One genre of games is fading fast. Since the insurrection of Guitar Hero, the rhythm game gained ridiculous popularity, with gamers living out their dream (of sorts) as a virtual rock star. Thanks to the apparent commercial failure of Guitar Hero Live, rhythm games seem to have taken a hit. Now though, we have an underdog, and it’s at home on the Nintendo Switch. Humorously named Old School Musical, this game doesn’t take itself seriously, and it’s a rhythm game that every Switch owner should play.
You are Tib and Rob, brothers of a psychotic, abusive mother who leaves one day leaving nothing but a letter telling you to meet her at a communications tower. To get there isn’t easy, however, as the brothers must traverse many worlds through portals accessible from a space station hub. It soon seems apparent that the world as you knew it is getting plagued by glitches, and you need to save yourselves. The story is filled to the brim with blatant nods to classic video games as each level takes the form or theme of a familiar video game or franchise. The writing is superb too, chock full of hilarious tongue-in-cheek quips and jokes as the banter between Tib and Rob is one of the many highlights of Old School Musical. It’s really fun to identify the games that the worlds are inspired by. There is no faint inspiration here, they are straight copies and rips. Game series such as The Legend of Zelda, Fallout, Half-Life, Metal Slug and Outrun are but a few of the games you’ll see here.
Even though you’re playing as Tib and Rob, you don’t control them outright apart from a very small section about halfway through. Instead, you watch them as you tap the buttons as the corresponding D-pad arrows and shoulder button symbols strike the centre prompts in tune with the playing music track. It’s simple but quickly gets tough on hard difficulty. It definitely helps that the soundtrack is fantastic with original 8 and 16-bit arrangements that vary from pumping, fast-paced melodies to slow ballads. I often found myself nodding and tapping along with the music as Tib and Rob played out the task at hand in the background. Each track is separated into segments with small breaks in between as Tib and Rob interact with each other before the prompts continue. This helps you stay engaged with the story and the brothers.
The local-only multiplayer element ramps up the tension as up to 4 players share a health bar as they tap along with the music via the same button prompts as those seen in the single-player. It was a great subject during a family night in or a prelude to a drunken night out with friends.
After completing the story, I was pleasantly surprised by the addition of a new set of levels. Hilariously named Chicken Republic: The Untold Story of Old School Musical, this changed the game into a turn-based RPG where you fight herds of chickens whilst the button prompts spontaneously warp and change to make the challenge much more difficult. It was a welcome extension to the game as I was saddened when I had finished the main story.
My only complaint about Old School Musical is the lack of real reward for playing well. Unlike games such as Guitar Hero where chaining notes gave you Star Power. which boosted your score and kept your rating meter filled, there was nothing like that in Old School Musical. Successful button presses fill up your health meter, capping off with FURY in rainbow-coloured letters, but it never really meant anything. It doesn’t give you special powers or boosts your score, in fact, I couldn’t find anything different that it did.
Old School Musical is a fantastic rhythm game that not only gets your head nodding and foot tapping, it’ll keep you laughing too. Sure, it’s a game about the end of the world, but it never takes itself seriously, and it’s rammed with references to classic retro video games.
Developer: La Moutarde
Platforms: Switch, PC
Release Date: 13th September 2018