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Old School Musical

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC
Genre: Rhythm
Publisher: Dear Villagers
Developer: La Moutarde
Release Date: Sept. 13, 2018


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PC Review - 'Old School Musical'

by Cody Medellin on Aug. 13, 2019 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Filled to the brim with nostalgia fueled references and nods to classic 8-bit games, genres, and tropes, Old School Musical is like a love letter to ‘80s and ‘90s kids in the form of a rhythm game.

While the rhythm genre has been going steady, few titles go beyond presenting players with a list of songs that they can hit buttons to. There are only a handful of examples, such as The Metronomicon and Lost in Harmony, where the developers tried to broaden the mechanics of a rhythm game or added a narrative. Based on the initial advertising for Old School Musical, you'd think that the hook was to riff on classic video games from the 8- and 16-bit era. The game tries to do more, and the end result is better than expected, even with a few mistakes here and there.

You start the game as Tib and Rob, two brothers raised on an island with their mother as their only companion. They dream of leaving the island through hard training and being told that they are the saviors of the universe. That dream is starting to become a reality, as a mysterious set of glitches threatens to eat up their island home. Armed only with their training and a letter from their mother, they set forth to find her and put a stop to the corruption.

If you checked out the game trailer or heard about it, you'd know that the story is aiming for laughs. Part of this comes from the titles that are being parodied, as you'll instantly recognize the segments of classics like The Legend of Zelda, Mega Man, Metal Gear or OutRun. Even a few modern or semi-modern titles like Metal Slug, Oh … Sir!, and Pokemon get the parody treatment with some dry jokes.

At the same time, you'll be surprised at how many sad moments are in the game. Old School Musical starts off on a somber note, with the brothers hating their training and painting their mother as a monster. The desire to leave the island and experience fun and freedom hits a chord that you don't usually see in games that are trying to be comedic. Even after a slew of jokes, the revelation about a lost civilization brings you back to a somber mood. It is unexpected, but it grounds the tale when the story loses focus due to the sheer number of jokes.

Throughout the game's 20+ levels, you'll play with rhythm mechanics that are similar to Gitaroo-Man due to the screen layout. The note hit area is in the center of the screen, and when using a gamepad, the notes come flying in from the four cardinal directions. You have the usual tap notes and sustained hold notes, so there's nothing new for rhythm game fans. The game uses shoulder buttons (or triggers, alternatively) that go in reverse Guitar Hero order, as notes come from the bottom and go up to a hit area, but it also isn't too complicated to deal with, as there are only two lanes of notes — not four or more.

That's all there is to it. For the most part, the music is quite good if you're into chiptune. Some of the songs from artists like Dubmood and Zabutom fit well with the game that is being parodied, while others are good on their own, even if they don't quite fit with what's on-screen. Either way, every tune is enjoyable, but what'll stand out is the fact that each level takes breaks in the middle of the song to deliver story exposition or another joke. Considering the length of some of these songs, these tiny interludes fit in well enough and give you a chance to regroup if you were having a bad spell.

About the only complaint that can be levied is the same one that plagues a good chunk of rhythm titles. Namely, there's no way to tell what's going on in the background while you're playing. From the enemy designs to the lackadaisical way some enemies are dispatched, there's so much going on that you want to see it all. However, due to the small size of the characters, there's no way to see the action and hit notes at the same time. As a result, this becomes a title where you want to play it and have someone else replay it so you can see what you missed.

Finish the campaign mode, and there are a few more modes available. Arcade mode lets you play every song you've unlocked thus far without any interruptions. It isn't anything special, but it would've been odd if it had been omitted. Co-op mode sounds intriguing, but its execution isn't that fun. Basically, you and up to three other players choose one song, and then you all have to hit the same beats at the same time for the points to count. Since you're playing the same note lineup from the other modes but now have three other players in tow, there's a higher chance of missing since everyone needs to be in sync. That's why this becomes a mode you'll ignore the first time you encounter it.

The real star of the post-campaign modes is Chicken Republic: The Untold Story from Old School Musical. Taking place as part of the adventure that is glossed over in the story, you'll encounter levels of songs with no breaks in them. The songs are all different, and the amount of content here is equal to, if not more, than the campaign, so this feels like a whole new game in comparison. What's different is that the game tries to actively mess you up with screen glitches or arrows that rotate, but the tricks are never devious enough to ruin a run. For those who thought the game's campaign was too short, Chicken Republic more than makes up for it.

Despite the name, the graphics take on a look that's a little more updated than the games they aim to make fun of. The animations tend to be more fluid than expected, and the color palette is expanded beyond what the hardware of the time would've outputted. Nevertheless, the game does a good job of re-creating familiar titles, and even when things are glitching out, the title can stun thanks to the overall high quality of the pixels.

Old School Musical is worth checking out for rhythm fans, especially those who adore chiptune music. The tracks are plentiful, especially once you conquer the second storyline, and each tune rocks. The controls are easy enough to master that anyone can jump in, and while the story can be all over the place in terms of tone, it remains satisfying once you beat the game. So long as you stay away from co-op, you'll have a good time with Old School Musical.

Score: 8.0/10

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