Late last week, you may have missed the grand return of Japanese arcade classic Taiko Drum Master. Only its release wasn't very grand: it didn't even get a physical release, and remains digital only. And yet, it's an exciting return nonetheless, one partially heralded by the Switch, the other half by the PlayStation 4.
Diving into the two new Taiko games, Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum n Fun for Switch and Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum Session for PS4, I expected them to be largely the same, with maybe a few tracklist inconsistencies here and there. What I got was actually two wildly different games. One orchestrated to fit the rhythm of the Switch, the other for the more serious gamer on the PS4. I'm here today to break down where each one sings, and where each one hits a bit off key. Should you buy the Switch version, the PS4 version, or both if you're rich? I'm here to lend my wise knowledge.
Key Differences: Multiplayer, Modes, and Customization
One of the key differences between each version of Taiko no Tatsujin comes in the modes they offer. On the Switch version, you get Party Mode, which has a lot in common with Rhythm Heaven and is a co-op mode for up to 4 players. It's pretty fun, but as it only has 20 playable songs, ends up feeling pretty light. The minigames that are there are pretty great though, and it's making me crave a Rhythm Heaven on Switch.
The Switch does have an added perk though, something that the PS4 cannot achieve: easy local multiplayer. You can simply hand off each Joy-Con, and play local multiplayer. This is more a feature built into the Switch itself, obviously, but it is something that works well for this version of Taiko.
Meanwhile, Drum Session feels a lot more fully featured. For one, you can customize your Don (the little drum avatar) with outfits, accessories, and even colors. In its Switch counterpart, you can change your icon to a preset character, but not much else. As for multiplayer, you can play either locally or in online Ranked mode, where you face off against other players' "ghosts"—ghosts meaning recorded versions of another person playing, rather than going literally head to head. It's not the online multiplayer you may expect, but it's still just competitive enough for those who want a more serious-minded rhythm game experience than the Ranked mode-less Drum n Fun. (I mean c'mon, it's all in the name; fun is only on Switch.) After every song in it, you see how you did via a score and a nifty bingo card of what combos you landed and whatnot too.
The Verdict: PS4. With more features and a competitive edge, the PS4 version slightly edges out the Switch one.
How Do You Prefer to Drum?
The ideal way to play a Taiko Drum Master game is with a shoddy, plastic drum that's about to break at any moment. Or in a smoke-filled arcade in Akihabara, but I'm guessing many of you don't have access to the latter. For us in North America, playing on the plastic taiko drum is all there is. You want to be on the verge of eviction from the loud cracks as your plastic drumsticks strike down upon it, to the point where you can't hear the song itself.
The downside of both Drum Session and Drum n Fun is that they're sold digitally. That means the likelihood of you walking into a Target to pick up a drum kit is pretty much at zero. If you want to get your own drum, Hori sells one for the Nintendo Switch that retails at $119. Hori's easily the most reliable third-party accessory maker for the Switch—heck, our own Mike Williams is a fan of its enhanced d-pad Joy-Cons—and Hori's taiko drum has positive reviews all around. Meanwhile, the PS4's answer to the drum conundrum is a drum with significant input lag issues, according to some players on Reddit and customer reviews. There are a couple third-party versions to get, but with the alleged input lag problem, it might be best to stay away.
The Switch version has two unique control schemes too: motion controls and touchscreen. Similar to this year's cute drum simulator Gal Metal, Drum n Fun has its own mode where each Joy-Con can act as a drumstick too. The downside is that the motion controls don't feel precise enough for the rhythm game. Unlike Gal Metal's looser structure where you enact memorized rhythms with motion controls, with Drum n Fun, you must hit your imaginary drumsticks on the mark. I found it more frustrating than fun, unfortunately.
The touchscreen is what I've found myself drifting the most towards though, aside from standard buttons. With the touch screen, you simply tap the drum at the bottom of the screen to hit each note. I've found it really effective, and easy to get a hang of. I imagine that's my near-decade of playing mobile rhythm games coming into play though. I wonder if tapping along will feel as intuitive to others who may not play Love Live! or Voez on their phone, as it does to me.
The Verdict: Switch. There's a PS4 version of the plastic drum too, but the Switch's version is easier to get and doesn't have the controversy of lag problems chasing it. Plus the touchscreen is a great, fresh way to play.
Which Has the Better Tunes?
The PlayStation 4 tracklist has about the same amount as its Nintendo Switch counterpart, with over 70 songs to each. But the Nintendo Switch version does have one definitive leg above its PS4 counterpart: Nintendo music. It may just be a handful of songs, but you'll find yourself returning a lot to the theme from Super Mario Odyssey and its lovely Splatoon and Kirby medleys. Above all else, playing Drum n Fun reminded me of how bangin' Kirby's scores are. Seriously: it's the unsung hero of classic game soundtracks.
But not even Nintendo can save Drum n Fun's tracklist. While it has some great individual tracks, most of its best songs are the ones it shares with the PS4 version. And the PS4 version frankly has a lot more going for it, with Babymetal, Vocaloid tracks for your inner Project Diva superfan, that "Pineapple Pineapple Apple Pen" song, and even the My Neighbor Totoro ending theme song (rather than just the intro as Switch version has). The PS4 version has its fair share of recognizable tunes of pop and anime, as well as some unfamiliar tracks that I'm sure to return to. In the tracklist department, PS4 reigns supreme. Sorry Kirby.
The Verdict: PS4. Better songs and better variety help Drum Session sing a more memorable tune. The Switch version still has a stellar tracklist though.
The Verdict Overall
I'll be remiss if I don't say this: both versions of Taiko no Tatsujin are pretty great. They both have solid tracklists, fun modes, their own perks and downfalls. If you want the more legit rhythm game experience, it's hard to say no to the PS4 version. If you're more in the market for a casual sort of rhythm game that can be great on-the-go thanks to its touchscreen, then I'd gesture towards Drum n Fun instead. It's an exciting time for rhythm games thanks to Taiko no Tatsujin's return; now that Taiko Drum Master games are back, there's no telling what classic arcade games we can expect to return next to consoles in North America.