Some video game franchises seem destined for the mobile gaming scene, their format ideally suited for touchscreen controls or quick on-the-go gaming sessions. Bandai Namco’s drum-pounding rhythm game Taiko no Tatsujin is the latest established franchise to make the jump to mobile, and it’s a match made in heaven. Bright, colorful, and full of charm, Taiko no Tatsujin Pop Tap Beat will have you smiling from ear to ear as you tap tap tap away to its catchy soundtrack. It’s just a shame that fun has such a short shelf life.
Pop Tap Beat follows the standard rhythm genre format: notes travel from one side of the screen to the other (in this case right to left), and you tap the screen when each one reaches a circle to score points. The closer to the circle the note is when you tap, the more in rhythm with the song you are and the more points you score. It’s a simple system that’s easy to understand and pick up even if this is your first time playing a rhythm game, making for a short learning curve and a longer focus on fun.
The gameplay loop offers incremental increases in challenge with each subsequent difficulty level, offering an experience that’s challenging without ever feeling impossible. Notes come in two colors: red, which signals tapping the drum, and blue, which signals tapping around the edge of it. Higher difficulties will split the drum in half, meaning you not only have to pay attention to the color of each note but also keep in mind which side of the screen needs to be tapped. Pop Tap Beat mixes things up further with special notes, alleviating any monotony. These special notes include drum rolls with continuous tapping, golden drums for furious tapping, and balloon notes for a different kind of furious tapping.
Touching the drum in time with the notes feels natural, as if you’re playing the drum yourself. Silly animations of dogs dancing and colorful fireworks accompanying certain notes liven up performances so you’re not just seeing alternating red and blue notes and moving your fingers in time to the rhythm for every song. It put a smile on my face. Completing longer sequences, especially if you achieve full song combos, feels rewarding with so much colorful on-screen feedback celebrating the achievement. Unfortunately, full combos can sometimes be frustratingly messed up thanks to inaccurate tap controls. The game does not accurately respond to every note, sometimes registering notes early, late, or not at all. It’s a rare occurrence, but a frustrating one when it does happen. Imagine conquering every note of a song as fast as Gimme Chocolate by Babymetal, only to lose the combo on the final note through no fault of your own. Your phone might end up in the next room.
The song list mixes classical music, Japanese pop songs, original Taiko no Tatsujin pieces from across the series, and even some anime soundtrack classics. Some additions are admittedly weird–why does The Alphabet Song need to be a part of this game again?–but others like the aforementioned Gimme Chocolate or Tekken 7’s Heat Haze Shadow 2 are absolute bangers. Oh, and A Cruel Angel’s Thesis from Neon Genesis Evangelion is here in case you want to feel sad while you tap along on your mobile device-turned-taiko drum.
These songs create a nice variety of tracks for anyone to enjoy, though admittedly it’s not as robust as it could be. Only 31 songs are included in the game and they’re all available from the beginning. There are no unlockables and no DLC song packs available (as of this writing), which is a bummer. I want to keep playing Pop Tap Beat, but with such a limited number of songs available, the game loses its luster fast. As much as I absolutely love the song, I can only play Cha La Head Cha La from Dragon Ball Z so many times before getting bored.
Longevity is the biggest obstacle facing Pop Tap Beat. Going online to challenge random players extends the playtime a bit, but it doesn’t change the core problem of the song list being too short. Connecting to other players, however, takes a long time. Minutes can go by before a match is finally found, but once matched it’s a clean experience, with no hiccups in notes registering or lag in notes coming down the path.
Points are earned after each song, which eventually unlock “Treasure Boxes,” but the only prizes found in those boxes are costumes for my little taiko avatar or other ancillary additions. There’s nothing wrong with these prizes–my drum looks like a cute little peacock and I would die for it–but they’re window dressing at best. They don’t add substance to the game, only style, and again because of the short song list, eventually you’ll be playing the same songs over and over again to unlock everything. After a while, that gets tiresome.
The colorful whimsy of dancing animals that plays out on-screen during a song is delightful, but there’s only so much a playlist that small can do
Taiko no Tatsujin Pop Tap Beat is a solid offering for Apple Arcade, though you won’t be playing it for a terribly long time. Tapping to the beat of the 30+ songs on the playlist is fun, the colorful whimsy of dancing animals that plays out on-screen during a song is delightful, but there’s only so much a playlist that small can do, and so you may find yourself lacking a reason to stick around. It’s fun while it lasts, but Taiko no Tatsujin Pop Tap Beat only marches to the beat of its own drum for so long.