If you ever take a trip to Japan and drop by an arcade, you're likely to see Taiko no Tatsujin in some form, which loosely translates into the Taiko Master. A taiko is a traditional Japanese drum with origins dating as far back as the sixth century BCE, and also serves as a great game concept, which is where Bandai Namco's arcade series Taiko no Tatsujin comes in. The arcade cabinet consists of a large drum, two drumsticks, and a screen, and in Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum Session on PS4, the core concept carries over.
On the screen, the player is instructed by red and blue symbols telling them to hit the center or the rim of the drum. Small symbols indicate the player must hit the beat with one stick, while large symbols tell the player to hit with both sticks at once. Though the series itself has never been released in Europe, gamers in our part of the world may still know the game from its appearance in Yakuza 5 or its Gamecube equivalent Donkey Konga, which was developed by the same team. It's a simple concept that's easy to understand, and most importantly it's a whole lot of fun, especially when the player's presented with some familiar tunes that fit the virtual instrument wonderfully.
The series has never been introduced on the European market, while gamers stateside haven't played any games in the series since Taiko: Drum Master for PlayStation 2 in 2004. That's something Bandai Namco apparently wants to change, as all of a sudden, we have two games in the series released on the same day for PS4 and Switch respectively. The games are quite different in both content and gameplay, which means they require two separate reviews, and so here we are reviewing the PS4 version, Drum Session.
One of the main differences between the two releases is that the PS4 version will only be available digitally here in Europe. The lack of a physical release also means that the custom-made drum controller for the game is not available either (at least not through regular retailers), although those who desperately want a taiko controller for the PS4 can still import one from Japan. Still, the fact is that a lot of the series' appeal and fun is lost without said controller. To mash buttons on a DualShock like crazy doesn't feel quite the same, even though it still requires the player to feel the rhythm, and there can be no doubt that the absence of a taiko also leaves a certain void in the player's heart. This is quite apparent when performing drum rolls on the DualShock, which is a pain to master no matter what sort of button setup you choose to use.
That being said, the party factor is still alive here for those who enjoy music and rhythm games and all things Japanese. The simple core concept of red and blue symbols indicating whether to smash X or Y is kept, and yet this simple concept proves quite challenging when entering the higher difficulty levels. If two players face off they can choose different difficulty levels, which is nothing but amazing whenever you invite some of your friends who aren't as familiar as you with the latest J-pop and anime theme song trends.