PeroPeroGames’ musical Muse Dash has gotten its well-deserved encore on PC and Switch. The rhythm-action started its life last year as a mobile exclusive but fits just as neatly on the big screens. Cutesy characters, enemies and environments are upscaled beautifully here with a couple of extra goodies thrown into the mix.
Muse Dash thrives on its limited control scheme. While naturally a product of the game’s mobile origins, the initial simplicity paves the way for high levels of intensity as you progress through the songs on offer. Choosing between three characters, each of whom has several different unlockable costumes, you face off against various foes rushing at you to the beat. ‘Notes’ from the song are represented through this array of obstacles alongside extra points, health items and bigger enemies. They keep their distance whilst sending flurries of projectiles your way, before closing the distance and letting you give them a button-mashing beatdown.
Notes either come high or low, requiring the player to press only two buttons in response but as rhythm games like Taiko Drum Master have taught us over the years, that is nothing to be underestimated. Throw in literal ‘ghost’ notes that fade out before reaching you and long notes requiring you to hold down the ‘high’ or ‘low’ button whilst still dealing with other enemies, and you are left with some impressively rapid chains that leave no time for breathers.
On the other hand, Muse Dash will equally satisfy players who do not wish to pursue such mania. Songs have a choice between easy, hard and master modes, although like most games of this genre every song has to be treated on its own in terms of difficulty. One song’s hard mode may be tougher than another’s master mode. Thankfully, an accompanying number level allows the player to work out the general skill level required in comparison to previous songs. On top of this, your choice of character matters too. Rin, Buro, Marija and all their respective costumes come with different advantages, such as health boosts, easier combos or extra experience points.
The latter is perhaps the most important from the get-go, as experience is necessary to unlock more songs, characters and elfins (little assistants that will aid your playing as much as they warm your heart). While song unlocks are rather straightforward, the latter two take a little more effort. Leveling up earns you ‘chips’, various types of tokens (like baseballs, or fish) that are linked to a particular character or elfin. With the low frequency of chips being awarded, it will take a considerable amount of song grinding to unlock everything, especially if you only own the base game. Said base game consists of 40 songs, with an additional 6 in a free pack, while the rest (including all future monthly releases) are unlocked via the pricier ‘Just As Planned’ DLC.
This isn’t to suggest that the base game alone fails to make for a full experience. There is enough content here, at a significantly lower cost, to give you hours of enjoyment either casually or competitively. There is even something of a final boss. The last unlockable song ‘MiLK’ serves as a true test of ability, and an important lesson that when the going gets tougher the player will need to get acquainted with following the rhythm, as opposed to the onscreen enemies.
Gameplay follows a faintly arcade-like structure. The transitions and loading times between finishing one song and starting another being surprisingly fast to keep the pace up, as well as an addictive ranking system encouraging the player to clear stages with all notes hit perfectly for an elusive golden S rank. A point-multiplying ‘Fever’ mode which can be manually activated once charged can create a strong urge for score-hunters to work out the optimal use of fever for each song to achieve the best possible result.
the initial simplicity paves the way for high levels of intensity as you progress
As for the music itself, the selection presented in the base game alone is top-notch, with an excellent mix of high paced electronic and Eurobeat hits, with some great jazz-influenced tunes and a fair share of vocaloids making their way in too, many of which will be hard not to bob along to.
The visuals are kept fresh by constantly changing backgrounds and enemies, all of which continue the cute theme throughout. Character designs are sweet (though some of the alt costumes are a little more than ‘sweet’), and everything is animated in an incredibly smooth and satisfying manner. Despite this, variety can become lacking for those not so fond of the J-pop scene. However, the art style and personality of the game makes the target demographic apparent to viewers.
While replayability is high, it also drags out the game’s length in a potentially unenjoyable way for those who desire 100% completion. Every song and every difficulty has its own set of achievements which can either offer an extra incentive to visit old songs or become a repetitive slog very quickly. Putting all of this aside, Muse Dash still offers enough with the main meat of its gameplay. It provides a stand-out rhythm action experience whether on handheld or console.