Taiko Drum Master Hands-On

We get our mojo working with this shrunk-down rhythm game.

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Taiko Drum Master may feature colorful mascots and simple gameplay mechanics that appeal to the casual gamer, but it's serious business in Japan, the rhythm action genre's motherland. The US has just seen its first Drum Master game, on the PlayStation 2, and Namco's mobile version is close on its heels. We visited Namco at the CTIA mobile data and entertainment convention, and had a chance to enjoy the game's polyphonic tunes and three-button gameplay. The button responsiveness seemed problematic on the version we played, but if Namco devises a way to mitigate this issue, it will have a game with very wide appeal.

If you've ever played a rhythm action game, such as Dance Dance Revolution or Donkey Konga, you'll feel right at home with Taiko Drum Master. The idea behind the game is to keep a drumbeat going, using your thumbs, in time with whatever song you're playing. The 4 and 6 keys are used to strike the rim and center of your drum, respectively. The 5 key triggers a two-handed center slap. As mentioned above, we encountered some problems with keypad responsiveness. Often, when we attempted to hit three quarter notes in succession, the third tap wouldn't register. This is likely a product of the chording issues that have haunted handsets since real-time gaming became a technological reality on mobile.

The game's song selection was rather eclectic, combining numbers from several Drum Master titles available only in Japan. Westerners need not fear, however, as the tunes are a recognizable mix of classical ditties and theme music from other Namco games.

Taiko Drum Master isn't about intense gameplay--it's about having an excuse to listen to polyphonic MIDIs on your phone. Pressing keys is an activity pretty far removed from real drumming, but we're nonetheless excited to get our groove on with Drum Master, upon its release.

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