There is a subset of rhythm action games where you are required to have genuine rhythm. The player doesn’t react to charts and visuals, they have to play to the beat of the sound and lose the visual cues. Rhythm Heaven is a great example of this. Melatonin takes the Rhythm Heaven game series and translates it into a fever dream of beautiful cartoon graphic, lo-fi beats and some of the best rhythm action gaming I’ve had in years.
Melatonin is split into 4 nights, with each night containing four rhythm games to learn before tackling a fifth level that combines them all seamlessly. Some rhythm games rely on pressing a single button, some require you to press the left and right bumper buttons and a few require all three. Melatonin explains each level in practice mode and I recommend you practice every level because it teaches you not just the visual clues but the audio ones too. Each level will give you a selection of patterns to press out to the beat and the game uses audio clues such as bells, buzzers, percussion or melodic changes to inform you of what’s coming next. I love this because on normal mode, you’ll be supported most of the time with some visual clues, but in hard mode Melatonin will take a lot of those cues away. That’s where having an inner rhythm is very helpful but tapping your foot to the song can help a non rhythmic person a lot.
As the game is set in dreams (although some feel like strange nightmares at times), the visuals are trippy. I love the pencil and purple toned graphics as they feel inviting and creative. The hub worlds between levels are artistically done too and this all comes together beautifully when you are playing the end of night boss level where everything you’ve learnt is combined together. These levels will take time to perfect but getting a single star is set at quite a low bar to allow for players to progress if they are half decent. The soundtrack itself is a great example of music designed to work with the graphical palette and theme. The main melodies never take over like huge riffs that get stuck in your head but everything is melodically pleasant and a joy to listen to in game. I’m not sure I’d listen to the soundtrack outside of the game religiously but it works perfectly as part of this sleepy brain machine experience with added layers of surrealism.
When you complete the game, a custom level creator is made available. This allows you to drop all the different animation beats available for that level onto a 4/4 timeline bar so you can build harder or easier versions of each level for yourself. This is a great feature although it relies on you knowing how long each animation lasts for. Considering the whole game is built around hitting buttons either on or off each beat in a bar, I’d love to see these fill out their space in a timeline a bit like placing sound files into a timeline in a DAW. It does add some replayability to Melatonin though, which is handy as whilst everything that’s here is sublime and of the highest quality, there game feels like it is a few levels too short. It’s a very minor gripe though.
Playing Melatonin is a delight from start to end. It fully understands what rhythmic flow feels like as a player and a musician. When the game takes away the visual cues on hard mode and leaves you creating beats and melodies by audio triggers alone, there is a real sense of empowerment and pride when it all goes to plan. This is a must buy for any rhythm action or music game fan. Put simply, Melatonin is extremely satisfying and fun to play.
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