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Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum Session!

Platform(s): PlayStation 4
Genre: Rhythm
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Release Date: Nov. 2, 2018


PS4 Review - 'Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum Session!'

by Cody Medellin on Dec. 26, 2018 @ 12:30 a.m. PST

Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum Session! plays to the spirited competitive side of Taiko with its Ranked Mode, enabling players to connect online and test their skills against Taiko players around the world through ghost data.

Buy Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum Session

The Taiko no Tatsujin series is huge in Japan. Since 2001, the series has had 15 arcade iterations, with the last one getting constant song updates. The series has also graced the 3DS, PS2, Vita, Wii U, and even the mobile market via Apple iOS. It stands as one of those titles that you can instantly pick up and play — provided you have the Taiko drum peripheral at hand. In North America, there was only one iteration on the PS2 back in 2004, a time when Bandai Namco was starting to bring its quirky titles to the West. After more than a decade, the series returns with Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum Session on the PS4, a game released in tandem with a different game in the series for the Nintendo Switch.

The core game is reminiscent of every other rhythm game. There's a note highway situated in the middle of the screen, with notes coming from the right side to the left. Red notes mean you hit the center of the drum, while blue notes mean you hit the outer rim of the drum. The drum recognizes left and right sides separately, and while you can hit either side to have the note count, larger versions of the notes require you to strike both sides simultaneously. Beyond that, there are yellow notes that come in three forms: a balloon to inflate, a long note bar, and a golden hammer. In all three cases, you'll simply need to drumroll by striking any part until the note line ends or the required number of hits are met.

Of course, the appeal of this is hitting an actual Taiko drum controller, so it's a shame that the only ones available for the PS4 iteration need to be imported from Japan. When you consider the niche status of this game and how retail stores aren't too keen on plastic instruments anymore, it makes sense that the drums aren't so easily found, but it's disappointing that you can't even order them from Bandai Namco's online store or purchase special physical bundles with the drum controller. With no one reporting whether the Rock Band 4 drum kit works with the game, your only means of playing is with the DualShock 4 controller. You'll still get a good challenge, especially on the higher-difficulty songs with a faster pace, but it just doesn't feel the same.

The base game contains 83 songs, and that list covers a wide variety of genres. There are classical songs, like the prelude from Carmen and the William Tell Overture. For video game music, there's a medley of Tales of Beseria songs and a Pac-Man-inspired track from Ridge Racer Type 4. There are pop hits like "Gimme Chocolate," novelty songs like "Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen," vocaloid songs like "Alien Alien," a few anime songs like "Genkai Toppa x Survivor" from Dragon Ball Super, and more than enough original songs. What makes this list interesting is that all of the songs are done in Japanese, so while you'll find "Try Again" from Zootopia here, you're getting the Japanese language version instead of Shakira's performance.

While the default track list is large, the game provides the option to buy DLC tracks. If you're a completionist, you'll hate that there are more DLC songs available than the number of tunes in the default game. You'll also dislike that you can only buy each song individually, so there's no chance of getting a discount via song bundles. At the same time, this option means you can customize the songs you want in the game, even if that comes with a hefty cost that Rock Band fans are all too familiar with.

If that's all the game came with, then Taiko No Tatsujin would still be a solid rhythm package for genre and series fans. The game comes with four difficulty levels per song and lots of ways to customize how each one plays. From changing the default Taiko drum sounds to something way different, like soda can noises or changing the note speed, there's enough challenge here to keep players interested after exhausting the song list. If you want to make things tougher, there's also the option to play with more accuracy or ending the song if one mistake is made.

However, the biggest driving force for replayability are the bingo cards. Each song comes with a bingo card, which contains nine challenges such as simply completing the song, achieving a full combo, beating a certain score, or playing at double the note speed. Completing each of the challenges in the 3x3 grid and having them create lines similar to that in tic-tac-toe earns coins, and completing a whole card gives you access to another bingo card with even more difficult challenges. Considering how many songs are already in the game and how the DLC tunes also come with bingo cards of their own, there's plenty of reason to grind away at the track list.

Coins are all used to pay for the game's loot boxes. While you can't earn new songs this way, you can earn new alternate noises for your drum. You can also get new titles and phrases for your drum avatar to say via text, and you can get costumes or costume pieces to dress them up. It isn't anything game-changing, but it gives you another thing to work for, even if it's disappointing that the rewards per loot box are randomized.

If the solo challenges weren't enough of a reason to keep you playing, Taiko No Tatsujin also happens to feature online play, but it does it in a manner that's different from other titles. Every opponent isn't actually there, as you're simply playing a ghost of another player's performance of that song. This is a brilliant move since it eliminates the issue of lag, so your performance can't be ruined because your connection or your opponent's stinks. There's no casual play, so all matches are ranked, but what'll throw off people is that you can neither pick the song nor the difficulty of the track. It's disappointing for those who would like full control over what they play against others, but it does mean that you'll have to learn the whole soundtrack on every difficulty level if you don't want to break your winning streak.

Much like the core gameplay, the graphics are very good mostly because they've changed very little from the original incarnation. The actual note line is easy to read, and the colors are distinct enough there that there's little chance of making a mistake in terms of which button or drum side to hit. The rest of the environment is a cacophony of chaotic glee, as your performance causes more dancers to appear before a full-on crowd starts bouncing to your success. The scene by the end of a good performance is absolutely lively, and the joy it brings is infectious enough that you'll want to immediately play another song to see it all happen again.

Despite the lack of a physical Taiko drum controller, Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum Session is a great game for rhythm fans. The songs are excellent, and although the amount of available DLC songs is overwhelming, there are more than a handful of tunes anyone can have a good time with. Better yet, the challenges presented by the bingo cards and online play give you plenty of incentive to start getting better at the whole soundtrack, and it's something you'd like to see utilized in other rhythm games. In short, Drum Session is well worth checking out.

Score: 8.0/10

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