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Capsule Review: Muse Dash

A deceptively-simple Japanese-style rhythm game with a two-button control scheme, energetic soundtrack, smooth (if cheesecake-laden) visuals, and flow-inducing gameplay for a range of skill levels.

As with BIT.TRIP RUNNER or Bubsy: Paws on Fire!, the game is framed as a side-scroller with the player character constantly running to the right, but the player doesn’t have the freedom of an actual rhythm platformer. Threats come from the right side of the screen in one of two lanes: at ground level or above it. When the threat reaches the player character, the player must hit the correct button to “knock back” the threat - one button for the top lane and one for the bottom lane. (On mobile, instead of hitting a button the player taps the correct half of the screen.)

This simple control scheme makes the game quite approachable, but it also has a high skill ceiling - just one that doesn’t require memorizing the controller layout. Threats come in many variations, including ones that require hitting both buttons at the same time, holding one or both buttons, or mashing the buttons repeatedly. My personal favorite is the ghost which fades to invisibility as it approaches the player character, requiring the player to maintain a sense of rhythm to feel the right time to hit the button. My least favorite is the spinning gear, which must be dodged by hitting the button for the opposite lane, therefore inverting the usual meaning of the cues and damaging readability. On higher difficulties there are many more simultaneous threats that sometimes come at different rates, requiring faster and more complex actions in response.

The game features an unlock-based progression system. Each song can be played on multiple difficulties and has missions attached to each difficulty, including things like getting perfect timing on all threats of a certain type or getting an S-rank on the song multiple times. Playing a song gets you experience and completing missions gets you more. Experience causes you to level up which unlocks several things: more of the base game songs (all DLC songs are available immediately), loading screen illustrations, and passive-bonus-granting outfits and accessories. Level-ups come frequently and there’s a lot to unlock, so this can be an engaging progression - but some bonuses have significant effects on the scoring system, so high scores are essentially meaningless until the most powerful bonuses are unlocked.

The soundtrack varies in genre and style but is mostly electronic and mostly not English, featuring the sorts of songs you’d expect to find in a Dance Dance Revolution or Hatsune Miku game. The visuals are anime-inspired and smoothly animated, providing a handful of differently-themed backdrops and sets of enemies for the gameplay. It is worth noting that all the player characters are female and some of their outfits are revealing - it’s not too in-your-face during the actual gameplay and there’s never anything outright pornographic, but some loading screens and results screens can be suggestive.

On mobile and PC, the base game is inexpensive and comes with forty songs, making a low barrier to entry and more than enough content to judge whether you enjoy the game. If you do, there’s a single piece of paid DLC which costs significantly more and adds 78 songs at present - there are planned updates of six additional songs every month, all of which are to be included in the one-time purchase. Unfortunately, on Switch the DLC is combined into the base game in a single monolithic purchase with no demo, making it harder to try out before committing fully.

I Stopped Playing When: I liked the game enough to buy the DLC, but I slowed down considerably after finishing all the base game songs. I think this is mostly because the base game songs were ordered roughly by difficulty in a satisfying progression; the DLC songs are all just grouped into their packs of six and there’s no ability to sort them meaningfully, adding friction to the process of figuring out what to play next. But I still fire the game up and play through a song or two once in a while.

Docprof's Rating:

Three Stars: Good. I liked the game enough to finish it (or just play it a bunch, for games that don't end). I recommend it to most genre fans.

You can get it or learn more here.