Some people have rhythm and some don’t, but the real question is do rats have rhythm? Well, NIS is gonna let us find out whether rats can throw down some sick beats, or if they flop like video game-turned-movies.
Mad Rat Dead is a weird combination of rhythm and platformer that hurt my brain a little the first time I saw a gameplay trailer for it. The titular character, Mad Rat, is a lab rat that was experimented on and died. But in comes the Rat God to turn back time to allow the Mad Rat one last day to see his wish come true. So off goes the Mad Rat, with his talking heart, and his ability to turn back time, in order to make his wish come true.
Now, this wouldn’t be a rhythm game without moving to a beat, and that’s exactly what you need to do. Your “heart” produces a song and you move along to the beat of the song. You can dash, jump, drop when in the air, or charge for an enhanced jump or dash. Timing your button inputs with the tempo scrolling across the bottom of the screen is needed to move your rat friend through the increasingly perilous stages. But be careful, because you only have a limited amount of “beats” to finish the stage by. Oh, and you can also turn back time when you die, which will happen a lot, but only a few moves, and you also “lose” the beats that have passed.
Now, I’d like to bring up a key mechanic, and the only thing that legitimately frustrated me while playing: jump attacking enemies. Basically there are there trippy flower things that, when close enough to, will get a targeting reticle. If you jump a few times near them, you’ll probably attack them. Note I said probably. I only got it to work about 50% of the time at first, before I realized you USUALLY need your second jump to attack them. I say usually, because sometimes that isn’t the case. By the end of the game, I managed to improve my jump attack success rate to 75%, but it could still be infuriating.
So let’s talk a bit about the tunes. Most of them are variations on the main theme song, which is a little unfortunate as a listener, but is nice as a player, considering you’ll be used to the songs so you should be able to pick up the tempo a bit better. Now, you don’t just move to the tempo though, you move to the beat. Which can and will change, especially in later stages. And some stages move so fast it can be a little harrowing. On the plus side, not performing any of the main actions (jump, dash, charge, or drop) doesn’t impact your beat combo, meaning you could basically just slowly move left or right without “missing” a beat despite not pushing anything. Rather lenient, but greatly appreciated. The tunes are catchy as well, and I haven’t been able to get the last boss theme out of my head for quite a while now. Yes, there are bosses, no, they aren’t easy. The last boss was the first time I almost failed a stage though, as I only had 28 beats left, and you start with a lot. Like, over 500.
While the story might be a little cliché, I honestly had a lot of fun with Mad Rat Dead, and considering I’m generally pretty awful at rhythm games, that’s saying something. No really, despite playing five instruments and having built two guitars, rhythm games are like one of the banes of my existence. Mad Rat Dead however does a very good job of matching the beat you need to follow to the actual beat of the song, meaning you can go in time with the song and be alright, which is good for me. Stages tend to be just long enough that you start wondering how close to the end you are right at the end, and very few times to I get frustrated enough that I had to take a break. At least after I figured out how jump attacking enemies worked.
Now, I’ll be perfectly honest, the story can get a little (very) cliché, some stages are exercises in patience and reaction speed, and if I had a dollar for every time I got “stuck” on an “enemy-to-dash-to-enemy” or “enemy-to-dash” to dodge something, I could probably buy a small collection of antique china. Bosses can be real tough, and sometimes the small gaps in beat or tempo changes threw me way too hard. Also, missing a beat “kills” that beat, so you have to wait to hit the next beat, something that took me a while to get used to. But you know what? I absolutely loved the game. It was just cheesy enough to have a traditional basis, while still throwing enough twists to not make me swear off dairy, and the jump attacking issue can be solved with thought out placement if you aren’t overly concerned with simply speeding through a stage, despite the nature of the jump attack being spotty at times.
The bosses though, they are rough, they’re tough, and I loved all but the first one. I really felt the game truly shone in these scenarios, as they’re pretty much all pattern learning with their own unique scenarios, and it was really brilliant. And the “missing beats”? It certainly keeps you on your toes, but is either evident when it’s going to happen, or happens so rarely it shouldn’t be a big issue if it trips you up too bad.