Mad Rat Dead – Nintendo Switch Review

Overview – developed by Nippon Ichi Software and published by NIS America, Mad Rat Dead is a hybrid of side scrolling platformer and rhythm action gameplay. Match the beat of Mad Rat’s heart to the rhythm of the background music, jumping over hazards, avoiding obstacles and fighting monsters on your quest to the goal. This title is available on PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch, links to each version of the game will be available at the bottom of this review.

Disclaimer: before I get into the review, I want to thank NIS America for providing the copy of Mad Rat Dead that was used for this piece. The provision of this title has not influenced the contents of this review, all thoughts and opinions contained within are my own.

Now with the introductions out of the way, let’s get into the review, starting with the story.

Story – Mad Rat died in the middle of the night after being experimented on in the lab where he was born and raised. After his death, he encounters the Rat God who gives him the chance to relive his last day. Taking the opportunity presented to him, Mad Rat sets out on a quest to fulfill the only dream he has, revenge on the human that caused him to suffer. With only one day to achieve his goal, will he be able overcome the obstacles in his path or will it all be in vain?

Gameplay – Mad Rat Dead is a unique hybrid of side scrolling platformer and rhythm action, set to a pulse pounding soundtrack. The objective of each stage is to reach the goal within the time limit. To get to the goal, match the beat at the bottom of the screen to dash, jump, dance and stomp. Successful beat inputs will add to the combo meter on screen, building up for each well timed beat. However, a late/early input will cause the combo to reset and start over.

The game is separated into two stage types, Platformer stages and boss stages. Between stages, there are story segments that push the plot forward, often with humorous interactions between characters. During some of these segments, choices can be made with a simple yes/no style system, these choices may influence the end result of the quest but I won’t spoil what happens.

During platformer stages, Rat can collect shards that increase the beat timer, alongside hazards that can kill him in a single hit, including dangerous monsters, environmental hazards and dangerous pitfalls. When the player is hit or falls into a pit, a clock will appear allowing time to be turned back to try again, resetting the stage to the point chosen but shards don’t respawn and the timer continues to tick down. Be aware, if the timer expires the game is over, with the only options are to retry or go to title menu.

The boss stages feature the exact same mechanics as the platformer sections, however they each have their own unique objectives and hazards, further increasing the challenge presented to the player. To help give the player a guide on how close they are to the end of the current stage, a goal meter can be seen on screen and will fill up as progress is made. This can add tension to a difficult boss/platform stage as seeing how far away the goal is and a limited timer may cause some stress to the player.

At the end of a stage results are shown with a ranking given for the performance of the player and the song for that stage is unlocked for free play. The rankings given are determined by the number of beats left, the highest combo reached and the number of perfect beats hit. This system adds another layer of replay value to the game, proving players with a reason to return to the game to get the highest rank possible.

As well as the story mode, there is sound check, stage select and a trophy system. Sound check allows songs that have been unlocked to be listened to freely, with a practice prompt added to learn the beat of the song. Stage select gives the player the option to replay previously completed stages, with a choice of Normal or Hard difficulty and the ability to select the song that is played. The trophy system rewards players with titles for fulfilling requirements during gameplay, adding more reasons to return to Mad Rat Dead.

Now with the gameplay covered, I will be moving onto the other aspects of the game, starting with the controls.

Controls – the controls for Mad Rat Dead are simple and effective, both in design and execution. The face buttons are used for the actions, front shoulder buttons to activate the heart clock and the left stick to handle movement direction. The controls feel natural and comfortable when played with Joy Cons or a separate controller in either docked or handheld modes. The inputs are responsive and the vibration when hitting beats successfully provide positive feedback that is both satisfying and engaging during play.

Difficulty – there is a gradual difficulty curve with this release, getting tougher as the game progresses and the beats get more complex. In the normal setting, there is just a single type of beat to follow, whereas the hard setting introduces a second red beat that must have all markers within it hit to succeed increasing the challenge present .Through effective implementation of the rewind system, the overall experience isn’t too difficult and can be completed by anyone.

However, there is an issue that I must mention. When turning the clock back, the beat track continues from where the player was hit, potentially causing problems with timing inputs resulting in repeated failures. While the issue of interrupted beat timings upon restarting is a cause for frustration, it is not a major downside as there is no limit to the number of times the rewind feature can be used.

Presentation – the graphical style of Mad Rat Dead is both quirky and aesthetically pleasing, with creepy horror tones present during play. The characters themselves are designed wonderfully, with the cute style of the Rat God contrasting to the punk aesthetic of Mad Rat. The stages are also well made, however, they do have some faults as the foreground and background layers can blur together at points, making it difficult to see what is and isn’t solid ground.

The sound design is excellent, with a soundtrack that makes this release stand out above other rhythm action games. Using a mix of electro swing, dubstep and more to create a unique sound experience that gives Mad Rat Dead its own personality, utilizing the sounds of accordion, saxophone and bass to name a few. There is a lack of voice acting in this title, but that doesn’t detract from the overall enjoyment of the game as the sound effects used for character dialogue work just as well in this style of game.

Final Thoughts – I had a lot of fun while playing Mad Rat Dead, but also had my fair share of frustrations at the same time. While the action is smooth and responsive, the platforming was tough at times due to minor visibility issues and poor input timing on my end, causing several failures by unintentionally falling into pitfalls or colliding with hazards. But to be completely honest, the majority of failures I suffered were human error on my part once I had gotten used to the way that the rewind feature functioned.

This is an easy recommendation to make as the overall experience on offer is accessible to all, with enough complexity for fans of both rhythm action and side scrolling platform to find something to enjoy. The diversity of musical styles from the talented artists bring this game to life, while also providing a selection of music that can be enjoyed away from the game. I applaud Nippon Ichi Software on another fantastic genre defying release.

In the end, I give Mad Rat Dead a score of 4/5. This release is a fun and frantic mash up of platforming and rhythm action, featuring an entertaining story, a charming cast of characters and a toe tapping soundtrack that ties the whole experience together. If you want to check this title out for yourself, links to both versions of the game will be below (demos available).

Link to Nintendo Switch version (HERE)

Link to PlayStation 4 version (HERE)

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