A decent soundtrack and precise input recognition are all you really need to make a good rhythm game. The musical style, presentation, narrative framing, and method of interaction are all important details, too, but it’s those first two that will make or break any music game. It’s easy to get overly ambitious with the superficial stuff and let the fundamental pieces slip, especially when you’re working with a limited budget. LOUD, thankfully, doesn’t fall into that trap: it lands on Switch with bold ambitions that it doesn’t always rise to, but a rock-solid rhythm foundation and killer soundtrack keep the jam alive.
If you’ve played any of the Persona Dancing games, you’ll be right at home in Loud: six hit markers in a ring around the centre of the screen, with notes tracking in from the outside edges towards the screen. It skips over some of Persona‘s mechanical details (like two-button notes) in favour of others that better fit the indie / punk rock feel: a whammy bar and rapid-fire sections akin to Taiko no Tatsujin‘s drum roll. The result? Something immediately familiar, that’s easy to pick up and find the right groove, but still feels like it has an identity of its own.
That’s backed by finely-crafted. An entirely original soundtrack means you don’t get the benefit of already knowing a tune when you first jump into a new track, but the maps all do a fine job of helping you find the rhythm and then layering complexity over the course of a song. Harder difficulties ramp things up further still, and while it never gets quite as overwhelming as the genre’s arcade roots, there’s still some reasonable challenge to be found at the higher levels. Thankfully, the inputs and hit detection in LOUD are precise enough to never get in the way of rising to that challenge—especially when playing in handheld mode with headphones (which is, by far, the best way to play any rhythm game on Switch).
And of course, the music itself plays a big role. LOUD brings an album’s worth of pop-punk instrumentals to Switch, each one wildly different from the last but all carrying the same vibrant energy and raw, unrefined sound. The influence of the likes of Green Day and Blink-182 is abundant, but there’s also some surprising range as the soundtrack draws on everything from classic metal to modern indie rock, too. The lack of lyrics is a refreshing touch, too, letting the rhythm take centre stage and helping the music and beat maps cock together without linguistic distractions. Some may scoff at the comparatively limited track count (14), but it’s good, original music in a low-budget game that is, in a way, a playable album.
The backdrop for all this rhythmic play is a simple tale about an awkward teenager discovering a passion for music and finding her place in the world through it. From jamming on a broom in her bedroom, to busking in the subway, to playing bar gigs, it’s a tale that will be relatable to many and familiar to most. It’s not about becoming the Next Big Thing or finding fame and fortune, but just about doing something you love—an intimate, quiet (ironically) journey through a little slice of someone’s life, free of drama or conflict. It’s nice, familiar, kind of comforting, but the trade off is a lack of any real depth or substance, both in the way the plot unfolds and the characters that drive it.
There’s ambition there for something bigger, something that cuts closer to the sort of adolescent slice of life you see in the likes of Life is Strange or Freaks and Geeks. It’s an ambition that LOUD never really rises to, instead delivering a story that’s relatable in its unremarkableness, but is unremarkable all the same. As a little narrative framing for the rhythm game core, though, it works well enough.
The best way to think of LOUD is like an interactive demo tape in the form of a Switch game. It doesn’t have the flash, licensed music, or sheer song count that bigger-budget rhythm games tend to shoot for, but in its place its something fresh, original, and invigorating in its raw energy. While it falls short of its narrative ambitions, it makes up for that in a kickass soundtrack and finely-tuned rhythm action core—and aren’t those the most important things in any music game?