Taiko Drum Master: V Version at a Glance – Still Marching to the Same Drummer (Vita)

Pictured: The RPG-style “Donda Quest.” Taken from the demo on the PSN store.

 Anyone who has played a Taiko no Tatsujin (called “Taiko Drum Master” abroad) game before will be instantly familiar with the gameplay of Taiko Drum Master: V Version. In the headlining rhythm game, there are only four types of basic notes, and a couple different types of “hit this as often as you can” cues. In the original arcade version, the basic hits all corresponded to a place for you to hit on the physical drum. You’d wail on it with the sticks in your hands, very similar to playing a real taiko.

On the Vita, we don’t exactly want to go smashing our screens with drumsticks, so all types of notes have been attached to buttons. Yes, this series did appear on the DS with some small drumsticks, but it was gimmicky, and I was always afraid I’d knock out the calibration on my touchscreen, so I only ever played my friend’s kid’s copy.

Single blue, single red, double red, double blue: the primary building blocks of Taiko gameplay.

 The Vita game is, by that token, in an odd situation, because the ideal way to play is with sticks and doing actual drumming. It just feels right to me. Yet, I don’t want to do it on my handheld — especially not my Vita, with it’s gorgeous OLED screen. So…here I am, interested in the idea of playing the awesome Taiko no Tastujin series on my Vita, yet not wanting to drum on it, even though I feel drumming is the most fun way to play. Got me a paradox right there.

There are several pre-set control varieties to choose from, and I think most players will find a scheme they can get behind. The gameplay does feel good, but it doesn’t have that magic pull that I found in previous entries in this franchise. Perhaps that’s because I’m older, and have played this a lot? One of those times when you might have changed, rather than the game? We can never say for sure, when evaluating ourselves, can we?

I’m finding it a little harder on the Vita to rack up big numbers on the drumrolls (long lines during which you bang out as many hits as you can) with these button presses. Again, I can’t tell where the flaw lies, only that there totally is one. This was easier and a little more fun with the giant drumsticks, but on a Vita you don’t want…but it’s…but there’s no way…aw dammit, I’m in this loop again!

But while the base rhythm game lacks what I thought would be all kinds of nostalgic sweetness, I’ve found a lot to love in the RPG-style “Donda Quest.” This mode sends players out playing songs as though they were RPG battles, complete with different objectives and new kinds of notes and traps within the hit bar. Get new equipment -> check the quest board -> go out and do your thing. It’s been really fun, and it’s the reason this preview hadn’t already gone up. There’s more to it than I’d initially expected, and that’s a good thing.

I’ll have more to say on it when a final review goes up, hopefully within a week.