Title: Mad Rat Dead
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Release Date: October 30, 2020
Reviewed On: Switch
Mad Rat Dead happens to be a game I knew literally nothing about before playing. And to be honest, I’m glad I didn’t because it turned out to be such a bizarre, entertaining mesh of normally disconnected concepts that blend and creates something magical.
During Mad Rat Dead, you play as a rat simply named, Mad Rat. After dying from being dissected by a human, he desires nothing more than vengeance against his murderer. A strange being appears, calling itself the “Rat God,” and grants him the ability to turn back time and live through his final day again to fulfill that wish.
The narrative sounds strange but relatively simple in concept. However, believe it or not, this story gets far deeper and intricate than what lays on the surface, with unexpected plot twists abound. By the end, I found myself legitimately invested and emotionally impacted. While I would not say this title’s main draw is its story, it is not something to be slept on. It is amazingly competent, with genuine, heartfelt writing that can really pull you in. I can’t say much more than that, though, since experiencing it blindly can really enhance the enjoyment.
The gameplay is where Mad Rat Dead truly shines, albeit with a few blemishes that detract from the overall experience. This is a rhythm platformer, a rare but not unheard of hybrid. Players control Mad Rat by jumping, charging, and dashing to the song’s rhythm that is playing. A UI at the bottom expertly dictates when the beats arrive, alerting players when they should perform an action to keep up with the beat.
While players do not always have to consistently follow the rhythm to survive or get through the stage, pressing buttons in time with the beat offers great boosts in speed. That boost is sometimes required to reach far off platforms or get past widely placed obstacles. Following beats and pressing buttons at the correct time will also result in a higher rank. This is definitely better grasped through experience rather than explanation due to its rhythmic nature. A title I can compare this to is Crypt of the Necrodancer due to it following the same general philosophy of moving with the rhythm.
As you move to the beat, you may get yourself into some trouble. Luckily, you can also turn back time after getting hit, which does feel a little arbitrary and tacked on for gameplay purposes, but it does serve a function in the main plot so that I can excuse it for that much.
When you get into the rhythm of a song and traverse stages with nothing but just your reflexes guiding you, Mad Rat Dead is pure bliss. This holds especially true thanks to the masterful soundtrack. Any rhythm game worthy of its salt requires a catchy, engaging soundtrack, and Mad Rat Dead certainly does not disappoint. With a mix of super high tempo, fast-paced tracks to slow and melancholic ones, this title provides a solid music selection. The tracklist is not particularly large, but there is definitely quality here.
So, for the most part, Mad Rat Dead is an addicting, fun time. There is one issue that really holds it back for me, though, that being jump attacks. This may sound oddly specific, but the way this mechanic functions is inconsistent and unreliable. Sometimes in stages, and more often in the later ones, you will have to attack multiple air enemies to get past a wide bottomless pit. For reasons that I couldn’t quite identify, this simply doesn’t work sometimes. Regardless of proximity to the enemy or how soon you try to trigger it, the jump attack just does not function at points.
Whenever it worked, it felt absurdly random, and I had no idea what I did differently. This was the main issue that really held me back from enjoying some of the stages to their fullest extents. For example, I would be pretty close to an enemy or time it just after a previous jump, but it just would not go through. I could certainly be misunderstanding how this works, and if that’s the case, I retract any negative statements. Still, as it stands, this mechanic is the sole, stark blemish on an otherwise engaging rhythm platformer.
Additionally, while boss battles are few and far between, they felt a little too gimmicky and did not feel like they properly synergized with the rhythmic aspect of this game whatsoever. They felt more like traditional platforming title boss fights, with the rhythm itself not playing much of a prominent role. It isn’t a huge issue mind you, just came off as a bit odd and jarring compared to the normal stages.
It’s also possible to replay any of the stages with different tracks, which really heightens replay value since you aren’t shackled to a single track per stage. There are also in-game trophies you can earn for achieving S ranks, among other such accolades.
Mad Rat Dead is a quality rhythm-based platformer that you may not have been expecting. If you can get past the problematic jump attack, you get to experience a blissful and upbeat soundtrack across an addictive gameplay loop and surprisingly unique story.
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