Since 2001, the Taiko no Tatsujin franchise has been delighting Japanese arcade goers with its fun-filled visuals and easy to learn gameplay. We haven't seen much of the series in the west but recently, the 2 latest console games have come to our shores.
Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum 'n' Fun! is one of two recently released games in the drum-based rhythm series, the other being Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum Session! for PlayStation 4. Believe it or not, the only previous western console release of the series was back in 2004 with the debut of Taiko Drum Master for PlayStation 2. I still own that game and have fond memories of playing it alongside the super-fun Donkey Konga series which features very similar gameplay and was even made by the same developers. Taiko Drum Master came with an actual taiko drum controller that you hit with two sticks in order to play. Unfortunately, as of right now, the only way to play these two new Taiko no Tatsujin games with a drum controller is to import one which can turn into a rather pricey endeavour.
History of the series aside, just what the heck is Taiko no Tatsujin and how do you play? Basically, you perform 2 distinct actions whenever their corresponding icons cross the designated spot within the rapidly scrolling timeline. Doing so requires perfect timing but considering there are essentially only the 2 actions; it's very easy to learn how to play. There are a variety of control methods and this Switch version specifically allows you to use the touchscreen, motion controls, and button controls. I preferred using buttons because the motion controls didn't feel like they always registered what I was intending. Anyway, there are some complexities as you play such as large icons that make you perform two of the same action simultaneously and different gimmicks that all basically involve banging the drum as fast as you can. Overall, it's simple stuff but it can be super-challenging, too, so gamers of all skill levels can enjoy the fun.
Aside from the main Taiko Mode where you can play each individual song, there is a collection of dozens of mini-games within Party Game mode. This mode allows 4 players to compete or cooperate within fun rhythm-based games. You'll find yourself scooping up goldfish, detonating fireworks, slurping noodles, pounding mochi, climbing cakes, jumping rope, and much more. Although there are a ton of games and they're full of charm, I can't help but feel like they play a bit too similarly thus making this mode have far less lasting appeal than the main Taiko Mode. That being said, playing a few games with friends can be great fun for a little while.
The visuals in Taiko no Tatsujin are always bright, cheerful, and animated in a way that makes playing the games an absolute joy. Thankfully, Drum 'n' Fun is no exception. As you play through the songs and mini-games, you'll see the graphics become livelier with dancing characters and delightful effects. Meanwhile, the music selection is superb. There are dozens of tunes within the categories Game Music, Namco Original, Pop, Anime, Vocaloid Music, Classical, and Variety. I loved playing the drum to songs from Super Mario Odyssey (with the fun-filled track Jump Up, Super Star!), Splatoon 2, the Kirby series, and Pac-Man Championship Edition 2. Plus, there are songs from Studio Ghibli, Touhou Project, and Hatsune Miku available as DLC. How awesome is that?
One aspect that I found disappointing about Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum 'n' Fun! is the fact that the main Taiko Mode doesn't feature many replay incentives besides getting high scores. There are unlockable characters but they're unlocked in the Party Game mode. With that said, it is cool to be able to play as Kirby and a Squid from Splatoon. Anyway, there are no challenges or achievements and the overall lack of replay incentives definitely makes Taiko Mode a less rewarding experience than it could have been.
Another area that Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum 'n' Fun! lacks in is an online component. There is no online multiplayer and the fact that online rankings are non-existent means that you'll only be trying to beat your own local high scores. Needless to say, this further cements Drum 'n' Fun's lack of replay incentives and is a substantial missed opportunity. On the plus side, you can play with multiple Switch consoles (equipped with their own copy of Drum 'n' Fun) via a Local Wireless Session with up to four consoles which is a welcome inclusion.
It's been far too long since Taiko no Tatsujin saw a release in the west but Drum 'n' Fun! brings back Namco's rhythm series in a fantastic way. Even without a drum controller, there's still a ton of fun to be had banging a virtual drum in this charming rhythm game.
- + Simple yet challenging rhythm gameplay that gamers of all skill levels can enjoy
- + Cheerful visuals and awesome song selection
- + Loads of fun bonus mini-games
- - Taiko Mode lacks unlockables and challenges
- - No online multiplayer or leaderboards
- - Not as fun without the drum controller