Mad Rat Dead is a rhythm game that eschews quite a few of the genre conventions. I’m not a big rhythm game person, but I like it, and had a good time with it. It’s also incredibly fucking weird, like, weird even by my expectations of games from Nippon Ichi Software. If the name rings a bell, good! If it doesn’t, they’re the publishers of Disgaea and a bunch of other smaller stuff.
The plot of Mad Rat Dead is… Hmm. Look, all you really need to know at the start is that you’ve been brought back to life by the Rat God to relive your last day prior to death, and fulfill your wish, which in your case is to kill the human who kept you in a cage all your life. There is more to it than that, but I will say that the game concludes fairly gracefully and satisfyingly. Anything else risks the dreaded spoilers. Onto the gameplay!
There are two types of levels in Mad Rat Dead: standard levels, and boss levels. Both have the same general rules. There is no life or health system. Instead, get hit, you die. Fall into a pit? You die. Touch spikes? You die. When you die, you get the ability to roll back time in increments of about a half a second, and then continue from that point. The main pressure comes from the beat timer. With each beat, it counts down, and if it gets to zero, you fail the level and have to start over. Rolling the timer back doesn’t roll back the beat timer, so the real loss from being killed is losing time.
Note: The game does have a mode where the beat timer isn’t active, and you can take as much time as you want to clear a level. I didn’t play in that mode, because…. well honestly because I derive at least some sense of self worth from playing games on the harder difficulties.
The most unique thing about Mad Rat Dead is that it’s a combo of a platformer and a rhythm game. It doesn’t require you to make specific inputs, unlike most rhythm games. Instead, you have fairly standard platforming controls (jump, dash, charge, ground pound) and movement, but your button inputs have to be to the beat. If they aren’t, they fizzle and don’t do anything. It also eats the next incoming beat, so you can’t just mash your way victory.
I really enjoy this for the most part. It feels really good to string movements together, and build your own combos and patterns. There are some points where the game does one of two things that make pulling a movement off a bit frustrating.
The first one is that it deliberately switches up the beat, slowing it down or speeding it up at certain portions on some levels. While this is obviously intentional, it often threw me off my game. As a general rule of thumb, I enjoyed the levels that were primarily either stationary or had many moving enemies, much more than I enjoyed the levels with either moving platforms or semi-tangible cheese platforms.
The second thing that messes with the “make your own beat” vibe is that the game has sections that feel like they really only have one solution in terms of inputs, and so if you mess up or die, you have to roll back the whole section, and restart. These felt quite jarring compared to the rest of the levels. Even the boss fights allow a fairly large amount of freedom, and having that taken away just felt bad.
The game’s not super long, but it’s fairly well polished. If you do choose to play Mad Rat Dead, there’s one movement mechanic that isn’t super well explained: the lock-on dash. On many of the levels, you’ll find enemies that can be used as bounce pads/chain jump location. In order to actually do this though, there’s two conditions that have to be met.
The first is that you have to be close enough to the enemy, but the second is that you also need to have not used one of your two double jumps, and your jumps only refresh when you hit an enemy, or touch the ground. The game never explicitly says this, so there was a large portion of time where I couldn’t figure out if I wasn’t close enough an enemy for the lock on reticle to appear, or if I’d just jumped twice.
I think I’d have raged a lot less if the game had ever explained how this works. That or I just didn’t read the prompts in the tutorial level.
As this is a rhythm game, it has music. Let’s talk about that music.
The music is fantastic and is actually the reason I even picked the game up. After listening to the soundtrack 7-8 times on YouTube, I realized I should probably play the actual game, and I’m writing this as I listen to it again. Since I’m a game person and not really a music person, I can’t tell you what genre it is, but I think it probably counts as club/EDM? If you’re into Japanese music or vocaloid, you’ll probably recognize a few of the names including DYES IWASAKI and Camellia.
I enjoyed Mad Rat Dead. It’s a unique rhythm game with solid gameplay, incredibly weird story, acid trip art, and incredibly good music. If that’s the sort of thing you’re looking for, I hope you own either a Switch or PS4, because those are the only two consoles you can play it on. If you’re still on the fence, it also has a demo on Switch, which I’m gonna link here, and a demo on PS4, which you can grab here.
Ed Note: Game screenshots are taken from the Mad Rat Dead NIS page.