By February 23, 2006

Taiko Drum Master Review

This has been a review long in coming. I received Taiko Drum Master from Lady Jaye for Christmas last year. I immediately plugged it in, and smiled non-stop for the next two hours while I banged along to the music. I had planned on doing a review sooner, but between playing Taiko, WoW, and our camcorder being stolen, this write-up has been on the back burner for some time.

Game Basics
The object of Taiko Drum Master is to strike the included drum-shaped controller in time with the music. The drum controller has 4 “active” areas: the center is divided up into two halves by a 1/4″ dead zone, then the upper right and upper left edge of the drum is also active. There is a target reticle at the far left of the screen. Notes, in the shape of red or blue faces, cross from right to left. When the face-notes enter the target reticle, the player strikes the drum appropriately. Small red faces mean you can hit either side of the center of the drum. Small blue faces mean you can hit either side of the top edge of the drum. Large red faces require a simultaneous strike to both halves of the center, large blue faces mean you must hit both edges.

Each song has 4 difficulties: easy, normal, hard, and Oni (demon). You unlock Oni mode by completing a certain number of songs. It’s been awhile, so I have forgotten exactly how. Each song varies in difficulty. There are some songs I’ve completed without missing a beat, others I haven’t even completed because they’re so hard.

What does it look like?
Armed with our newly acquired Panasonic GS-65, I sat down and played the same song all the way through three times. I chose a cover of Britney Spear’s “Toxic,” as playing the song on the Hard difficulty features every type of drum strike.

What the screen looks like during game play

A drum’s-eye view of the same song

Floor-based perspective

Just how awesome is it?
Taiko Drum Master isn’t awesome. It is fucking awesome. I still laugh while I play it, especially after I miss a beat and watch tons of faces race by while I try to get my rhythm again. We bought another drum while my niece was here, and playing alongside someone is a blast. That being said, I have some criticisms of the game that can’t be overlooked.

The first problem is the dead zone in the middle of the drum. I understand that the drum has to have two sections of sensors, but damn if I don’t miss beats because I strike the dead zone in the center of the drum. It is really frustrating, particularly on the hard and Oni modes. Missing even one beat can result in missing several others until you get back on track.

The drum isn’t super sensitive. It can withstand a pretty good beating, but I find I have to hit the drum more forcefully than I want to. This is of particular note when there are lots of closely-spaced notes. As you can see on the later two videos, sometimes I have to hit the right side of the drum in rapid succession. Sometimes the strikes aren’t forceful enough to register with the drum, and while I’m on beat, the game counts a softer strike as a miss. I can bang the drum harder to register a hit, but then I might miss the closely-packed notes.

The American version of Taiko Drum Master has a decent number of songs, unfortunately I find myself playing the same 4 or 5 over again. While it was fun to play the Jackson 5’s “ABC” a few times, it’s not a compelling song to drum to. I wish there were more rock/pop tunes that were drum intensive. About half of the music is from the video game or classical genres. There are other Taiko games, but they are for Japanese PS2s and would require a hack on my part to play them in my American unit. While not out of the question, I just wish there were more games to choose from.

Bang that beat, bang that beat, bang it!

  • Unlike Donkey Konga, you actually perform the drum section of the songs, not the rhythm section. Taiko is more like a drumming game than a rhythm game. Which I like.
  • The hard songs are REALLY hard. This keeps things challenging. If I want to tune it down a notch and play without a mistake I can, but it’s nice having a game that isn’t a pushover.
  • Once you’re good at a track, it sounds like you’re drumming along. When my niece was here, Lady Jaye and I would remark at how good she sounded. Donkey Konga, by contrast, is a rhythmic series of claps and beats, but often doesn’t really sound like a “song.”
  • You can really beat the shit out of the drum. The drumsticks are light, hollow plastic. I’ve cranked on the drum pretty hard sometimes to no ill-effect to drumstick or drum. Sometimes I’d finish a particularly vigorous song and felt like I got something heavy off my chest. Drum therapy.

Missed beats

  • It’s common for players to hit the “dead zone” on the center of the drum, or just a little too high or too low on the upper edges. This results in a missed beat, and totally sucks.
  • Insensitive clod! If I miss a beat because I fucked up it’s one thing; to miss a beat because the drum needs to be hit hard every time it’s another. You can mitigate this issue by hitting the drum like an American drum (diagonal drumstick orientation) vs. the Taiko drum (drumsticks straight up and down), but then switching to hit the upper edges is very difficult. As you can tell from the videos I use my right hand for all the small reds, and my left hand for all the small blues. This keeps things straight in my mind, but can also cause trouble when the notes are closely packed.
  • By putting in a little something for everyone, the song selection means you may only like a handful of the available tracks.

I’m very happy with Taiko Drum Master. I’d be happier if there were more games available in the US market, but beggars can’t be choosers.

Taiko Drum Master, I bang out:
Four and a half out of five STFU mugs!

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