Rhythm games have evolved in many ways over the past few years, but I would argue that none thus far explored the minigame package genre as great as Rhythm Heaven. (Or is it…Paradise?) Whatever your region was, I believe it’s safe to say that the series was truly a pioneer of its time. And this is what probably spurred the development of Melatonin, an indie game about rhythm and dreams.
Throughout this game, you play as a nameless young man who falls asleep after what seems to be a long day of work. During that time, he starts dreaming about various scenarios, and each of them is represented by a different rhythm game, followed by a medley at the end of each world containing a bit of every game you’ve played.
If that sounds familiar to you, then yes, it’s the exact structure of Rhythm Heaven. In fact, the credits scene does specially thank Ko Takeuchi and Tsunku. But what Melatonin does differently from that series is instead of using the same inputs every time, the games can slightly vary with the button inputs.
Furthermore, you can also take things a step further, as each and every minigame has its own harder version, with way more off-beats and far trickier timing. And if all that still isn’t enough for you, there’s an Editor mode where you can make your own beatmaps, though the interface is a tad clunky.
Before every minigame starts, you’ll be given a tutorial containing all of the cues it will utilize. And said cues are beautifully crafted with the theme. While some were difficult for me to grasp at first, it gradually became easier to distinguish half-beats from full-beats. However, the visual cues would sometimes no longer appear, requiring you to figure out when to press the button solely based on the audio. Thankfully, you can always enable both a metronome and a cue circle in the settings to help you get accustomed to the rhythm.
Instead of being graded by your overall rhythm, Melatonin features a gauge that goes up depending on how many Perfects you’ve obtained. Filling up that will earn you stars, and in order to play the medley, you need at least eight of them, meaning you need to get at least two stars in each minigame.
If you manage to get every beat perfectly, you’ll also earn a Perfect icon, which is displayed on the top right alongside your Hard Mode Rings and Score Mode Stars. Unfortunately, that’s all it does for the most part.
It would’ve been nice if there was a way to exchange your rings and stars for extra notes that would give more insight into the main character’s story because the only aspects that vaguely taught me about him were the intros and outros of each night and some minigames.
As each and every one of the stages is supposed to be you in a dream, they’re all adorned with bright graphics combined with an extremely pastel tone. However, in my case, the bright colors did tire my eyes at some point. Luckily, there are some contrast options in the Accessibility menu. Even so, I would’ve liked a way to apply a gradient map with different colors that aren’t so bright. Further, if each night perhaps had a different color palette, that would certainly add much more charm. Still, that is just a minor critique.
Regarding playtime and content, there are only 20 games in total, plus five remixes, with the final one being a complete medley of all the games, so give or take, you’re looking at 80 minutes to clear everything Melatonin has to offer. Even if you add up all of the Hard Mode variants, you’re still very likely to finish this game within two or three hours, tops. However, the rhythm games are quite challenging, so if you’re the type that wants to get a Perfect on every single one, then I can’t even begin to imagine how many hours you would spend.
It also goes without saying that I absolutely adored the soundtrack in each and every one of those 20 games. In fact, so much so that even while I was writing this exact review, I was subconsciously humming to the rhythm, and that is something that doesn’t often happen.
Melatonin feels like a gorgeous love letter to long-time fans of the Rhythm Heaven series. Despite it being rather brief, the fact that every rhythm game has its own Hard Mode with a more challenging set, alongside the ability to create your own beatmaps, checks all of the boxes. If you’re looking to chill out and unwind from the sensory overload that some of its contemporaries have, Melatonin’s pastel colors beautifully represent relatable daily life and manage to form a great relaxing package that truly deserves noteworthy attention.
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