It's like Christmas for Taiko no Tatsujin fans in the west, as not only has Drum Session just released on the PS4, but so too has Drum 'n' Fun on the Switch, both of which offer unique experiences that differ in key ways.
Most of the series' core mechanics remain the same throughout the two versions, and for a deeper explanation of said mechanics, we recommend reading our review of Drum Session. In short, Taiko no Tatsujin is a game series where players hit on a big traditional Japanese drum called a taiko, which the players hit in accordance with the song's rhythm and instructions on the screen. A red symbol means hitting the drum's center, while a blue symbol means hitting the rim. The arcade versions of the series come with a taiko drum the player can hit, while the console versions must be played either with the console's standard controls or a custom drum controller made for the specific game.
Though released on the same day, the PS4 and Switch versions are in fact two separate games, which in turn means they need two separate reviews (the PS4 game was in fact released six months earlier than the Switch version in Japan).
The immediate advantage of the Switch version is that every Switch comes with Joy-Con controls, which can be used as motion controls with way more precision than its ancestor, Wii. This was more than enough reason for us to get excited before booting up the Switch version, hoping we would finally play a console version of Taiko no Tatsujin worthy of its arcade equal.
Unfortunately, the motion controls aren't even close to offering the same immersion we wished or hoped for. After testing the game with two different pairs of Joy-Con controls in both docked and tabletop mode, it's clear that the Joy-Con functionality needs some major tuning before it can even offer the bare minimum of precision required in a rhythm music game. Making the game understand whether you're hitting a red or a blue drum note is infuriating and at times almost impossible. On top of this, the game sometimes even registers a motion upwards with your Joy-Con as a hit on the drum, even though all we want is to prepare for the next stroke. The result? We played a lot worse with the motion controls than with regular button controls, only because the Joy-Cons clearly have a different understanding of how we're playing than we do ourselves.
There are a couple of ways to ease the frustration though, as you can press the Joy-Con shoulder buttons whenever you want to hit a blue drum symbol, or you can choose one of the game's many playable characters who will only care if you hit the drum at the right time, no matter where on the drum you're hitting. None of these adjustments make up for the non-hits registered as hits, however, and that's even before we've discussed the Joy-Cons' synchronisation problems that remain no matter much tuning you do.
Basically, you want to immerse yourself fully into Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum 'n' Fun, Joy-Cons are not the way. To put it simply, the greatest selling point of the Switch version is quite frankly useless. We can't say how the game holds up with the custom drum controller as we didn't have one available for testing, but if you can get hold of one we're sure it will give you a much better experience.
If you start playing the game with regular button pressing, however, you will find that the game works the way it should whether you're using the Joy-Cons or the preferable Pro Controller. As soon as the music starts, it doesn't take long for the party to get going. In the Switch version, you can choose between several characters with a wide array of abilities, making the game easier or harder for the player, and some of these characters are clearly made with first-timers in mind, making the game easier to sell next time you invite your friends.
The song collection is varied in both origin and style too, and with 74 songs to choose from there should be something for everyone. Just like with the PS4 version, the song collection is primarily catering to the game's home audience in Japan, which makes the Switch version just as weird and diasporic for some as the PS4 version. If you are a person with a wide taste in music, have a certain love for anime, and/or are open to new impulses from around the world, you will find a lot of cool tunes here.
Some songs are identical to the PS4 version, but overall the Switch version comes with its own set list, which turns out to be slightly better than what the PS4 version offers. The Switch setlist appears to be chosen more carefully, the result being fewer boring ballads ill fit for taiko drumming than what PS4 players are stuck with.
Another selling point for the Switch version is the offer of Nintendo tunes from games such as Super Mario Odyssey and Splatoon 2. These songs are of course fun to play, but their numbers are far too few. Nintendo and Bandai Namco should have had a pow-wow to include more unique gaming tunes from Nintendo games in this version, as the result would have been an even greater party factor, not to mention a far wider appeal to the general gaming public.
The last unique feature on Switch is a bunch of mini-games that are most welcome in breaking up the pace of too much drumming. The selection of mini-games is just as weird and fun as you'd expect, as here you can do anything from dancing, ordering sushi, playing baseball, playing statues with a little demon kid, having chopsticks thrown at you by a ninja dog, and a lot more. The mini-games can be played by four players too - a nice change from the main mode which only allows two players.
Unfortunately, the Switch version lacks a very common feature these days, which is an online mode. There is a local multiplayer mode, but an online competitive mode would have spiced things up whenever your friends are few and far in between and you long for some taiko competition.
It's really a shame that the greatest selling point of Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum 'n' Fun fails to deliver. If the motion controls had worked better, this could possibly have been the greatest console version of Taiko no Tatsujin. Instead we're handed a game where just attempting to use motion controls will make you immensely frustrated. Some of the anger will cool after a while, but there are still a lot of smaller issues stopping this version from sailing up to the top ranks.
If you are curious about which version of Taiko no Tatsujin to buy, our recommendation is simple: take a look at the track lists and see which one appeals to you most. Then you can consider the other console-specific functionalities and decide which ones are most important to you. Beyond that, just feel the beat and have fun!
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