Mad Rat Dead review
There are few things I enjoy more than a particularly off-the-wall rhythm game. Don’t get me wrong: I love the clickety clack of a plastic guitar as much as the next person, but weird stories and unusual gameplay is what I truly want from a musical experience. Rocking out on stage may be a dream for some people, but wouldn’t you rather use the power of music to learn karate or survive a zombie apocalypse? Nippon Ichi clearly had my taste in mind when creating their new rhythm platformer hybrid Mad Rat Dead.
The titular Mad Rat isn’t having the best day. Life as a lab rat isn’t easy at the best of times, and unfortunately for our hero today is the day he dies. After his scientist captor ends his life, he is greeted by The Rat God and offered one final wish. Mad Rat has only one thing in mind: revenge, and fortunately the rodent deity is willing to help with that. Mat Rat is given the power to relive his final day, with a new heart that gives him the power to rewind time.
To reach your killer, you’ll need to traverse many obstacles and environments. To make your way through a stage you’ll need to perform one of your four actions to the beat of the music. Your options are to dash forward, jump, drop straight downwards, or charge your next ability. Each stage has its own background music with a different BPM, and these actions won’t work unless you hit the button to the beat shown at the bottom of the screen. Chaining the abilities to the music is instantly satisfying, but using them to avoid spikes or fire under time pressure isn’t easy while keeping your rhythm.
If you do end up taking a hit, you’re immediately given the opportunity to rewind to a time within the last 10 seconds of gameplay and try again. The only things that don’t reset are your combo meter and the time limit, so if you end up dying and rewinding too much you might not have enough time left to finish the stage. It’s a really clever way to ensure that mistakes aren’t too punishing, while helping you learn how to beat a section with as many retries as it takes.
It is sad to lose your combo though. Not only due to the fact that it might affect your stage ranking, but because of how much your heart gets into the music as you build up your combo. The new heart bestowed upon you by The Rat God sits in the bottom corner of the screen, and with each 50 successful actions in a row gets more and more excited. From furiously fist pumping, to pounding on a tambourine to the beat, watching your little red friend get enthralled by the beat is oddly adorable.
Your heart isn’t the only one who’ll be getting pumped by the music, as the catchy tunes will undoubtedly invade your head too. The soundtrack is simply brilliant, with a range of composers lending their talent to provide an array of upbeat, tense and even spooky songs. I found myself moving my body to the rhythm while playing almost constantly, enraptured by the music and looking like a bellend.
It’s important to keep to the beat when navigating. You’ll have to chain jumps together to wall jump, dodge flamethrowers, and even attack enemies. By jumping multiple times you’ll lock onto an enemy and hit them with a homing attack, allowing you to bounce and dash even further in effortless aerial displays. Everything you do in Mad Rat Dead is so fluid, in part thanks to the rhythm element but also thanks to the masterful design of the platforming.
As well as standard enemies, there are also bosses you’ll have to fight dotted throughout the game. Some of these ended up being my favourite stages, especially the epic single screen encounters where you’d have to learn the attack pattern to stand a chance of survival. I won’t spoil any of the specific characters you fight, but they are all incredibly unique and tie in perfectly to the story.
Every stage begins with some narrative, usually between Mad Rat and his heart. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy the story anywhere near as much as I did, but it’s really engaging. With a plot packed full of revenge, intrigue and mind altering chemicals, I was always excited to see what happened between the gameplay.
It’s worth mentioning how visually impressive Mad Rat Dead is too, with wonderful character designs and vibrant environments. Mad Rat himself is a charming and cheeky little rodent full of expression, but even his faceless heart is brought to life with its enthusiastic animations.
There’s plenty to do with your rat pal once you’ve finished the story. Score chasers can replay levels aiming for the elusive S+ rank, and there’s a hard mode for anyone who masters the standard playthrough. You can also replay any level with music from another stage. The timing of enemies and hazards is adjusted accordingly, so you can listen to your favourite tune on any level you like.
Mat Rat Dead is a sublime blend of genres unlike anything I’ve ever played. Its soundtrack is incredible, its story inspired, and characters charming. The ability to rewind time is the perfect tool for helping players learn how to move to the music, and flow effortlessly around hazards. If you have any interest in rhythm games you owe it to yourself to play Mad Rat Dead, because it’s one of the best I’ve ever played.
Fluid and satisfying
Not too punishing
One of the best soundtracks of the year
Surprisingly engaging story
Beautiful to look at
Issues with depth perception
You may look ridiculous moving to the beat