The Taiko no Tatsujin games are staples of Japanese arcades, and once you see them, they're hard to forget: gigantic cabinets shining with bright lights, faux-paper lanterns surrounding a screen, and two huge taiko drums you use to play. It's an experience you can't easily recreate at home, but that hasn't stopped Bandai Namco from trying with Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum Session on PS4 and Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum 'n' Fun on the Switch--the first home console versions of Taiko games to reach the West in over a decade.
This isn't the first time Bandai Namco has brought over Taiko no Tatsujin--it released Taiko Drum Master on PS2 back in 2004--but it is the first time it's made the trek overseas with its Japanese tracklists intact. It's also available as two distinct versions for separate consoles, both with different tracklists, features, and play modes. The basic gameplay, however, is the same in each.
That gameplay is deceptively simple. Beats will roll along the top of the screen, and you need to hit the drum in certain ways in order to produce different sounds; hit the center for a deep boom, the rim for a lighter clack, and use both drumsticks at once on either the center or the rim for a stronger overall noise. Having just a single instrument with simple inputs might make the game seem easy at first, but once you move on to some of the harder difficulties, you'll be challenged with rapid-fire sound switches, incredibly fast beats, and gimmicks that challenge you to whack that drum as fast and as hard as you can. It's a ton of fun once you get the knack of it, and seeing a party of cute little yokai and personified taiko spirits emerge in a cheering frenzy when you've got a massive combo going is always satisfying.
Of course, the home versions are missing something from that above description--the drum. There's a custom drum controller that can be used with the game that recreates the arcade controls somewhat, but since it's not available outside of Asia as of this writing (even though the North American game supports it), you'll need to make do with either pressing controller buttons for drum hits, tapping an on-screen drum using the Switch's touch functionality, or using the motion control function of the Switch Joy-Cons to simulate using drumsticks on a virtual drum. (For Drum Session on PS4, your options are considerably more limited; you either press the controller buttons or spend an arm and a leg importing a drum controller. There's no Move support, either.)
All of these control schemes have their ups and downs. Controller button input is very accurate but doesn't really deliver the experience of drumming, and touch-screen input results in a chunk of the screen being taken up by a virtual drum. Joy-Con input is probably the most fun in that it comes closest to the feel of drumming, but at more difficult song levels it tends to be plagued with inaccurate input readings, so it's not recommended for tracks with rapid notes.
No matter what input you choose, though, you'll be playing one of many songs from the variety-filled tracklist. You won't find much in the way of familiar American pop hits here, save for a Japanese version of Let it Go or Moana's theme song; the tracklist has been brought over straight from Japan with little in the way of alterations. That means you can enjoy covers of Japanese pop hits like Zenzenzense, Linda Linda, and One Night Carnival, along with a handful of possibly-familiar anime themes (Pop Team Epic, Evangelion, Dragon Ball Z), game music, classical remixes, Vocaloid songs, and a whole mess of original Namco music. The lack of Western songs can be a bit daunting at first, but there's plenty of variety overall, and the original Namco compositions tend to be quite good.
Overall, the PS4 tracklist is significantly more robust, offering more tunes in each category, along with a lot of optional DLC songs. However, it's disappointing that some of the best tunes, like classic Namco game music medleys and beloved Vocaloid songs like Senbonzakura, are DLC-only. The Switch tracklist is smaller and differs a fair bit, but offers exclusive Nintendo songs like the Super Mario Odyssey theme, a Splatoon medley, and a Kirby medley. Overall, though, Drum 'n' Fun's tracklist isn't quite as strong as that of its PS4 counterpart, Drum Session, even with taking into consideration a tiny smattering of DLC songs. If musical variety is your key selling point and you don’t find forking over a bit extra for DLC, you’ll probably want to look at the PS4 version first.
What Drum 'n' Fun does have that its PS4 brother doesn't, however, are plenty of mini-games and unlockables. While the core game only supports local two-player play (four if everyone brings their own Switch with a copy of the game), up to four players can join in to enjoy a huge variety of competitive and cooperative rhythm-based mini-games. These range from simple party games such as jumping rope to the theme of classic Namco arcade game Hopping Mappy or running through a side-scrolling stage picking up food to more complex challenges like preparing sushi orders or cooking on a grill to a beat.
These party games are very fun overall, taking a noticeable influence in both theming and gameplay from Nintendo's own fan-favorite Rhythm Heaven series. Plus, playing them unlocks additional content, such as songs and player-aiding avatar characters, in the main game, so there's plenty of incentive to get a bunch of buddies together and play some Taiko rhythm volleyball.
Taiko no Tatsujin in any form is a solid rhythm game package that's easy to get into and rewarding the more you play it.
The PS4 version doesn’t have these minigames; instead, it focuses on a deeper music game experience. Besides the bigger song selection, it offers an online mode where you can download other players' "ghost" input data for songs to compete against. (If you want a direct head-to-head battle, however, you’ll need to do local play.) You also have a little personified Taiko avatar you can customize with goofy costumes and collectible items, which you get from lootboxes you can buy with currency earned in-game.
Overall, Taiko no Tatsujin in any form is a solid rhythm game package that's easy to get into and rewarding the more you play it--provided you're down with a mostly-unfamiliar tracklist. The inclusion of numerous mini-games and local multiplayer support gives Drum 'n' Fun an edge over Drum Session for people who want an offbeat (pun not intended) party game to play with their buddies before busting out some Head Cha-La or Heat Haze Shadow. While the various non-drum-controller control schemes aren't always optimal, the Switch version offers many nice options to pick from--and if you just want to play a couple of standard-difficulty songs with pals before competing in four-player noodle-slurping, motion controls prove to be plenty enjoyable. But if you've been longing for a quirky, enjoyable multiplayer music game, either version should scratch the itch quite nicely.