review for all of the details.

Game Details

  • Publisher: Bandai Namco
  • Developer: Bandai Namco
  • ESRB Rating: "E10" for Everyone 10+
  • Genre: Music / Rhythm
  • Pros: Great song list; fun gameplay; excellent presentation
  • Cons: No drum controller for NA release; no DLC bundles
  • MSRP: $50 

Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum Session page at PlayStation Store

I actually reviewed the PS2 Taiko Drum Master for way back in the day - yeah, I've been writing reviews for this long ... - so I was pretty excited that a new game was finally coming to the U.S. again. For the most part, Taiko no Tatsijin: Drum Session! is pretty much the same experience as before, but that's a good thing. Taiko drums are pretty simple to begin with, so there are only so many combinations of face and rim hits you can do. There are some other key differences, though, the biggest of which is the fact that there is no plastic drum controller included this time.

You can import a PS4 drum controller from the Japanese release of the game and it'll work just fine but they're pretty expensive. If you want to spend the extra cash, it is definitely the most fun way to play. If you don't want to spend another $75 or so (and I can't blame you ... I didn't either) then playing with a standard PS4 controller is plenty of fun too, just in a different way. The gist of the gameplay is that colored "notes" scroll across the screen and you hit the proper button when they reach the proper spot. Red notes are for drum face hits while blue notes are for drum rim hits. Big red or big blue notes mean you have to hit both sides of the drum at the same time. Faster songs or higher difficulties require you to alternate drumming with your left and right hands to keep up.

With a standard controller in your hand Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum Session! plays pretty much like any other rhythm game. Left and right face and rim hits are mapped to controller buttons and there are several control schemes to choose from. My personal preference is to play the red notes with the down d-pad and X button and the blue notes with the shoulder buttons / triggers. Once you get used to it, you can alternate drum beats and hit the rim notes without having to think too much. Overall I'd say the core gameplay is simpler than most other rhythm games when playing with a controller, but on higher difficulty levels it still proves to be quite a challenge to keep up with. It's definitely a lot of fun, though.

Another difference between this new Taiko game and the 2004 version is that there was little effort made this time around to "Western-ize" it. The 2004 PS2 game had a bunch of recognizable American pop and rock songs thrown in to broaden its appeal, but that isn't the case here. At all. The 70+ songs included in Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum Session! are all Japanese songs which, depending on how into Anime or Vocaloid you are, means you probably won't recognize very many of the songs here. That doesn't mean they aren't fun to play, or you can't learn to love them, but it might make it harder for some people to get excited about the game if they don't see a lot of recognizable names.

For me personally, I found a ton of songs I really liked and recognized because I'm a huge anime nerd. The theme songs from "Neon Genesis Evangelion", "Attack on Titan", and "Mr. Osomatsu" are tons of fun and I was also surprised by how much I like the Japanese version of "Let it Go" (yes, THAT "Let it Go") from Disney's "Frozen". It's just so much less annoying in Japanese, somehow. I also enjoyed the Hatsune Miku Vocaloid tracks - see our review of Hatsune Miku Project Diva - , the video game tracks from other Bandai Namco titles, and it was a nice surprise to see Babymetal's "Gimmie Chocolate" in the list. The rest of the 70+ song track list is solid as well.

The game also already has a lot of DLC available with individual songs coming in at $1.49 each. "Don't Say Lazy" from K-On is just one of the songs available, and I have to admit I'm pretty tempted. As of right now, however, there is no Season Pass or bulk DLC purchase option available in N.A., which is disappointing. I'd kind of like to be able to pay one flat fee and get all of the songs - because, yes, the game is fun enough I want more songs - but that isn't an option at the moment. As of this review I'm not sure what the plans are for bundles / passes / etc. are.

Modes are pretty bare bones here. Basically, you're just playing each song for fun and to improve your skills and there isn't much sense of progression. You do unlock a huge amount of cosmetic options for dressing up your drum, but they're all pretty pointless and don't act as particularly good motivation to keep you playing. There is also an "online" mode where you play against pre-recorded ghosts of other players to see if you can top their scores, but it's not drastically different - or at all - from playing normally so it doesn't add much. You can also play local multiplayer, which is fun. The game is fun enough to play as it, though, so even though there isn't a lot of stuff to "do", I think it's fine.

The presentation in Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum Session! is bright and colorful and very appealing. The gameplay screen is easy to see everything you need to, which is the most important part. Like other rhythm games, there is always lots of stuff happening in the background and sides of the screen as you play, which you probably won't notice while you're focused on playing, but it does make the game entertaining to watch for other people in the room. 

I have to admit that my initial reaction was that the $50 price is probably a tad too high, but considering that you're getting 70+ songs for that (compared to 30+ in the original PS2 release from 2004) it seems fair. Especially after playing it and having so much fun the price bothered me less and less. Since this is a Bandai Namco game, however, it'll probably go on sale early and often, so keep that in mind. I do think any music / rhythm fans should definitely play it, though. It is easily the most accessible game in the genre on PS4, too, which helps its overall appeal as well since it won't overwhelm casual players or younger kids the same way DJMax Respect might. Do I wish it came with a drum controller? Definitely. Should you still play Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum Session! anyway? Absolutely.
Disclosure: A review code was provided by the publisher.