Beat it like it owes you money.
For a long time now, the musical video game scene in the United States has been dominated by the singing and dancing revolution. But overseas, folks have been following the thumping beat of a different drummer...and now you can, too, with Namco's new Taiko Drum Master for the PS2.
If you're looking for a new type of quirky, catchy, musical game that doesn't involve jumping up and down like a monkey or singing in tune, then Taiko Drum Master might be just what the doctor ordered. Cures cost money, though, and this one is no exception. If you want to play this game with your friends or family and not have to resort to pounding on your PS2 controller, be prepared to shell out in upwards of one hundred dollars. Or better yet, don't be.
Taiko's premise is pretty simple. Just choose from a selection of approximately thirty songs and use the taiko sticks to bang the mini taiko drum controller (included) to the beat. The drum has two "control zones" - the center section of the drum "booms," while the edges "tap." As a song plays, blue (tap) and red (boom) icons scroll across the screen prompting you to perform the correct beat at just the right time. When big blue and red icons appear, you need to perform that particular beat with both drum sticks. There are also drum roll commands and "burst notes" that require you to beat the drum as quickly as possible. It's an extremely simple scheme that works very well. If you have even the slightest sense of rhythm, you'll be able to handle this game.
Like other rhythm games, your performance is rated as you play. Beats are measured as "great," "good," or "bad" depending on how you do. The number of consecutive successful beats you nail in a row is also measured and will build up points needed to clear the round. It follows an established way of judging rhythm games and works well here.
The majority of the drumming takes place in Taiko mode, where there are lots of varied tunes to choose from. Pop tracks include Brittney Spears' Toxic and Jet's Are You Gonna Be My Girl, while selections such as Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 and Hungarian Dances No. 5 will please those who enjoy hammering out beats to classical pieces. Rounding out the playlist is a handful of Namco originals like Katamari on the Rocks from Katamari Damacy and Brave Sword, Braver Soul from Soul Calibur II.
Once you select a song, it's time to pick a difficulty. Easy, medium, and hard modes present a nice range of challenges for novice drummers and the rhythmically challenged, while the unlockable Hardest mode should provide a tricky change of pace for the expert table-tappers.
In addition to Taiko mode, Taiko Drum Master follows up the experience with three simple mini-games. There's a Watermelon eating contest, if you can believe it, in which you'll scarf down four watermelons by banging on the drum as fast as you can while spitting out seeds and dodging the attacks of a blindfolded child. There's also the Fireworks Festival, which will test your reaction time as you send off fireworks and kick away bombs. The most complicated game is Reach the Helicopter. For reasons unknown, a group of dogs pile onto one another's shoulders in an attempt to reach a hovering whirlybird. As it gains altitude, the stack of dogs will begin to sway and your job is to keep it from falling by tilting it left or right with the appropriate drum beats.
While none of the mini-games are terribly deep, they're plenty of fun to play against friends due to their sheer wackiness. Of course, the likelihood of ever meeting another person with Taiko Drum Master is slim, so your friend will probably have to use a controller, which works but isn't remotely as entertaining. For a game as inherently party-worthy as Taiko Drum Master, the fact that you can't buy an officially-licensed Taiko drum controller separately is ludicrous. Instead, you'll either have to pick up Red Octane's third-party drum for $40 or another copy of Taiko Drum Master for $60. Either way, to play the game with friends the way it was meant to be played, you'll have to shell out at least a c-note.
As you might imagine, Taiko boasts some low-tech, crazy visuals. Of course, most of the weird Japanese action takes place at the bottom of the screen, and since you have to watch the signals flowing along the top so carefully, you'll probably miss the shenanigans unless you watch someone else play.
Taiko Drum Master is a good party game thanks to its simple, primal control and eclectic selection of songs, but like other gimmicky rhythm games (see Samba De Amigo), it can lay a serious beatdown on the wallet. For one hundred dollars you could buy a keg, a stripper, a clown, or make a down payment on a bouncy castle. Now THAT'S a party. While Taiko Drum Master's novelty value is clear, you might want to skip this beat in favor of a cheaper groove.