Some times you play a game, and some times the game plays you. With Mad Rat Dead, it is the latter, and this is one of those games that equally pisses you off and sucks you right in. There is something so intoxicating about the loony tooney music and bright and colorful animations that make this a wild ride, but combining rhythm and platforming does not sound like a perfect recipe.
But how does Mad Rat Dead survive in the big world of video games? Is this a brand and a genre that deserves to stay alive? Or is this destined to live its final day knowing it will eventually die? Well, let’s find out.
Things do not start off so hot for the main character. You see, you are dead. A dead rat. And not just any normal dead rat, but a dead lab rat that was horribly handled by a scientist that had no sympathy or care for the creature.
Wildly, we find our little rat friend, Mad Rat, talking to a supreme rat being that tries to help him cope with the disastrous situation that he just endured, and this rat god does something special for this poor rat. She gives him one last day to live. Just one. And this gives our poor hero a new purpose. One that is dark, one that is hateful, and one that laser-focused on revenge.
This rat is going to kill that scientist no matter what.
This is such a fantastic little story to start things off, and it is actually a bit more customized than that. During the introduction, and even throughout the game, you are asked multiple questions about ethics and morality, and those choices play out through the story. Mad Rat Dead is an insanely twisted revenge tale, and I was hooked from start to finish.
There is just one problem, though, and it has to do with how the rat lives another day; It has to relive its last day, knowing that his demise is at the end of the rainbow, and in order to live and function, the rat’s heart is now subject to a constant rhythm that must be respected or else bad things will happen. This is the premise of the gameplay.
Every move you make and every jump you take has to be matched to the beat of the music playing within. Yes, this is a rhythm platformer unlike anything I have ever played before. Try to imagine if Super Mario Bros and Guitar Hero had a bizarre-looking baby, and that is pretty much what you get with Mad Rat Dead. For those who are fans of platformers, this is going to be a difficult one to adjust to because of the strict limitations of rhythm, and for those who are rhythm junkies, this is going to be difficult because timing your jumps and attacks are just as important as staying on beat.
There is something both special and infuriating about this blend of gamestyles, and I honestly could not stop playing. The music is so entrancing, and the colors are so eye-popping, and trying to figure out how to platform to the beat had me mesmerized. There is just something about this rat with a rhythmically beating heart that kept me going and going and going.
The actions are simple by platforming standards, and they are dash with A, jump and wall jump with B, downstrike with Y, and of course moving left and right with the joystick. Those actions can be doubled-up, but the second dash and second jump, for example, diminish in strength and distance upon the second attempt. Learning to mix up your approaches and attacks are vital as you move through the levels, which means there is no simple dependence on overusing any one action. This can be especially challenging in later stages.
To my surprise, the stages are not just simply “run right” stages like many typical platformers. Mad Rat Dead actually goes back-and-forth quite often, has some left-running areas, and there are even “boss” stages that require some really precise aiming and landing while, again, keeping to the beat of the amazing songs playing.
All right. Let me just get to the soundtrack now, because oh my goodness, is this so freakin’ good. Nippon Ichi Software outdid themselves here, and the hiring of many composers and musicians outside of their company made a huge difference. As I was playing the game, each new stage presents a new song, and there are about seven credited musicians throughout the game’s massive soundtrack (Which should imply that the game’s length is pretty beefy too).
It is difficult to describe the soundtrack, though, because it is so uniquely Mad Rat Dead‘s that it would be strange not to say it sounds “ratty”. The fusions of jazz, funk, pop, and rock flow through the entire song list, and they belong to The Rat. They are the beats of his heart, the rhythms that keep him going, and the flows that keep him alive until the end. This is a game where the music is so much part of the whole experience that it would be criminal to not praise how brilliantly it was written for a concept so out-of-left-field.
Mad Rat Dead is also a beautiful-looking game. The vibrant colors of a seemingly hallucinating rat are on full display, and it makes each and every stage look so much more positive despite the harrowing settings like the lab or the sewers. The sheer combination of the heart-beating tempo, the bouncing of the worn out and vengeful rat, and the soft clap as the ratings of your rhythm pop up make for an invigorating time.
Another cool feature in the game is the ability to rewind. In any given stage, if you fail, you are presented with a harsh screeching and halting of the music, and you can then rewind your heart up to ten beats, which is plenty of time to correct your actions for the most part. There were a couple times where I poorly executed some wall jumps and my ability to rewind did not allow me back to the bottom to start over, but this was honestly user-error more than the game’s fault and I was still able to get through the levels despite. But I can see that players who struggle with keeping rhythm may find points in the game to be nearly impossible due to these types of restrictions.
Each level also has a timer that counts down as you play, and this timer continues to go down even if you need to rewind. This means that levels do need to be cleared in a reasonable amount of time, and that means there is no room for lollygagging as you move your way through the areas. Thankfully, stages are sprinkled with little cheese-shaped items known as Dream Power that add to the timer, so this can be quite helpful for those that struggle.
Mad Rat Dead is honestly a game that took me by complete surprise. On the surface, I expected to dislike this game for just about every reason, but after the story, the characters, and the music won me over with their charm, the unique combination of rhythm and platforming sold me on a genre that I never would have thought could work.
This is an excellent game. Period. It is not only one of the most enjoyable rhythm games I have ever played, but this is a damn good platformer on top of that. When a game can take two seemingly polarizing genres and marry them together with great finesse, you are left with something truly special.
Mad Rat Dead is the unopposed king of rhythm platformers, and I honestly do not see anything dethroning it… ever.
Mad Rat Dead Review provided by NintendoLink
Review also available on OpenCritic
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Publisher: NIS America
Release Date: October 30, 2020
Price: $39.99, £35.99, €39.99
Game Size: 708 MB
Amusing story and characters
Gorgeous animation and art style
Rewind isn't always your friend
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My name is Jason Capp. I am a husband, father, son, and brother, and I am a gamer, a writer, and a wannabe pro wrestler. It is hard to erase the smile on this simple man.