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Rhythm-action games have fallen out of favour in recent years, which is heartbreaking for a connoisseur of plastic instruments such as myself. It’s a physically cathartic experience that rarely gets emulated anymore these days, not unless you’re Clone Hero at least, and the time/money sink spent usually isn’t worth the effort for a worldwide market. Still, in the wake of accessible rhythm-action games being able to be played on a normal controller, it’s only fair that other franchises try to join in, like TAIKO NO TATSUJIN: THE DRUM MASTER for example.

This is the first mainline title in the Taiko no Tatsujin series to be released on Microsoft platforms, namely the Xbox One & Series S|X. To veterans of the series, it’s simply another new edition of the hit drumming game, largely popularised in Japan due to the massive taiko drums that the arcade versions possess. While other home console versions have smaller taiko drums you can buy as a peripheral controller, The Drum Master!'s exclusivity on Xbox and PC isn’t so fortunate, which is an immediate misdemeanour right off the bat.

While not an immediate write-off, the optimal experience you can attain from playing a Taiko no Tatsujin game is really dependent on the peripheral you’re playing on. If you’ve got a Rock Band 4 drum kit for Xbox One, or a USB drum kit for PC, then you can work around and have a helluva time that is, for the most part, untainted. If you don’t have either? Then you’re in for a tough ride, despite the simplicity.


The game’s controls rely on two separate drum hits, dubbed “Don” and “Ka”, which are red and light blue respectively. The names originate from the onomatopoeia that a taiko drum makes, whether you hit the actual drum, or the wooden edges on the side for a sharper sound. These two are distributed across the face buttons, triggers, bumpers, and the directional pad for the Xbox controller, with customisation tricky but not impossible. There are a few presets that attempt to lay out Don & Ka evenly, but if you think of a control scheme that works outside of the presets given? You’re gonna have to visit the Xbox Accessories for help with that.

It doesn’t sound that bad at first, and indeed, when you play it, you’ll wonder what the fuss is about, but Taiko no Tatsujin has an incredibly deceptive difficulty despite its two-button scheme. You’ll play something like “Homura” on Hard, or maybe even “Bad Apple!!” from Touhou Project Arrange and say to yourself, “Well, I don’t see what the fuss is about!”. Hold your tongue, reader, those words will come back to bite you.

Part of it stems from some of the mechanics being shared, or even copied. Sometimes you’ll have to pop a balloon or “Party Popper”, and both of them involve pressing “DON” notes aggressively fast. The drum-rolls also share this issue, where some of them will look like massive “DON” or “KA” notes, implying you’d need to press more than one button in the button-mashing mayhem. There’s not a lot of rhythm in this, but in the long run, your score is generally more important, with each song scaling to 1,000,000 points on every difficulty.


With The Drum Master! being the first Taiko title to be released on Xbox and Windows PC, the tracklist is a varied “greatest hits” compilation, and there’s a large focus on original music created for the series, as well as some of Bandai Namco’s recent releases. Tracks like “Saitama 2000”, the theme song from Katamari Damacy, and the aforementioned “Bad Apple!!” return as staples and reminders of the series’ legacy, but it also debuts some odd choices that work out really well.

Undertale’s two best songs (“Megalovania”, and “Hopes & Dreams”) return after a few inclusions in previous Taiko games, as well as two very breathy covers of Wham!’s “Last Christmas” and The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back”, respectively. All four of these songs highlight The Drum Master!’'s viability as an introduction into one of Japan’s most revered rhythm-action game series, but it doesn’t come without stipulations.

Most of it comes down to the difficulty with playing the game on an Xbox controller. This is the sacrifice you make when you favour wireless controllers, and that’s input delay controlling just how well you’re going to be able to play. Calibration can only do so much to save face, and the wildly varying timing when it comes to different tempos in songs can either be a blessing or a burden. It’s weirdly easier to hit all “GOOD” notes in a song like xi’s “Freedom Dive” than it is to hit all “GOOD” notes in “Homura”.


There’s a silver lining in The Drum Master! being released on both Xbox consoles and Windows 10, and that’s being able to use a keyboard instead of a controller. While there’s less tactile feedback to you slamming the keys for the notes, it’s an immediately more comfortable experience trying to keep in time with some of the more tricky patterns that the Taiko games are known for. The game also allows you to re-bind the controls to whatever keys you want, the only stipulation being that you can only use four keys in-game, which limits opportunities to button-mash.

In the long run, most of this won’t matter, unless you’re planning to play against other players online, which is ever-so-slightly unbalanced. You’re able to choose your starting rank from the get-go, which can either be “C”, “B”, or “A”, which will have you playing on “Easy”, “Medium”, and “Hard”, respectively. There’s also “S” rank which has you playing on “Extreme”, but you have to actually get there first.

This would be all well and fine if the game hosted some sort of skill-based matchmaking, but it doesn’t. You are just as likely to be an A-rank player facing off against a C-rank player on Easy difficulty as you are to be an A-rank player facing off against an S-rank player on Extreme. Both of these aren’t optimal situations, as C-rank players have less to lose points from, and S-rank players are obviously there because they’re good at the game, and rarely will there be an exception.


It’s an optional venture, but essential if you’re planning on purchasing items from the in-game shop, which hosts a treasure trove of cosmetics and bonus songs. There are hundreds of items here, the cheapest category being 300 coins, and a win will only net you 200 coins usually. While there are frequent double coin events for two hours at a time, these are at set times, meaning you’d have to be more devoted than should be necessary.

These are still options you don’t have to take, mind you, but it’s indicative of the nature of how The Drum Master! is designed, which is that they threw everything into the kitchen sink. It’s rough around the edges, but passes the mark by only just filling a hole in the rhythm-action genre on Xbox and Windows. Whether it’s something you’ll want to play constantly is dependent on whether or not you mind a control scheme that isn’t suited for the controllers present on these platforms.

6.50/10 6½


Game is enjoyable, outweighing the issues there may be.

The hit drumming series’ arrival on Xbox and PC is with several caveats, as without the famous Taiko drum controller, it’s thoroughly restricted. Thanks to a fantastic tracklist, however, the numbed sensation manages to provide infectious gameplay.

This game was supplied by the publisher or relevant PR company for the purposes of review

Samiee "Gutterpunk" Tee

Staff Writer

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