Rhythm Festival is classic, timeless Taiko no Tatsujin rhythm action, but with a new track list, new minigames, and an expansive Music Pass.
Ah, Taiko. A taiko drumming arcade rhythm game with an eclectic mix of music and the utterly adorable artwork of Yukiko Yoko is the gift that keeps on giving. It’s been steadily gaining popularity in the west over the last few years, since Bandai Namco’s renewed interest in global releases—we’ve even seen a few Taiko arcade machines popping up around New Zealand!—but the basic idea hasn’t really changed since the series debuted more than 20 years ago. That’s only because it doesn’t need to: the mechanically simple fun of banging a drum in time with note marks on screen is timeless, especially with a steady stream of new songs across different releases, and, for the console versions, various minigames.
And so, in that sense, Taiko no Tatsujin: Rhythm Festival isn’t markedly different from 2018’s Drum ‘n Fun. It’s got the same rhythm foundation: coloured beat markers to indicate either a hit to the skin of the taiko (don) or to the rim (ka)—or to controller buttons representing those. Aside from some minor variations on those two, like hitting with both sticks at once, that’s the whole concept: two different beat types, two different inputs. But as in real-life taiko, there’s a lot you can do with a seemingly simple foundation, and Taiko no Tatsujin serves up patterns that are intricate, complex, and on its most difficult songs, downright fiendish.
It works well enough with buttons, even if that misses some of the physicality of taiko. There’s a range of different configurations to choose from, and thanks to the simplicity of the control scheme—you only need two different inputs per hand—each config has a few different buttons per don and ka that you can use interchangeably. Touchscreen controls (using an on-screen drum) and motion controls (with detached Joy Con acting as drum sticks) do a better job of replicating the drumming action, though your mileage will vary in terms of responsiveness compared with buttons—personally, I find touchscreen fantastic, but motion controls a bit unwieldy without the physical feedback of something to hit.
If you’re willing to spend the money, a drum controller is by far the best way to play. Aside from being the most authentic, it also feels the most natural and most responsive. A lot of the more complicated patterns feel much more intuitive when you’re using your whole arms to actually drum, and feel the recoil of a drumstick hitting something, rather than just pressing buttons.
The song list is great: 80-odd tracks, spanning the usual range of (mostly Japanese) pop and rock, vocaloid music, game soundtracks, anime themes, classical pieces, and original music. As always, it’s not a track list targeting mainstream Western tastes: unless you’re a big J-music or vocaloid fan, it’s likely that much of what’s included will be unfamiliar. But that’s not a bad thing, and the sheer variety on display in Rhythm Festival, in terms of both musical style and mood, is fantastic. You can go from the speed metal power ballad stylings of X Japan’s “Kurenai” one moment to the Doraemon opening theme the next; get fired up with “MEGALOVANIA” from Undertale then cool off with something like Freeway3234.
If you want to take it a bit further, there’s one of Rhythm Festival’s defining features: the Taiko Music Pass, a subscription-based library of over 500 additional tracks (with more being added each month). A wary initial gut reaction to yet another thing to subscribe to is understandable, but this one is pretty reasonable: 30-day or 90-day subs that you can buy either on a recurring basis or as one-offs, at a pretty fair cost for the quality (and sheer quantity) of what’s included—USD $3.99 for 30 days or $9.99 for 90 days (NZ pricing is still TBC). If you enjoy Taiko and play a lot, it’s a no-brainer, and even if you only dip into the game every now and then, the ease with which you can just buy a month of access without having to subscribe is nice. And if you just want nothing to do with it, many of the songs in the Music Pass are also available to buy in more traditional DLC packs.
Rhythm Festival rounds out the package with a couple of fun little minigames and a simple narrative progression system. Playing any game mode earns points that increase your drum level, in turn unlocking new cosmetic items to buy in the in-game store (with money earned by playing, not microtransactions—and I hate the fact that this has to be specified, these days) and story chapters. The story is brief and mostly forgettable, but filled with the quirky comedy and wonderfully odd mascot characters that Taiko no Tatsujin is built upon.
The minigames are a lot of fun, too—rather than the short-form party minigames Drum ‘n’ Fun, Rhythm Festival opts for a couple of modes that put fun twists on the core rhythm game. In Great Drum Toy War, you assemble a squad of toys to engage in a tug of war with another player or an AI opponent while playing through a song. Successfully hitting notes charges up your toys to join the fight, and each toy also has various effects that can influence beat patterns or try to disrupt the opponent’s timing.
DON-chan Band, meanwhile, is a cooperative mode: up to four players (with AI filling in any vacant spots) form a band to play through a song, with each player being responsible for a different instrument with its own beatmap. It’s a sort of Taiko approach to Rock Band, in a way, and while the mechanics for different instruments don’t change, there are some neat ideas to build up that feeling of playing together in a band—like multi-person beat sequences that only succeed if everyone hits their respective parts.
Lastly, though not a minigame as such, Rhythm Festival also includes a decent training mode that you can use to practice songs. With options to focus on individual sections of a song, slow down the speed, and play alongside your own ghost or a perfect AI, it’s a good way to help perfect a tricky song or work through a part that’s giving you trouble.
At its heart, Taiko no Tatsujin: Rhythm Festival is just more Taiko—the foundational rhythm game hasn’t changed a whole lot since Drum ‘n’ Fun. But that’s only because it doesn’t need to: the taiko drumming core, and the only thing a new entry really needs is new songs to play with. That’s what Rhythm Festival delivers, with a strong base tracklist and huge additional selection with the Taiko Drum Pass. Fun minigames help round out the package, but it’s that rock solid rhythm foundation and endless charm that make Rhythm Festival a must for music game fans.