Rhythm games have always been a particular weakness of mine. Whether it’s shredding the controller in Guitar Hero, Dancing all Night win Persona 4, crawling through Crypts of the Necrodancer, or simply making Shapes N Beats, music always seems to worm its way into my own rotation. Now, Old School Musical is ready to rock PC and Nintendo Switch with a mix of nostalgia-fuelled narrative and a mix of melodies.
Old School Musical’s wacky retro themed escapade is the work of indie team La Moutarde and certainly doesn’t fall into the well-worn grooves of something like Guitar Hero. Much like Headbang Club’s Double Kick Heroes, this particular arrangement plays out a narrative tale with a musical accompaniment. Where this differs from some other musical challenges is that this top-down adventure plays out the action in real time, while you tackle a range of chiptune inspired melodies.
While Old School Musical is a recent release, it owes a great deal to the turn of the last millennium. A time when video games made the leap from arcades into front rooms returns in Old School Musical with a tour of my very own childhood. Players set off from an idyllic looking Zelda knock off and, after a particularly unusual glitch, begin hopping between parallel worlds. Outrun, Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, Metal Gear Solid, and Mega Man are some of the more blatant nods to games gone by, with a few more recent incarnations on show too. The game’s humor is so left field of wacky that it appears to be in a different farm, and the plot makes about as much sense as you’d expect. More than a few obvious pot shots are squeezed into the game’s dialogue and the main characters even look like they escaped from the Twitch website. Nothing about the aesthetic here is subtle, but I don’t imagine La Moutarde, intended it to be. All in all, the kitsch aesthetic, pixel art animation, and the completely bonkers script make for a distinctly memorable experience, and that’s without even getting to the music.
Despite the unfolding narrative that makes up Old School Musical, a rhythm challenge is at the core of this game. As our two main protagonists slide between worlds, in the strangest take on infinite crisis I’ve seen to date, players must help them outrun a cataclysmic video game glitch by keeping time. This could involve infiltrating a military complex or running a dizzying platformer, all by completing a fairly traditional rhythm game. The Nintendo Switch, much like the PSVita, feels like a great home for rhythm games. The mobile platform already plays host to a range of musical interludes that can be picked up for just a few minutes or played for hours. The control system that surrounds the Nintendo Switch provides the same contorted challenge that full-size consoles like the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One can, so I was expecting something special. Old School Musical’s challenges are a mixed bag. While the music is fittingly authentic, with Zabutom’s Outrun inspired accompaniment feeling particularly well placed, the rhythm element feels a little lackluster. Elements of each track are particularly compartmentalized, and I found myself hitting the action buttons for a chorus then the shoulder triggers for a verse. Old School Musical rarely mixes these various aspects, meaning that the challenge feels about adequate.
Unfortunately, this is not my only issue with Old School Musical. While it takes aim and loads up witty one-liners, it’s likely you’ll miss a good amount of what happens on screen, as the gameplay unfolds behind your breakbeats. Still, this is not to say that Old School Musical is a bad game. It has a wonderful soundtrack, some ingenious, and utterly mad writing, that support an adequate rhythm game. The Arcade and Multiplayer modes provide a good amount of replay value to the game although I never felt compelled to go back and beat my existing scores in this instance. Old School Musical is a fine interlude but just does not stand up when compared to games like Persona 4: Dancing All Night or Superbeat: Xonic.