- Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
- Publisher: NIS America
- Release Date: 30/10/2020
- Price: £35.99 / $39.99
- Code provided by NIS America
Introducing Mad Rat Dead Switch Review
I’ll be honest, I hadn’t actually beaten a NIS game before this review. I tried out a couple their games, but they ultimately were not for me. But when I saw a rhythm platformer was their newest release, I instantly knew what had to be done. My favourite rhythm game ever is BIT.TRIP Presents… Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien, which is also a blend of rhythm and platforming. Does Mad Rat Dead manage to dethrone that? Or is it as dead as the titular Mad Rat is?
A Heartwarming Tale
I honestly thought Mad Rat Dead would have a setup, an ending, and nothing in between. But I’m glad I was wrong! At the beginning of every level there is a cutscene, and thankfully the story isn’t bland or generic that the cutscenes ever got annoying. The basic premise is that, after being experimented on for his whole life, a poor little rat dies.
But upon death, he meets a Rat God, who takes pity on him. She gives him the ability to rewind time, letting him relive the last day of his life. After being asked what he wishes to accomplish with the time he has left, he replies with his one goal: killing the human who experimented on him. Also, his heart can talk, so that’s a thing!
The game’s title is very literal, as Mad Rat is not very sane, and not very alive. But finding out how and why he’s insane, seeing Mad Rat actually develop his character, and the honestly pretty charming dialog between Mad Rat and his heart really threw me for a surprise. The story isn’t going to be what I remember about this game, but it’s a really nice supplement to the gameplay and I’m glad it’s there.
Mad Rat GOAT
And boy oh boy, is the gameplay the story supplements good. Like the title, the gameplay is about as literal as a rhythm platformer can get. You can only move in time to the beat. Sure, you can hobble left or right extremely slowly without timing anything, but the main form of movement – dashing, jumping, homing attacking enemies and stomping all has to be done in the beat.
What ends up happening then, is that your brain almost gets rewired as you play. The starting stages are pretty easy, but I still found myself occasionally forgetting about the rhythm and just trying to react instantly to whatever was happening. But when it clicks, it’s like clockwork. Perfectly moving in sync with the music, thinking several steps ahead and letting your fingers play it all out to the beat – it’s honestly entrancing.
It’s a good thing that it doesn’t take too long to click, as this game gets hard. There are levels where the music is going faster than you can think, and you have to stop for a second to take it all in. So how does Mad Rat Dead prevent this from getting frustrating? Well, with the main story gimmick! Whenever you die (or whenever you feel like, if you press L and R together), you can just rewind!
In a League of its Own
However, this doesn’t mean you can rewind to your hearts content – the game does two things to prevent that. For one, there’s a combo meter, tracking how many beats in a row you hit. You can miss beats and it won’t drop it, but being too early or late, or dying drops the counter. The lower your highest total (as well as the longer it took you to beat the level), the worse your rank at the end.
The other thing is that in every level there’s a timer constantly looming over you. You can collect these small green triangles to fill it back up, but for the most part, the timer shouldn’t be too big of a deal. There were a couple of extremely tricky parts in a level where I rewinded so much that I ran out of time, but replaying the level, knowing exactly what to do, actually made me feel great, instead of disappointed that I ran out of time.
There are only a few things gameplay-wise that I take issue with. For one, because the game starts off rather easy, you’ll see certain level design ideas be reused a few times. Though it’s honestly not that big a deal as it’s a good way to have a brief moment’s respite mid-level. What was a big deal for me however, is what I can only sum up as the world’s most finicky homing attack.
Die to the Beat
I shan’t get into the nitty gritty because it’s honestly way more complicated than it should be, but the homing attack reticule not appearing was by far my most common cause of death. You eventually get the hang of it, but a lot of lives were wasted due to how unclear the system is. And finally, there’s the fact that some songs change tempo mid level.
Since you can only perform moves to the beat, it felt crushing every single time I suddenly got a miss because the song drastically slowed down, and I wasn’t paying attention to the bottom of the screen (because, you know, I was trying to platform). Even in the very final level, that still happened. Sure, my issues can be fixed with practise, but those frustrations can add up in a first playthrough. And because you die in one shot, there are also a few occasions where you can get blindsided by some boss or falling object which doesn’t have a clear enough tell.
But thankfully, the rewind system does a lot to not make it feel overbearingly difficult when the song changes tempo, or when an enemy falls out of the sky. Though saying that, I gave the hard mode a spin (which adds extra beats in), and I could barely look at Mad Rat – the extra beats are oddly unpredictable, meaning your attention is torn between the two… it’s a fun, but very difficult addition.
Mad Rat, Mad Bop
Now, what would a good rhythm game be without a killer soundtrack? Well, I’m pleased to inform that Mad Rat Dead‘s soundtrack is captivating. There’s not a single miss in the entire OST. For my reviews thus far, I would find myself looking up the OST if it wasn’t too memorable – but the opposite happened with this – from the moment I started I couldn’t get the music out of my mind! Even if it weren’t a rhythm game, I would absolutely not be able to hold myself back from at least tapping my foot to the music.
And thankfully there’s even an (admittedly somewhat lacking in features) sound test, allowing you to practise staying in time with the music. The game also looks pretty great too. It’s nothing state of the art, but it’s got a clean and cartoony presentation with very fluid animation. I played about 50/50 in handheld and TV mode, and unfortunately in both modes there are points where the game can occasionally lag (which, in a game about being precise with button presses, is very disorienting), but the issue is rare enough that I didn’t mind it.
Apart from that though, Mad Rat Dead is a very polished game. Sure, there was a chunk of this review dedicated to the issues I have with this game, but that’s because I love it so much. Seriously, this is one of the best games I’ve played that has come out this year. I’m sure some of that has to do with the fact that the music is so good (great music in a game can really make or break an experience for me), but even despite that, the core gameplay is so immensely fun.
I see this being a game I constantly replay, in part to get better at it, but also because I just can’t get enough of it. This is the closest I’ve come to giving a game our best rating, but my love of the game is not enough to overlook those few issues I mentioned. But I still highly recommend this. Heck, there’s even a demo which lets you play through the first world. If you get any enjoyment from that demo, I can guarantee you’ll love the full thing.
- A banging soundtrack
- Funky gameplay
- A surprisingly lovely story
- Occasionally frustrating deaths
- Sometimes repetitive level design
You’d be mad not to give Mad Rat Dead a chance. The tough but joyous gameplay and the jamming soundtrack make this hard to put down