It shows how much I like music rhythm games that despite my deep dislike for rats I was very much looking forward to Mad Rat Dead. I couldn’t even play A Plague Tale: Innocence because the rats were too much but the cartoon styling to Mad Rat Dead and similar looking gameplay to Crypt of the NecroDancer was more than enough to give this a look. Now on Switch and PS4 it’s time to slice up some cheese, put on some beats and see if it’s worth bopping along or if it’s a tall tail.
Mad Rat Dead is a 2D platformer where you have to keep moving at all times to the beat. Each button press counts as a beat with Circle as a forwards dash, X as 3 jumps, Square as a drop and Triangle as a charge spin to dash farther. There’s an almost Crash Bandicoot / ‘Splosion Man element where if you take damage or fall off the stage you die. Thankfully in Mad Rat Dead the game pauses (if you press l1+r1 this also does this) and you can rewind time a few seconds back to try again. What this melts into is a lot of trial and error. With a finite amount of beats per stage to get to the cheese wall end, you’ll be rushing into mistakes and rewinding constantly all in an attempt to learn how to progress faster.
For a music rhythm game where you zip through stages to beats I didn’t expect the story of Mad Rat Dead to go where it does. There is a strange focus on it throughout that although quirky and interesting doesn’t really add anything significant to the experience. There’s a reason every NPC refers to the titular rat as ‘Mad Rat’ and the ending is even more bizarre. I don’t really like rats but I can see people who like them being quite disturbed by some of the imagery. There’s rat’s with brains exploding out, dead ghosts and it starts with an autopsy. Everything is caricatures in the cartoon style of course but it’s still something to be aware of.
The characters and dreams in Mad Rat Dead do look fantastic and the twisted cartoon style of them stands out. It’s also cool how the stages are designed to be more muted to have the moving characters stand out but the problem is some platforms are more obvious than others. When you’re in a rush, you don’t want to be second guessing what’s safe to land on. The level designs repeat a lot, you’ll be fed up with the sewer stages by the third time through and although there are little changes each time, it feels like there could have been more variety throughout.
One thing Mad Rat Dead excels in is the music. It’s no surprise a music rhythm game has some great tunes but what’s a nice surprise is the variety at play. You can expect the big band bouncing beats of the title track throughout but there’s stages with jazz, jpop, trance and classic pop styles. When everything is going well Mad Rat Dead is great with the music improved by correct beat taps, you’re essentially extra percussion that gives it a little spice as you zip through the stage. The ability to go back and reply previous stages with unlocked tracks is a nice touch even if each stage is originally designed for one specific song.
If you know every stage and whizz through Mad Rat Dead it’s quite a short game (around 6 hours) but even in its current state it’s strangely longer than it needs to be. There are some surprisingly dark questions asked throughout but they don’t influence the game in a meaningful way and if you’re playing story mode and fail you’re doomed to rewatch the cutscene again (and answer the questions again) The boss fights feel both incredibly cheap and far too long. It’s all just padding a game that could have been incredibly fun. There are far too many frustrating moments as a result of the cheap trial and error gameplay and precision demanding platforming. You’ll be at a high combo and hit something you couldn’t have seen.
I was pretty excited for a new music rhythm game that wasn’t another Hatsune Miku or Rock Band but Mad Rat Dead doesn’t quite cut it. The soundtrack is fantastic and it’s bonkers that it’s not on Spotify or a streaming service (likely due to licencing?) I do highly recommend you have a look for it and give it a listen. The game is only for those with a high threshold for trial and error gameplay as the precision required is much higher than the game needs. It’s worth playing the demo to see if it’s your beat because it’s not going to be for everyone.
4/10 – not quite a dead mad rat yet
Code provided by EU Partner Relations – NIS America Inc. Check out NIS here