Review by The President

Reviewed: 05/20/05


Contrary to popular belief, many games can live on gimmicky controlling devices. From dance-pads to maracas to fishing rods, many people just can’t get enough of these things. Well, Namco have finally decided that their game that uses a strange controller should finally come to the US. Now, for the first time for most people in the US, they can try Taiko: Drum Master, the only game out in the US where they can put on their traditional Japanese festival garb and bang on a ceremonial drum. Fun for all!

What most people will focus on the plastic drum that comes with Taiko: Drum Master. After a few confusing moments of assembly, you have a drum that can be related to the dance pad that you would get with a Dance Dance Revolution game: it may be okay at home, but pales in comparison to the arcade. In the middle of the drum, there is a HUGE dead spot where you should be hitting it. Yes, it is annoying. Even after playing it for months, it still annoys me to no end. But with a smile on my face and with sweat glands that just ooze determination and moxie, I keep playing. Why? Because the game is still so damn fun.

If you have ever seen the Gamecube game Donkey Konga, then you know what Taiko is like. Appearing from the right side of the screen are little taiko drums, one colored red, and other blue. When you see a red beat, you hit the head of the drum, and with a blue beat, the rims. When you see a large red or blue drum, you need to hit both the left and right part of the drum. When there is yellow drum (because red and blue make yellow, everyone knows that,) you do a drum roll. Well, a really bad drum roll, because it’s impossible to get any real buzz from the taiko (trust me, I’ve been trying.) There are also things called burst balloons where you hit the drum a certain number of times in a few seconds. If you can, then the balloon bursts and your combo continues. If you fail, then the balloons falls flat and your combo is gone. The better your combo is, the more points you receive for each beat.

To “pass” a song, you need to hit a certain amount of beats in that song, depending on the difficulty level. On Easy, you usually only need to hit about half of all the beats, while on Oni, you need at get all least 90% of them. For the rhythmically challenged, playing on Oni and passing a song is quite a task.

If you could not already tell, Taiko looks very…Japanese. The smiling drums, dancing dogs, happy-go-lucky squids, samurai turtles, and children doing the monkey make Taiko look downright peculiar to most people. The stylized drawings (everyone in the game has mitten hands and black holes for eyes) and charm make it unlike anything ever seen in the US. Compared to the pseduo-3D sprites used in Donkey Konga, Taiko looks amazing, just for it’s use of color and animation. Though it is not technically impressive, Taiko looks very nice.

The music selection makes or breaks every game in this genre. For the US release of Taiko, Namco decided to get rid of most of the original Japanese songs that were in the game, and add well known pop hits from the 60s, 70s, and 80s, along with a few hit songs of the past couple of years. Walking on Sunshine, I’m a Believer, Toxic, and ABC is just a few examples. Along with these pop hits, there are a few classical selections (like part of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony and the Overture of William Tell) and some songs from other Namco games (like Ridge Racer, Soul Calibur II, and Katamari Damacy) and strangely, the themes from Dragon Ball Z and Jimmy Neutron. The selection offered in Taiko is palatable to most people, but there is a problem with the lack of many songs. After unlocking all of the hidden songs, the grand total goes up to 31. This paltry offering barely satisfies my thirst for the Taiko.

There are three minigames in Taiko: Drum Master, each using different parts of the drum. For the Watermelon Eating Contest, you need to pound the drum as fast as possible, while dodging swings from a baseball bat with the sides. In Fireworks Festival, you need to launch fireworks by hitting the drums, and discarding random bombs before they blow up by hitting the sides. The longer you go without blowing up a bomb, the faster the fireworks come, making it harder to keep up. Lastly, there is Reach the Helicopter, the hardest of all the minigames. A string of dogs is trying to reach safety, and the only way to get out of danger is by reaching a helicopter high in the sky. However, the wind can push you around, and can knock down all of the dogs if you cannot run against the wind, by going left or right with their respective side buttons. All the minigames are fun to play, and offer much needed challenge in Taiko: Drum Master.

Taiko: Drum Master is an excellent game that was only hampered by the few songs that it came with. Hopefully Namco will take the time to make a second game with more songs, because I am personally dying for one.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

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