Early Access Review
Rhythm games used to be all the rage over a decade ago. With the Dance Dance Revolution phenomenon burning up the arcades and Guitar Hero bringing a new experience on home consoles, players couldn't get enough. Over the years, there have been fewer games in the genre mostly due to lack of interest or innovation. I would not put Tadpole Treble in the rhythm game genre completely, but it certainly dances around it. With bits of the rhythm genre and arcade style gameplay, Tadpole Treble mixes the two together wonderfully with a fantastic soundtrack.
You play as a tadpole named Baton, where you must navigate through swamps, rivers, and the sea to name a few. This is all done while maneuvering a traditional music staff as you shift between lines to avoid objects and enemies. Before long, however, the realization comes in that objects are more than just there to get in your way, they are actually notes to the song that is being played. Here is where the arcade-like gameplay of avoiding objects and collecting bubbles meets the score chasing style of the rhythm genre. Making your way through each stage is fun and engaging, all while feeling as if you are composing music when in actuality you are doing little to make that happen.
Moving around the staff of music and avoiding the strategically placed objects aka notes is fun and engaging. Dodging obstacles is done with simple joystick or keyboard inputs that moves Baton one-half of an increment. Maneuvering between the various hazards and enemies is necessary to collect the various bubbles and health scattered throughout each level. It is important to learn when and where to squeeze between objects; as you progress through the song more objects populate the staff. Thankfully, you have access to something called a Treble Charge that will allow you to smash through objects without taking damage. Similar to using star power in Guitar Hero, using Treble Charge is beneficial to earning a higher score as breaking through objects awards you more points.
Learning the gameplay is made easy with the first level serving as a tutorial that introduces the main mechanics, minus the Treble Charge. Along most levels are bamboo sticks and flowers that allow the player to add to the beat of the music. Tapping "A" on an Xbox controller (or moving the joystick/keyboard keys left or right) makes Baton snap her tail which can interact with these objects. Bamboo sticks earn you more points while flowers will send you flying into the air. This mechanic will need to be used in the later levels to help rack up a high score, along with the final boss battle.
The whole experience plays out similar to a Disney movie that has a variety of musical scores. Composition ranges from up-tempo, tension-inducing, and romantic, all telling a story in a similar fashion. Each level has a theme as well, with a piece that feels appropriate to the setting. My personal favorite is Thunder Creek, a song featuring fun and cheerful lyrics while the action stays fast and tight. While there may only be twelve levels, they all feel unique and no two levels feel quite the same. The art and illustrations make every level and song feel special, as Tadpole Treble avoids the staleness that can sometimes plague similar rhythm/arcade games.
The story is told through a few comic-book style cutscenes that consist of no words or dialog. Instead, they are full of great music that helps tell the story along with some colorful illustrations. The story certainly does not take center stage here, but the presentation explains everything in a way that is easy to understand.
Stages can be replayed once they are completed, and there is good reason to go back to each level. Medals are awarded for high scores and S rankings, and each stage also contains challenge "flies" that all have their own secret objectives in order to unlock them. A rather large bullfrog will reveal hints in how to unlock these flies if you collect enough bubbles within the stages. Once the Adventure mode is completed, a Maestro mode is unlocked that is basically an endurance run through all the levels within Tadpole Treble.
As great and enjoyable as the stages and music are, eventually they could become a little repetitive over time. Thankfully the game has some extra life built-in with the Composition mode, where songs/levels can be created and shared for upload. I myself am not very good at creating music but I did enjoy the tools that are available here. Guitars, drums, symbols, and other musical instruments can be used to create that perfect tune. Even the pitch and tempo can be tinkered with. Whether you choose to make a slower, more delicate song or a fast paced guitar solo is truly up to you. There is also the option of not caring about what the music sounds like and just making a challenging level with the tools at hand. I could see myself coming back to this mode to give it a shot and also learn from levels created by other players. Those that are talented in writing music could have a fun time with this mode.
Tadpole Treble is an easy recommendation for fans of rhythm games or just casual gamers as well. You do not have to be particularly good at DDR, Guitar Hero, or any other rhythm game to enjoy it. Tadpole Treble is easy to pick up and understand as the engaging gameplay makes it something that serves a wide variety of ages and types of players. While the main mode can be completed in just over an hour, challenges and medals give those completionists something to shoot for. Creative musicians can also have some fun with Composition mode, which could add continued support for the game with player creation content. The soundtrack here has a variety of styles and the composition is very well done, with some of the best original music I have heard in a while. While not totally reinventing the wheel, Tadpool Treble is a refreshing entry into a genre that needs a breath of fresh air.
+ Great Soundtrack
+ Gameplay is easy to pickup
+ Composition mode adds life
- Can be completed in under two hours
Hours played: 4
Played on PC. Available on Steam and the Wii U (releasing later this Spring in 2016)