Any rhythm game fan has heard of the Taiko no Tatsujin series, whether they’ve played it or not. Arcade cabinets with huge Japanese taiko drums, loud music, and more BOOM BOOM BOOM BASS than pretty much any other rhythm game. That’s the one.
Recently, the West got its second-ever taste of this long-running series, with Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum ‘n’ Fun releasing on the Nintendo Switch and Drum Session! making its way to the PlayStation 4.
This is an exciting time for rhythm fans because both games have been minimally changed from their Japanese-release counterparts, unlike Taiko Drum Master on the PlayStation 2, which featured its very own tracklist of terrible covers of English songs… and the North American Dragon Ball Z theme. But hey, at least it came with a drum.
The Nintendo Switch’s motion control option and the sheer nostalgia from the inclusion of Cha-la Head Cha-la from Dragon Ball Z pushed me toward purchasing Drum ‘n’ Fun over Drum Session! first.
This was probably a mistake.
The motion control issue
Drum ‘n’ Fun has three separate innate control options: pressing buttons on the Joy-Con, using the touchscreen, and using the Joy-Con motion controls. The first two are great, the third is almost torturous.
I’ve played a few Switch games that use motion controls before and it’s gone fine, but not many titles — or even genres — require the sort of precise inputs and timing rhythm games demand. The Joy-Cons are not up to the task of accurately air drumming.
Three things happen on the regular with motion controls:
- Phantom tapping, particularly after a drum roll or other rapid-note segments
- The gyro not reading the direction the Joy-Cons are tilted when trying to hit Ka instead of Don
- The Joy-Cons not reading an input even though you definitely made a motion
I do not know how some Japanese players are able to clear Extreme difficulty using the Joy-Cons, but after playing for a week or so, I’m fairly confident you either have to be in the top percentage bracket for wrist control worldwide or be some sort of Joy-Con wizard.
But enough complaining — if you’re like me, you may want to push forward with the Joy-Cons anyway, in part due to the challenge and perhaps, in part, because buying those drums costs over $100 and you don’t have that kind of scratch right now.
Dealing with the Joy-Cons
So you’re a masochist, huh? Cool.
Learning to play somewhat competently with the Joy-Cons takes form and practice. Drum ‘n’ Fun‘s built-in tutorials are basically useless, so you’re somewhat on your own outside of this barebones text guide and some videos of players having at it.
Before I get to my personal tips, take a look at the tutorial video from the official Japanese website. You don’t need to understand what’s being said to get the gist.
If you’re like most players, you’re probably having a lot of trouble hitting Ka (blue) notes reliably. As you can see in the video above, to hit them on a regular basis you have to tilt/twist the Joy-Con to a 45-degree angle — but, this isn’t something you’ll actually have to do in full once you’re used to the Joy-Cons.
These bits of advice are supposed to help you acclimate yourself to drumming using the Joy-Cons, but in time, you will find your own methods that work.
When I first decided to learn to make the Joy-Cons bow before my will, I stuck hard to these rules. As I became more familiar with the overall wonkiness of the motion controls, I loosened up and found other methods and positions that worked better for me.
Here are some tips.
Hold the Joy-Cons so they are fully in your hands to start
Don’t grab half the Joy-Con, grab the whole thing like your life depends on it.
As you get better, you’ll find holding positions that may work better for you but to start, grip the entirety of the Joy-Con to ensure there’s no wobble to your hits.
Flick the wrist; don’t move your whole arm
This gets painful if you’ve got the ol’ carpal tunnel, but flicking your wrists is the quickest and easiest way to get the Joy-Cons to read your movement accurately.
The game will not ever accurately read wide, broad arm strokes, and on more difficult songs, you simply do not have the time for broad strokes. Stick to wrist flicking and move your way up to forearm motions as you become more comfortable.
Choose your resting angle
How do you hold your Joy-Cons when idle? One might say you can hold them in any position, but you have to think about how your wrists and arms are going to move and what angle they’re coming from for semi-accurate motion readings.
After watching some videos, I started holding my Joy-Cons at a 90-degree upward angle. This did help, but over time, I’ve started being more relaxed and hold them tilted a little more forward. After all, your motions are what matter most.
You don’t have to hold your Joy-Cons at a 90- or even 45-degree angle (you can hold them horizontally, even), but the goal is for you to learn to control your wrists and arms from a stationary position. Choose an angle and try to stick with it, but adjust if you don’t feel you’re getting accurate timings or are getting the wrong notes.
Ka woes, angle-swiping, and the game’s newb-friendliness
As mentioned earlier, the only way to always get the game to recognize your Ka hits is to swipe the Joy-Cons at a 45-degree angle inward. You may have to do this particularly hard as you get used to hitting these notes but as with everything else mentioned here, your motions will become more fluid as you familiarize yourself with the control wonkiness.
There is one aspect the game fails to ever mention and may very well be a fun-killer: Drum ‘n’ Fun reads Don and Ka independently, but as one another.
What this means is, you can hit Dons for Kas and vice versa. You could theoretically play the game hitting nothing but Don notes and it will read them as Ka notes in the appropriate places.
I really dislike this “feature,” but with the motion controls being what they are… I’ll take it. If you don’t believe me on this, go test it out. You’ll find out pretty quickly the game does not care which note you are hitting, it only cares about timing. A bummer for sure.
Phantom notes, a.k.a. the drum roll plague, a.k.a. choose a character who will do them for you
If you have done a drum roll even once in Drum ‘n’ Fun, you’ve felt one or both of your Joy-Cons let off a phantom note. Clearly, they do not like being shaken.
In a game that requires such accuracy, these phantom notes are full combo killers. The only way to win versus these phantom notes is to cut out the middleman and not do them at all.
Luckily Drum ‘n’ Fun allows you to choose characters, each with their own skills. Currycutta is the first character you’ll get who will take that burden off your shoulders as it will auto-drum roll and do balloons. That leaves only one rapid-drum variation left, and those are generally manageable.
This is kind of a crappy way to get around the game hitting phantom notes, but I will say that it has significantly increased my enjoyment of the game as phantom notes happen far less frequently if you just let the game do drum rolls for you. Again, this is kind of crappy because doing drum rolls is really fun and it’s an integral part of the Taiko no Tatsujin experience.
I don’t know if I’m crazy or I just hate myself, but I’m going to keep playing with the Joy-Cons until I either get Drum Session! with a PS4 drum and Switch adapter. I’ve never rage-played anything to this extent in my entire life.
Perhaps it’s simply excitement or love for the Taiko no Tatsujin series, who knows. All I know is I can’t stop playing regardless of the motion controls being less-than-desirable. Getting good enough to reliably play Hard or even Extreme with these things is going to require a lot more control than I have.
Hopefully, my advice will help you on your path to Taiko enlightenment, but let’s be real: It’s a lot easier and more fun to shell out $100+ for a drum than it is to even do halfway well in Drum ‘n’ Fun using the motion controls.