Review: The product is sold in the U.S., the game is developed in Japan, and the plastic drum is made in China? I'm sure India takes care of the customer support.
I've been moving my feet on top of Dance Dance Revolution pads and waiving my arms in front of an EyeToy camera, but my hands have been tightly secured to the Dual Shock controller... that is until Taiko Drum Master made its way to me. Straight out of Japan, this colorful game from Namco is boxed with a rubber drum pad and a pair of plastic sticks. But while the percussion instrument is new, the concept is not. Hitting the drum in time with the music, tapping the rim every once in a while and performing a drum roll now and again is a familiar rhythm game formula. It's not the drum-focused Guitar Hero companion game we all want to rock out to, but Taiko makes for a cute (for some, too cute) and colorful way to bang on the drum all day.
The Taiko drum is well constructed with a durable rubber cover fit over a plastic base able to withstand repeated drum strokes. Two sensors underneath the cover pick up these strokes, essentially splitting the pad into a right and left half. The game isn't so complicated that it requires independent right and left strokes, however. Instead, the gameplay occasionally calls for both sides to be hit simultaneously, making it the only reason for two different sensors. The signs are really quite easy to follow, too. A normal red icon scrolling across the screen indicates a hit on either side of the drum at the appropriate time. If it's a super-sized red icon, hit both sides. A blue icon means that you should hit any part of the rim, while a big version of this blue icon indicates that both the right and left sides of the rim deserve a smack. While the game doesn't ask for right and left strokes and has easy-to-comprehend icons, a lot of songs can be quite challenging even if you're familiar with the beat.
There are three difficulty levels (and another hidden one) for each song, which fall into categories of licensed pop, rock, classical and Namco original. Surprisingly, a lot of these are familiar tracks and not just J-Pop tunes as the graphics would suggest. ?ABC? from The Jackson 5, ?Love Shack? from The B52's, ?My Sharona? from The Knack and even ?Toxic? from Britney Spears are just four of the included 18 licensed pop and rock hits. Of course, all of these songs are covers and most are above average comparisons to the originals. Six orchestra melodies including ?Beethoven's Symphony No. 5? and ?William Tell Overture? keep things classy, while seven exclusives like the Ridge Racer theme and the Katamari theme keep things original.
In addition to playing through the 31 total songs yourself, a second player can join in to make some sweet music with either another drum pad or a Dual Shock controller. The latter is a bit boring for the envious, drum-less friend and since the chances of you buying a second drum are slim, the two-player option may go untouched. Still, the challenge is available through split screen competition. Three mini-games also attempt to extend to the replay value, but only dumb down the need for drum skills.
The first mini-game is a watermelon competition, which calls for banging on the drum as much as possible to eat the fruit and then to spit out its seeds. The second has you sending up fireworks as quickly as possible by rapidly banging on the drum. The slightly more involved and therefore slightly more fun mini-game called rescue helicopter has you maintaining balance for animals called Inu as they are stacked on top of each other. When eight appear in a leaning linear column, jumping up to grab onto a waiting helicopter completes the mini-game, but not before winds attempt to knock you to the ground and start all over again. Using the right and left rims to stay balanced, this is worth a couple of tries compared to the other mini-game duds.
Like most rhythm-oriented titles, Taiko doesn't take advantage of the PS2's graphics capabilities. However, it does have personality that is especially charming if you like cute characters. It's a far cry from the cool stylings of Guitar Hero, so don't expect to show off your drum skills to the groupies in this Japanese cutefest. Worse is the fact that the voices that go along with these adorable, bearable graphics are anything but endurable. Each time you go to a new menu are complete a song, a child's playful voice echoes through the speakers and you'll probably cringe each time.