Review: Muse Dash (Switch)

PeroPeroGames and X.D. Network very recently recognized the first full year of its mobile title Muse Dash, and, hot on the anniversary’s heels, the title makes its debut on Nintendo Switch and Steam PC on June 20. The Nintendo Switch version takes an “all-inclusive” purchase approach compared to its other versions, which serves up approximately 100 music tracks in one of the flashiest and most addictive titles in the Switch’s already impressive rhythm gaming library.

The setup for Muse Dash is quite simple – players can eventually choose one of three characters (with each having multiple variants). As the characters run along a path, they have two note lanes that can be triggered by tapping on the left or right side of the gamepad or using controller buttons. Despite only having two lanes, Muse Dash still throws a lot of variation at players by having multiple enemy types to fight during each song.

As expected, there are standard notes to tap and hold, but there are specialty enemies such as ghosts that fade away like “hidden” notes, and jumping enemies and trap mallets that swing in like “sudden” notes. The game also throws sawblade traps at the player, tasking them with tapping the opposite lane in order to avoid them. Boss characters fly in during high points in the song to throw out notes with different skins, and sprinkled through some of the downtime of the songs are icons that can be collected in either lane to increase score or hit points.

The hit points play into the game’s action premise, as players use the rhythm elements to build score and achievements, but clearing a song is a matter of not being defeated by the enemies. As such, players can miss as many notes as they wish as long as they are not making direct contact with the enemies and traps. The hit point mechanic also brings the different characters’ abilities into play, with the characters having differing HP totals and bonuses affecting score and defensive buffs/healing.

Breaking everything down, there is a large amount of content in this version of Muse Dash. The Nintendo Switch version of Muse Dash has a $30 price tag, but this includes the base game and unlockable tracks, along with groups of songs that were DLC offerings in the mobile version of the game. Nearly all of the songs have at least an easy and hard difficulty, but the majority also offer an unlockable “master” difficulty once you score an “S” rank on the hard difficulty chart. My Switch profile lists my Muse Dash play time at “10 hours or more,” and I still have a decent handful of difficulty charts waiting for me to submit a score.

Players are given “perfect” and “great” ratings based on their input timing, along with a tally of any missed notes and traps (sawblades) successfully passed without taking damage. On top of a score, these ratings give players a letter-based rank, with 90% or more granting the “S” rank needed to unlock the extra difficulty. The game features a lengthy list of achievements, as well as occasional challenges that refresh after a period of time.

Clearing songs, using character abilities and meeting challenge/achievement requirements grants the player experience points toward leveling up their profile. Leveling up not only unlocks a handful of new tracks for the player to access, but also inventory items. Once the player collects enough of these items, they begun to unlock new character variations and avatars that grant different abilities and new illustrations that display during load times.

The beginning of the game offers a pretty smooth leveling progression, as players should unlock most of the tracks up to experience level 55 without having to repeat much. However, unlocking the game’s other items is a much slower grind. Having the extra songs by default in the Nintendo Switch version makes this process a little easier to swallow, as I was able to play through at least one chart for each song through most of the leveling.

Still, eventually getting access to the abilities that increase your score and help you clear harder stages helps when it comes time to replaying songs. Each difficulty chart for the game’s songs has its own scoring leaderboard to challenge, and players will get the benefit of seeing leaderboard progress by being able to revisit songs with characters and avatars that boost their scores.

Muse Dash is further boosted by some great presentation that features very colorful and clean anime-inspired visuals. Players have a variety of costume types for each character, and each song is given a “theme” that completely changes up its background visuals and enemy types. Just by changing this coat of paint, Muse Dash offers visuals that keep the action fresh for the player’s eyes.

Some players will likely be put off by the fanservice nature of the game, but the game previews and ESRB rating doesn’t hide this fact, so there shouldn’t be many surprises on that front if that is a purchasing factor. Still, there is some really cool artwork done of the characters that can be viewed in a gallery. The game also features very expressive character details – I always enjoyed the detail of the character Buro dangling along as her mech runs through each stage and some of the enemies get humorous grimacing expressions as they are smacked down by the player.

The controls in Muse Dash are an example of how the game provides a simple concept, yet implements mechanics around it to provide depth.

The game’s menus are very clean, and are definitely inspired by the selection wheels of some other music game titles. Muse Dash sticks the DLC groups into separate categories the player has to navigate through, but there is a category option to group the songs the player marks as “favorite.” I found this to be extremely handy to keep my most-played songs in one place. For some reason, through, I always had to manually toggle the leaderboard feature for the game to register my scores. It isn’t anything difficult to toggle, but you risk losing a good score for submission if this sticks around in the game post-launch.

The music in Muse Dash definitely hits the electronic niche, but there are still a good range of subgenres included to provide a variety of styles. A wide range of BPM measures are included, and, while electronic rules the track list, you still get elements of house, classical, vocaloid, pop, trance and more. A guest song sneaks in courtesy of the game Musync, music acts such as Morimori Atsushi and cranky surface in the song list and NOMA’s “Brain Power” slides in for another music game appearance.

The music rings through in great quality as expected, and, being an action game, hitting a command results in a clap/tick sound effect to help players judge their timing. The game’s characters are also voiced to provide the game more personality. As expected out of a music game, Muse Dash definitely does its job in the sound category.

The controls in Muse Dash are an example of how the game provides a simple concept, yet implements mechanics around it to provide depth. The game only requires players to use one of two inputs (although there are doubles notes that require simultaneous presses), which makes the game very easy for players of all skill levels to understand. The Swtich’s touchpad works just fine for this game, but most of my Switch play is done lounging around and using the attached Joy-Cons. This method works just as well, although I noted the “D-pad” style buttons used in default for the top lane of notes didn’t always handle very rapid button presses (“jackhammering”) well.

The frantic gameplay on top of the simple setup is where Muse Dash really nails it. Even with only two buttons to press, the game throws a variety of enemies at the player, and the character actions keep the visuals of each stage engaging. The beginning of the song wheel tends to keep the difficulties between 1-6 for the easy, hard and master charts, helping to ease the player into the game. These difficulties peak at level 10, but I feel the game kept the difficulty curve at a satisfying level – even at the master level, there were plenty of 7 and 8 ratings, which is the point were I personally still feel relaxed in playing the game. Seasoned rhythm game players should get a lot of mileage out of the higher difficulties, though, as the level 10 charts are quite challenging and provide frantically-satisfying action, and a few tracks even rate higher.

Going into the game, it appears the difficulty rating reflects the rhythm aspects of the song chart, and perhaps this is misleading, as some of the action elements, such as the enemies that spring “hidden” and “sudden” elements and the sawblades, can really elevate the difficulty – especially in a blind play. I still feel most of the charts are very fair, but, especially in the faster songs, it can be difficult to catch a few visual cues. The mallets that swing into the playfield have a “super-sudden” element to them in faster songs, and when bosses spawn a sawblade, they originally have a ball-shape, which can be visually misleading for a split second.

Overall, while the concept of smacking down enemies in time to music isn’t new, Muse Dash hits the points of a quality music game quite well. It has very colorful visuals with a lot of style, a fully-featured track list, multiple difficulties for each track, a stretch of unlockables, individual leaderboards and slight variations in how the player can play the game in its characters. The Nintendo Switch version still has that hint of “mobile game grind” in the latter half of its unlock progression and a couple of minor user interface hindrances, but the rhythm action hook of the game gives a ton of depth to a game that looks very plain to play on the surface.

(Bemanistyle was provided a Nintendo Switch review copy of Muse Dash by its publisher for the purposes of review. The game will also release on Steam for PC June 20, and is already available as a mobile app title.)

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