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Taiko Drum Master

Taiko Drum Master

Written by Jennifer Lam on 3/16/2005 for PS2  

Namco is well-known for introducing unique gadgets into well established genres of play. Most probably already know about how Namco revolutionized the lightgun shooter by introducing Time Crisis and its foot pedal, but there are a whole host of Namco games that most ‘Stateside gamers have never even heard about. How about Photo Shoot, a quirky game that requires gamers to photograph animals with a camera controller? Along the same line Namco has added some depth to the rhythm genre by introducing a unique controller that is both fun to use and simple to master. Oh, and the game is pretty good too.

That’s because drumming is in our blood. One of the first things we learn to do as a child is to beat stuff with other elongated objects. When my mom used to take me out to Chinese restaurants as a kid I used to use chopsticks as drum sticks and wail on the cups, plates and tables. The point is, even if we sucked, drumming was a hell of a lot of fun. Namco takes that into account with Taiko Drum Master and provides gamers with an experience that’s challenging, yet intuitive at the same time. At the end of the day you can sit back and say “hey, I had a great time and I annoyed my neighbors.” Talk about killing two birds with one stone.

We’ve already discussed the basic premise of TDM but there’s a little more to it than just banging and smashing everything in sight. It’s a rhythm game so there’s a little bit of skill and timing involved. Notes appear on the right side of the screen and travel towards the left side; speed depending on the beats per minute of the song. As the notes travel towards the left side of the screen you’ll need to hit the corresponding portion of the Taiko in order to be successful. Red notes require you to hit the actual Taiko (if you’re not familiar with the term, it’s a giant Japanese drum) while blue notes require you to hit the rim of the drum. It sounds like a simple premise but the game gets insanely hectic as it does a great job of mixing up the two types of notes while syncing their rhythm to the beat.

Most people put heavy emphasis on the song selection but I don’t really feel that it’s the make or break point of these kinds of games. Just look at a game like Guitar Freaks, the songs in that game are awful but are ultimately entertaining due to the game’s design. So let’s not put too much emphasis on the song selection here. All you need to know is that the game features more than 27 songs ranging from pop, rock, cartoon show themes, classical symphonies and Namco title tracks. There’s some good variety here and there’s a good chance that everyone will find something to suit their tastes. Each song can be played at three different difficulty levels which feature more complex note patterns as you progress. If you require a break you can participate in one of three mini-games which can be played with either the drum or a controller. The first requires you to launch fireworks into the air, the second requires you to build a tower out of wolves, Barrel of Monkeys style, in order to reach a helicopter, while the third basically asks you to wail on the drum as fast as you can in order to eat a watermelon. They’re fun little diversions but nothing that will really make you want to delve in to them for any extended amounts of time. More games would have been nice but the omission of them doesn’t prove to be detrimental to the overall experience.

Unlike the horrendously ugly Donkey Konga that was released around the same time, TDM has slick visuals that lead to a pleasing and enjoyable experience. All of the characters look great and the use of colors and lights really makes the game easy on the eyes. We loved the character design and the fact that the designers took the time to write bios for each and every one of them in their manual. Just make sure you watch the opening intro; we couldn’t figure out what was going on but it sure was entertaining.

As expected the sound quality is great but it could have been better. The designers’ decision to omit Dolby Pro Logic II support is really noticeable in surround sound setups. Through my Logitech Z-680s still filter some sounds to the surround channels; all of the audio is frontloaded and hollow. One of the best aspects of a game like Amplitude was that it immersed you in the experience by surrounding you in the music. The music in TDM is lacking and feels like it’s coming out of a 2.1 setup.

Each copy of the game comes packaged with the drum and it more or less looks like a practice drum that you fiddled around with if you were in the 7th grade percussion section. Like the DK Bongos, the device is crafted of plastic while the point of contact is a rubbery surface that gives a bit when struck. The drum can be placed flat on a surface or tilted 45 degrees with the included stand. For optimal results we recommend you stand up and play the drum on a table or one of those TV dinner trays. Putting the unit on your lap is pretty awkward and having it on the floor requires you to reach over, which could put a serious ache in your back.

If you’re looking for a rhythm game that will keep you entertained for weeks, look no further than Namco’s Taiko Drum Master. Rhythm games usually wear out their welcomes after a few weeks, but Taiko’s hands-on addictiveness provides months and months of wholesome family entertainment. If you’re in the mood for some good, clean fun make sure to pick up a copy, you won’t be disappointed.
We thought that Donkey Konga was great, until Namco dropped this bombshell on us. It like a more advanced version of DK with better songs, better gameplay, and better visuals. You can't go wrong with this game, pick it up now.

Rating: 8.5 Very Good

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.

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