by Michael Stallworth
reviewed on PC
An Homage In The Best Way
If I had to summarize the general feel or aesthetic that runs through Nintendo’s flagship games, such as the Mario or Zelda series, I would describe it as “kidult” entertainment. Meaning that they are fun, cartoonish games that are backed up by deep, and genuinely satisfying gameplay that appeals to gamers of all ages and skill levels. Tadpole Treble is a game that is made in this “kidult” spirit of Nintendo games, in fact the gameplay is actually very much inspired by the musical tadpole minigame in Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. While it may seem like a big risk for a developer to tie their indie game so directly to one of video game’s most famous series, I’m happy to report that Tadpole Treble pulls it off handedly, creating a game that will please the “kidult” in all of us.
Tadpole Treble is essentially a rhythm runner where you control Baton, a baby tadpole, as she tries to make her way back home. The controls in Tadpole Treble are barebones, using only the directional buttons for movement and one other button to employ Baton’s tail slap. These give you everything you’ll need to keep Baton safe, steering her out of the way of obstacles and predators whenever possible, and tail slapping them away when needed. While this may seem rather limited as far as gameplay, Baton isn’t really the star of Tadpole Treble, the true star of the game is the music. Each level in Tadpole Treble is a river where Baton is moving from left to right, but each of these rivers has a transparent overlay of lines from a sheet music, and it’s through this overlay that the developers have truly meshed the game’s music with the level design.
The music is all original, with each level having its own song that does more than just act as background noise, the music actually dictates the level design. Each enemy or obstacle in a level is placed corresponding to a where the musical note would be on the sheet music for that song. This music based level structure is quite effective in practice, since every song slowly builds to a crescendo, the levels become correspondingly more challenging as the music builds in speed and intensity. Having the music and gameplay linked in this way is really effective at building the tension within each level, and when that crashing crescendo finally does hit, it is extremely satisfying in a way that I can’t quite define.
But having the music dictate the level design wouldn’t be much unless the songs were good, well I’m happy to report that it is excellent, totally original, and written specifically for the game. In fact, the music is so good that I found myself Googling several of the tracks just to make sure they were not new renditions of classic songs, which they weren’t. They just sounded very true to the decade or genre that the song was emulating. Equally impressive is the range of genres and styles that are present in the game’s soundtrack, ranging from the 8-bit bleeps and bloops that are reminiscent of the music from classic retro games, to bouncy western themes and everything in between. The genre of the songs also corresponds to the look and artwork in each level, and though the general look of the game isn’t going to blow anyone away, it still manages to work with the game’s general feeling of what it would be like to play inside a children’s cartoon.
Compose Your Own
There is also an excellent level editor present in Tadpole Treble, which allows players to build and play through their own levels. Everything in the level editor is customizable, the look, the enemy placement, and yes, the music. Building a level from the ground up means that you are also creating the corresponding music with each obstacle or object you place in the level, from there you can map an instrument to each one and create your own music, or recreate levels based on in-game renditions of your favorite songs. The level editor gives you all the tools that you’ll need to create a piece of art that works as both a game and a song.
As far as problems I had with Tadpole Treble, there weren’t many, but I figure I should at least mention them. As I said above, the graphics and animations probably aren’t going to win any awards, but at the same time I can’t see many people being overly bothered by them.
Aside from that, I found it rather weird that the game’s tutorial isn’t given until after the third level for some reason. I know I said that the gameplay consist of just movement and one button for the tail slap, but I wasn’t even aware that the tail slap existed until after the third level. This is by no means a game-breaking bug but it does feel like a small oversight in what feels like a passion project.
Tadpole Treble is a game for children, specifically for the child that still exists in everyone. It uses music as a mechanic in a way that I haven’t really seen before. The excellent soundtrack, fun gameplay, and great level editor makes Tadpole Treble a game for the “kidult” in all of us.
Great Music, challenging but accessible gameplay, fantastic level editor.
Simple graphics, strange tutorial placement.