Beyond Co-op Review: Taiko no Tatsujin: The Drum Master!
Review by: Paul Acevedo
For years, Xbox has struggled to attract Japanese games and series to the platform. Thus, it’s exciting when a game like Bandai Namco’s Taiko no Tatsujin: The Drum Master arrives on Xbox and the Windows Store. In the Taiko series, players use controllers or drum accessories to play along to a variety of songs. The Xbox version doesn’t have a drum peripheral like the PlayStation and Switch games, but it still has lots to offer fans of rhythm and music games.
Despite a few tweaks, the Taiko no Tatsujin gameplay hasn’t changed much over the years. One or two players select a song, a difficulty, and then do their best to play along to the music. A series of red and blue note symbols scrolls by from the right; the goal is to hit the corresponding button when the notes hit the target spot on the left. Large notes can be hit with two buttons for extra points, yellow streaks represent drum rolls, and balloon notes can be popped by rapidly hitting a button. It’s simple, but faster songs and higher difficulties add plenty of challenge and room for mastery.
As players successfully hit their notes without missing, the soul meter fills up above the playing field. Fill the meter to yellow and you’ll pass the song, earning a decent chunk of coins along the way. Failing to reach the yellow will result in a loss and only a small number of coins being earned. Achieving a “full combo” by hitting every single note will get you the highest rating and payout. And, of course, as the soul meter fills, the characters and visual effects in the background get crazier and more frantic, which is a big part of the fun.
Playing single-player or local multiplayer (not quite cooperative, but not really competitive either) is exciting enough, but The Drum Master takes things a step farther by adding online multiplayer. Not only is playing against others good for showing off customized characters, it also pays more coins than local play. The ranking system awards players a letter grade based on their win/loss ratio. Win a bunch and the rank goes up; lose and it drops a bit. The game matches low-rank and high-rank players against each other, yet high-rank players don’t automatically stomp weaker opponents. That’s because the song difficulty goes up with your rank, so high-rank competitors have to work harder to win than noobs. It works well, in my experience.
Like most games in the series, The Drum Master doesn’t have a campaign to speak of. 55 of the base game’s 75 songs are available to play from the start, with the other 20 waiting to be unlocked with coins in the in-game store. That’s the metagame – earning coins and buying songs and character and profile customization items from the shop. The process is incredibly grindy, but robust music games like this certainly have the potential to keep many players entertained for the long haul. The Drum Master launches with 89 Achievements to reward gamers for playing every song, buying everything in the shop, and more, which can also be fairly motivating.
As for the song library, it consists of songs from 7 categories: Pop, Anime, Vocaloid, Variety, Classical, Game Music, and Namco Original. A few of the categories are woefully understocked, such as Pop with its scant five selections and Variety with a meager three songs. Still, there are plenty of great anime themes from properties like Dragon Ball Z, Attack on Titan, One Piece, and even Spirited Away. Game Music has songs from Undertale, Katamari Damacy, Darius, The Ninja Warriors, OutRun, and more. Bandai Namco also sells a $20 season pass that promises 6 song packs over time. Between the game and season pass, rhythm fans will have plenty of songs to enjoy.
The elephant in the room for The Drum Master is the lack of a dedicated taiko peripheral for Xbox. Many people enjoy playing the series with a controller, but some gamers want the authentic arcade experience that only a drum can provide. PlayStation and Switch both have official drum controllers from Hori as well as cheaper knock-off drums, but no such luck for Xbox. Bandai Namco certainly should release a taiko controller for Xbox, even if just through their company store. That said, there is now a way to use PlayStation and Switch drum controllers on Xbox: The Brook Wingman XB accessory! Using the converter, I’m able to play The Drum Master with a PlayStation taiko controller. Buying both a drum and a converter isn’t the cheapest solution, but it works. Stay tuned for our Wingman XB review.
Japanese-style rhythm games aren’t exactly a dime a dozen on Xbox. Taiko no Tatsujin: The Drum Master doesn’t just stand out because of that lack of competition; it’s also a great game. Buy the game for $49.99 on Xbox or try it for free on Xbox Game Pass (as of this writing). If you want to go the extra mile by accessories, you can get an official Switch drum controller for around $90 and a Brook Wingman XB for $45.
Our Rating: 4.5 out of 5