Rhythm based platformers are a somewhat rare breed of game that has yet to see mainstream recognition. Games like Geometry Dash and the BIT.TRIP Runner series are critically acclaimed, but have yet to see anything more than moderate success. I think a large part of why these games have failed to connect with a larger audience is the same reason that games like Guitar Hero have not managed to stay popular after the initial novelty around them wore off; and that reason is a lack of any type of story or through line in the gameplay.
Many rhythmgames have little to keep players engaged long-term because the gameplay is so shallow that it is only enjoyable because it is paired with popular songs. Tadpole Treble solves this problem on three fronts; first, it is a unique rhythm game in that it is story driven; second, it has all original music that is actually good; and third, Tadpole Treble allows players to be creative in ways that is almost completely absent in other rhythm games.
The story in Tadpole Treble is the first sign that this game is not your average rhythm game. You play as the tadpole Baton, who hatches from her egg only to be immediately carried away from her home pond by a pelican. Never one to sit idly by, Baton struggles out of the pelican’s gullet and falls into a river far from her home pond, now Baton must swim her little self back to her home. But to get there, this little swimmer can’t just destroy a bathroom and then lie about being mugged. No to get back safe and sound, Baton must actually swim her way home like an amphibious Odysseus.
The gameplay in Tadpole Treble is fairly straightforward: you control Baton as she swims down river, piloting her past obstacles and around hungry predators to make it safely to the end of the level. At this point, Tadpole Treble sounds like an average runner game, however it’s the game’s music that informs everything about the level, from the design layout to the aesthetic style.
The river that Baton swims down has a staff (the 5 lines on sheet music) overlaid atop it, as Baton makes her way down river the enemies and obstacles are placed in the sequence of the musical notes of that level’s song. This puts the music at the forefront of the gameplay in a way that feels much deeper than a game such as Guitar Hero. And the songs are great, each feels totally in step with the game’s general feel of childlike adventure that you get from a great animated film, which makes sense since the creators are also behind the popular webcomic Brawl in the Family.
Tadpole Treble perfectly captures that feeling and it can be credited to the game being basically built from the ground up by two brothers. Having such a small creative team helps to ensure that nothing in the game feels out of place, every aspect of the game feels totally consistent with every other aspect, which is rare these days especially with a game that looks and feels as polished as Tadpole Treble. The fact that all of the music is original is especially impressive for a music based game. It is easy to feel a connection when a game’s music consists of a bunch of Journey songs that you’ve heard a hundred times, but having a great, totally original score is a rare thing in video games.
Beside having a fun and challenging single-player campaign, Tadpole Treble also has a highly detailed level editor that allows players to create their own levels, and by extension, their own music. To many, this will be the larger selling point of the game; the level editor is surprisingly deep, allowing players to arrange and customize a huge number of features in order create their own level.
However, while the level editor does give a whole host of game assets to play with, it isn’t so complex that it becomes prohibitive to young children or those who aren’t as musically inclined (such as myself). Creating a basic, functioning level is surprisingly easy, and learning to make more complex levels is just a process of steadily adding or changing these assets and seeing how they work with one another. Tadpole Treble’s level editor is one of the best examples of “learn by doing” that I’ve seen in a video game.
Last Updated: January 4, 2017