Review by midwinter
Under ideal circumstances, I doubt I would have given Taiko no Tatsujin Portable the time of day. Stripped of its hulking arcade cabinet and matching drum kits, it's easy to believe the resulting experience might be found lacking. The concept is so ludicrous in fact, one could also imagine a lone, Japanese coder committing seppu-ku after suggesting it over a ball rice and a bottle of sake. Young imperial worker has lost his way, honorable ancestors demand their pound of flesh... and everyone moves up a rank. Yet having dwelt on the concept for longer than 5 minutes, I do believe the poor guy may have been onto something. With 34 musical tracks, some water tight controls, and the promise of unlockable extras, Taiko no Tatsujin Portable may just be the drought breaker we've been waiting for. Lack of peripherals? No problems. Trust in the Emperor and you can't go wrong...
Culture lesson #1, hajimaru-don!
For the uninitiated, Taiko simply means "big drum". Generally speaking however, the word also applies to all barrel-shaped instruments used in classical Japanese music...
... now we've learned something, let's ditch that crap and get funky!
In a market ruled by the perennial Dance Dance Revolution series, Taiko no Tatsujin has done surprisingly well for itself. It's simple, lightweight game design has been copied on numerous occasions, mimicked by like-minded musical action games looking for a quick, leg up on success. In classic genre fashion then, Taiko no Tatsujin asks players to beat their drums as a series of timed, visual prompts slide across the screen into a "hot zone". The PSP's four face buttons elicit a deep, bass filled sound while L and R provide the off-key resonance. The former is a red visual prompt, the latter a blue. And while there's definitely more to Namco's musical genius than that, we're trying to keep things simple.
You see, taiko drums are exceptionally manly. They're big, require huge amounts of concentration to play, and take a lifetime to master. Thankfully, Taiko no Tatsujin isn't that difficult, though it's notoriously intense Oni stages may suggest otherwise. Starting with the easiest skill setting of them all, players will have ample opportunity to explore the assorted musical tracks, noting personal favorites for later play. Of special mention is Queen's beat heavy "We Will Rock You", as well as the fan pleasing inclusion of both the Katamari Damacy and Ridge Racer themes. For the most part however, the play list reads exactly as one would expect: a typical blend of sugar coated Jpop, orchestral pieces, and anime themes, many of which you've no doubt played before...
CHA-LA HEAD-CHA-LA, I'm looking at you...
Even still, Namco have stuffed Taiko no Tatsujin with some serious, long-term appeal. As if the huge, UMD supported play list wasn't enough, there's also a veritable smorgasbord of play-modes to consider. Single song, arcade, multiplayer, and a smattering of mini-games mix things up, then along comes the sweetly implemented game sharing that clinches the deal. You can't help but appreciate the way Taiko no Tatsujin has been put together, it's 2 minute bite sized portions of groove-tastic gameplay will easily dispel your Summer-time blues. And though the menus are incredibly text heavy, savvy importers should have no problems navigating their way through the game. Good news indeed!
It appears then, the key word today was surprise. Surprise with Namco's decision, surprise at how well Taiko no Tatsujin fits the portable gaming ethos, and now apparently, the graphics want in as well. Admittedly, the character designs never really appealed. Taiko drums with legs and simple, etched on faces don't do a lot for me, nor do dogs that stand on two legs, striking muscle man poses. Come on now, someone's trying to hard to be crazy. After a while though, the whole visual insanity thing began to click, and it wasn't long before I could appreciate Tatsujin's simple, good looks. The PSP's crystal clear display does an amazing job of presenting the warm summer colors prevalent throughout much of the game, literally pouring them off the screen and bathing players in a generous helping of radiant good cheer.
But you still have reservations right? I know you do. The whole idea of a taiko game without the drums seems utterly wrong... so wrong in fact, it's got to be right. Trust me, just this once, take a risk with your cash and try something different. There isn't a whole lot available for PSP owners at the moment, and necessity has made for a strange bedfellow. The beats are tight, and the controls fit the action to a tee. And with four skills settings available, players should have no problems learning the ropes before the challenge kicks them in the face. You'll bang away in search of the unlockable extras, score some bonus tracks, then bang some more without even noticing. Addictive? Aye, you'd better believe it.
So go on then, buy this game. You won't regret it... heck, what choice do you have?
* Taiko no Tatsujin works as a portable music game, whoa!
* 34 songs kick things off, and there's more to unlock later
* The control layout is simply ingenious
* The bite sized portions of gameplay are perfectly suited to portable gaming
* As easy as the early stages are, Taiko no Tatsujin's Oni levels will horrify
* A healthy variety of playmodes keep things interesting
* Bright, cartoon-esque visuals look a treat
* The UMD format has delivered a crystal clear soundtrack once more
* Game sharing options spread the love
* Queen - We Will Rock You... 'nuff said
* The play list is fairly vanilla at times
* Some players may be put off by the absence of real drums
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 08/15/05
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