I like rhythm-based gameplay, chiptune music, and great pixel art. Old School Musical includes all of that and chickens. But does that mean I love Old School Musical? No. I like it a lot but I wouldn’t say I loooooove it.
I started my adventure where everyone has to start their adventure in Old School Musical, story mode. If you want instant access to every single track in the game, you won’t get that. To my pleasant surprise though, the story was… good. I’ve never chosen to play a rhythm game for the story before, so I can see why they force you to play it, but what’s here is surprisingly entertaining.
The heroes of our story are Tib (the short, sensible one) and Rob (the tall, rash one); we are introduced to their mother as well, who is inventively referred to as “Mother”. Mother has been aggressively training Tib and Rob for years, but you only get one two-minute tutorial and then the game is underway. The tutorial sadly neglects to mention that both the d-pad and the face buttons can be used for arrow inputs. This makes some of the faster patterns fairly painful to match. After you learn about that it gets much easier to match. I wish I’d realised this sooner cause my fingers would ache significantly less if I had.
Oh, an important point by the way; I highly recommend using a controller. God knows I would NOT be able to play this with a keyboard on difficult. And make it a PS4 controller at that; I cannot stand how tricky the Xbox d-pad is to use quickly.
So yes, back to the story. The world starts glitching, so Tib and Rob set off on their grand adventure to save the universe from these nasty errors. What I really, really like though is that every single world you pass through is a tribute to a retro game. Some personal favourites of mine were passing through the “Giga Men” world, clearly based off of Mega Man, and another was going up against what was basically Andross from Star Fox while a remix of Tetris Theme A played. There were other highlight moments in the story as well, such as one of the funniest fourth wall breaks I’ve ever read, which I won’t spoil, and a level where you ride an elevator with it’s classic funky elevator music, stepping out regularly to bat away headcrabs. And I should mention, I did genuinely find the dialogue funny; the level of parody on display here was perfect for me.
But you’re probably wondering, “Is the music any good?” I am a sucker for chiptune music and tracks that build up steadily, and there are tracks a-plenty to satisfy those tastes. Upbeat, funky, energetic; these are words I’d use to describe Old School Musical‘s soundtrack. The review copy came with the soundtrack DLC too, so I’ll be listening to that instead of playing occasionally since I suck at the game itself. I wish I was a rhythm-game prodigy, but I’m slightly above average at best. Which is where, the downsides come in.
Difficult in Old School Musical is difficult. That’s fine. However, some of the tracks are so difficult, I couldn’t even clear them on normal. This wasn’t so much a problem in the story (where I beat everything on difficult) but in the post-game campaign Chicken Republic, there are some absolute beasts lurking. This is made even worse by Chicken Republic’s unique feature. Each level adds some special visual effect or gimmick to the notes coming on screen that make it extremely hard to react to the patterns in time. And quite often, these effects are either funny or nausea-inducing. I don’t suffer from motion-sickness or epilepsy, but I would be wary playing this mode if you do cause it even made me uncomfortable at times. Never mind the fact these effects make the harder levels BULLSH- Sorry. Lost my cool for a second there. Chicken Republic was rage-inducing. I’m so grateful you can change the difficulty and restart at pretty much any time.
The main factor I measure a rhythm-game by though, is the “zone” factor. When I’m playing, can I enter that meditative state where I’m not even sure what buttons I’m pressing any more, but I somehow manage to keep the combo going regardless? And for the majority of my time with Old School Musical, yes, I can. The arrows slide on screen. I press the buttons. Everyone’s a winner. And the generous HP bar mechanic helps a lot with that. If you get a combo long enough you enter “hype” mode where every note you hit fills your HP bar, and every missed note does a small amount of damage. Depending on the situation it may do a bigger chunk of damage, but if you’re not missing everything you can usually make it through just fine.
So, would I recommend Old School Musical? If you like rhythm games, absolutely. If you like retro games and playing on easy, absolutely. If you have epilepsy or get travel-sick, maybe not. But that’s your risk to take. I got a solid 8 hours out of the main story mode and Chicken Republic alone, and I’m still trying for A ranks in the arcade. I feel like a lot of love was put into making this tribute to retro games, and it’s a great rhythm game to boot up when you just want to lay back, push some buttons, and throw your controller at the wall when the impossible combos roll in.
Old School Musical was developed by: La Moutarde
$13: Worth it despite it’s strange chicken obsession
A Steam review copy was provided by the developer
Stevie Patamon has awarded Old School Musical The Indie Gamer Team Seal of Approval