Import Game Review: Taiko no Tatsujin Portable DX (PSP)

Recently I imported another game from Japan. It’s Taiko no Tatsujin Portable DX for PSP. In Japan there’s a popular series of music games where you hit a Taiko drum to the beat of the songs. A Taiko drum looks like a big barrel sitting on its side, and you’ve probably seen a Taiko drum in many movies and games from Japan, even if you didn’t know it! I really enjoy the Taiko drum video games, so here’s an extended review and blog about Namco’s latest!

If I buy a game from Japan, it’s going to have to be very import friendly since I don’t know a lick of Japanese. Plus it has to work on my game systems, and luckily the PSP is still region free. Taiko no Tatsujin is very import friendly because the gameplay is so easy to figure out. When a red circle passes by a target, you hit the drum in the middle, and when a blue dot goes by, tap the drum on its side. That’s really all there is to it. Granted, you lose a bit in the translation on the PSP, because you are hitting buttons instead of a drum. But it’s still fun to me, although it’s a bit harder since you have to be a spaz on the buttons in the harder levels. This is actually the third Taiko game on the PSP; there were two others out a few years back. In fact, I think one of them came out in 2006, because I remember bringing my PSP with me and playing a Taiko game on it when I was waiting in line for my Wii on launch day! Since then, Namco made three Taiko games on the DS, too, which I enjoyed a little more since tapping on the screen was more akin to playing a drum.

If the gameplay of Taiko no Tatsujin sounds familiar, that’s because it is! You might’ve played a game like it called Donkey Konga. You see, back in the GameCube days when the Taiko drum games were super popular, Nintendo wanted a piece of the action. So they hired Namco to make a drumming game for them that they could bring to the US. They changed the drums to barrel shaped bongos and put in Donkey Kong characters. Donkey Konga was fun, but the best game that used the bongo controllers was Donkey Kong Jungle Beat, which was a brilliant 2-D platformer from Nintendo themselves. I never played the Wii version, though.

Namco actually brought a Taiko game to the US on the PS2 called Taiko Drum Master. This was back when Namco was more willing to take chances than they are now. Taiko Drum Master was better than Donkey Konga, but unfortunately it bombed. I guess Americans at the time would rather be a Guitar Hero, which is understandable. But I was still sad because I enjoyed playing it so much. So ever since then, I try to import whatever Taiko drum games I can. But it’s usually only for the portable systems since they’re region free. I did get to play the arcade version at a GameWorks in Seattle when I went to PAX. Namco also has made a few Taiko games on the Wii in Japan, but I haven’t tried any of those.

But in order for me to want to import a game from Japan, it also has to be something I really like. Case in point, there’s a new game on the PSP in Japan called Queen’s Gate that has Namco characters in it, but I won’t import it because I don’t know what kind of game it is! But I really, really enjoy the Taiko games. Heck, see that picture of me? Yup, that’s me with a Taiko hat on. Yes I really am insane. So why do I like Taiko games? The simple answer is because they’re fun! Not a very descriptive reason, but that’s what it is.

But there are a couple of more detailed reasons why I like the Taiko games. One is that they have lots of cute characters. You know I’m a sucker for cute characters, and the more annoyingly cute, the better. Today’s music games don’t have enough cute in them. The other reason why I like Taiko games is the variety of songs. Don’t get me wrong, I think Rock Band is a GREAT game, but aside from rock and a few country songs, that’s really all it has. I know, I know, it is called ROCK Band for a reason. But Taiko games have lots of different kinds of music in them. Songs from cartoons and anime, classical pieces, video game music, heck, some Taiko titles even have commercial jingles! Since I enjoy all types of music (well, I don’t like country and rap too much), I appreciate the wider variety of songs in the Taiko games.

Game Modes

All right, let’s briefly go over the game modes in Taiko no Tatsujin Portable DX. I don’t know the official names since it’s all in Japanese, but the main Game Mode lets you pick any song at any difficulty to play. There are Easy, Medium, and Hard modes, and the crazy hard Oni Mode which I have yet to unlock in this version. Another mode that I like to call Playlist Mode lets you do 3, 5, or 7 songs you pick right in a row. You can also dress up your Taiko drum with colors and outfits you’ve unlocked in the House Mode. There’s also a WiFi Mode where you can download songs, but I don’t mess with it since you need a Japanese PSN account. And I also don’t mess with the Options Mode either because I’m afraid I might accidently erase my game!

Quest Mode

The final game mode I saved for last so I could go over it in more detail. Some of the portable Taiko games have a ‘quest mode’ and in the last DS game, it was even a full-fledged RPG with a world map, random encounters, and everything! I was pretty proud of myself for beating it, which just goes to show you how import friendly these games really are! Anyway, the quest mode in this new PSP game is a little different, but I managed to beat it, too.

In this mode, your drum suddenly appears at a dojo temple place and it must be time for one of those Japanese festivals. You’re greeted by a priestess lady with a Taiko drum hat on her head (mine’s better), and she has a bunch of little Taiko drum guys in tow. So you agree to help this lady save the world, or something. You see, in the dojo, there is a world map of Japan separated into little squares. Each one of those squares has a different Taiko drum wearing an outfit. If you beat them in a song, you can unlock that outfit to dress your drum in. The classic Namco fan in me liked the Katamari Damacy outfit, and the set that made your Taiko look like Mappy (too bad it was the last song on the map).

Anyway, these Taiko drums you battle have a dark aura around them, and if you beat them, you’ll absorb that darkness. Later on in the game, all the darkness turns into an evil Taiko drum you must beat. But when you do, he gets eaten by the final boss. There are other bosses in the game, too, and those battles are similar to the ones in the other DS Taiko games, where you must avoid hitting the bomb icons and the boss will hinder your view of the screen. The bosses are actually easier to beat than the regular drum battles. Some of the bosses are from past DS Taiko games, like the team of villains which consists of a geisha lady with purple hair, a kabuki cat, and a robot drum set. But they end up helping you out in the end when the last boss summons a giant meteor you must push back in a drum battle! After you beat the game, you can do a boss rush mode, which I haven’t beaten yet as of this writing.

Speaking of the drum battles, I guess I should try and describe those. I don’t quite understand all the rules still because of the language barrier, but I’ll do my best! Anyway, the drum battles are like a one-on-one reverse tug of war. On the bottom is where the dots scroll by, and when you hit them, a meter fills up. When it is full, you can push back the opposing side. But watch out because your opponent can push you back, too. On the top of the screen you can see your army of Taiko drums, and the opposition’s. Each side carries one of those portable shrines that you see in Japan (looks like a fancy treasure box). At the end of the song, whoever is pushed back further than their line loses. Also at the end of the song, the game tallies how many successful hits, combos, or total hits to give one last big push to the winner. So there’s a lot to watch out for. But the more Taiko drum shrine carriers you have in your army, the better chances you have to win, I’ve noticed.

Back at the dojo shrine, you can do exercise challenges to boost up your army. Some of these are songs, while others are rhythm exercises using a metronome. As you play, you can unlock characters from the Taiko series that you can ‘equip’ up to three like power-ups. I don’t know what they do, but the enemy can use powers, too, so you have to watch out. And that’s pretty much all I can say about the quest mode. Sorry if it seems a little unclear. It’s a little hard to describe a game where you don’t know much of what’s going on!

Song List

Of course, the most important part of any music game is what songs are on it. So I’ll conclude this review by briefly going over most of the songs in Taiko no Tatsujin Portable DX. I have to give credit to places on the Internet like Wikipedia, Gamefaqs, and others for helping me with this part of the review, as I needed to look up some songs I wanted to talk about. I won’t list ALL the songs, as there are more than 70 in all, but I’ll mention the ones that stuck out in my mind.

There are quite a bit of J-Pop songs on the Taiko games, which is a drawback for me since I don’t care much for J-Pop. So if you like J-Pop and think I’m making fun of it in my review here, don’t be offended. I don’t mean any harm by it and I’ll even let you make fun of my favorite kind of music (80’s music). Anyway, I recognize a lot of the J-Pop songs from the DS games. There’s one popular J-Pop group of a bunch of young ladies and their group is called uh, AK8BZ…something, I don’t know. Sounds like something you’d name a fighter jet or whatever. On one of the DS games they had one of their songs called “River,” and I hoped it would be on this PSP game because it made me chuckle when I played it because it sounded like they were singing about liver. I know I shouldn’t laugh at that, but I can’t help it. Anyway, another J-Pop song on the PSP game sounded like a Japanese Justin Bieber. Even the title of the song, “I Wish For You” sounds pretty Bieber-ey, don’t you think?

The Taiko games usually have a lot of anime songs, too, but this PSP one doesn’t have quite so much. There’s a song from One Piece, I never liked that anime, though. The premise was dumb and they really butchered the US cartoon of it. It must be pretty bad if I complain about it. And there’s a Naruto song, never liked that one either. Never understood how someone could be a ninja by yelling at the top of his lungs all the time and wear highway worker orange. And there is a song from Macross and other anime cartoons I don’t know. I liked the anime song selection in the DS games better because they had more stuff I knew, like Ponyo, Totoro, and Starship Yamato (Star Blazers). But there really aren’t too many anime cartoons I like. But I’ve been out of that loop for a while, so in the comments section, maybe you can recommend some anime cartoons that you think I would like!

There are also a handful of classical tunes on this PSP game, like Ode to Joy and Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. There are others, too, but most wouldn’t recognize them by name. But you would know them if you heard them, as a lot of classical tunes are played in commercials and cartoons.

I always like the selection of video game music in the Taiko games. This one has a Monster Hunter Medley, and I hear that game is super popular in Japan. Characters from the game (look like cats) dance on the bottom screen. Sega has a trio of songs on this collection, too. One is called “Machine Gun Kiss” from one of the Yakuza games. It’s pretty funny seeing chibi versions of the Yakuza characters dancing on the bottom of the screen waving their guns around! Another from Sega is the classic Magical Sound Shower from Outrun. And finally from Sega is a song from another PSP game starring vocaloid Hatsune Miku. She’s a cute character with neat blue-green hair. But don’t let her open her mouth to sing! Ugh! Sounds awful! And her song is really hard, too! Took me forever to get past it in Quest Mode. Curse you, Hatsune Miku!

Namco has a few of their own game songs, too. There’s always a few from Idolmaster. I wish I knew how that game played, if only because I hear there are TONS of classic Namco references in it. I know Idolmaster is a game where you manage a group of young female singers and dancers, but all the articles I’ve read about it only talk about how disturbing and perverted the games are. But they don’t talk about what KIND of game it is. Is it a simulation? Dancing game? I guess I’ll never know. Oh well.

Other Namco songs include one from God Eater Burst on PSP, which is Namco’s answer to Monster Hunter, or so I’ve heard. D3 Publisher actually brought the game to the US as Gods Eater Burst, and the only reason why I would want to play it is because I hear the music was done by my favorite game music composer: Go Shiina. There’s also a song from Tekken 6, and since Go Shiina did some of the music in that game, too, I wonder if the song in the Taiko game is from him as well. Finally there is a song from Mojipittan, which is a word puzzle game from Namco that will never come to the US (wouldn’t translate well at all), and a Mappy Medley. Plus a few songs from games I’ve never heard of.

The last categories of music are Variety and Namco Original, but most of them just sound like J-Pop to me. There’s one song called Don’t Cut that would make a great epic boss fight tune, and a song called Mulberry that is all in English, but I still can’t understand what they are saying. Some songs you can only get with DLC, but I won’t be downloading those since I don’t have a Japanese PSN account. But with more than 70 songs already on the disc, I don’t feel cheated at all.

And that’s all I feel like talking about Taiko no Tatsujin Portable DX. It’s kind of neat to import games every now and then because I usually learn a little something about Japanese culture and whatnot. But it’s kind of a bittersweet ending to this review because it may be the last game I ever import in the foreseeable future since the new handhelds won’t be region-free anymore (not sure about PS Vita since I haven’t read much about it). So in the comments section, tell me what import games you like or wish to see, recommend me some anime cartoons you think I would like, and let me know if you think I’m insane or not.

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