In August of 2016, the rapidly-declining Wii U eShop was graced by the release of a neat little indie game called Tadpole Treble. As the dream project from Matthew Taranto, a popular webcomic artist, Tadpole Treble easily proved itself to be a memorable and creative experience that we quickly fell in love with. Now, nearly five years on from its debut, a new version of this adorable game called Tadpole Treble Encore has come to the Switch eShop, promising a slightly revised take on the original. We’re happy to report that this game has lost none of its charm or fun in the years since release; it’s every bit a must-have buy for fans of rhythm games.
Tadpole Treble Encore sees you taking on the role of Baton, a freshly-hatched tadpole who finds herself living in a decidedly musical world. Baton’s adventure begins mere minutes after her birth, when she swims a little too far beyond her mother’s watch and finds herself in the gullet of a pelican. She escapes (thank goodness) but faces a long journey through uncharted waters that’ll see her exploring all corners of her island to find the way home.
It’s not much of a story, yet Tadpole Treble Encore still manages to create an authentic and charming world that you won’t soon want to leave. Characters like the derpy bullfrog, Etude, and the mysterious fellow tadpole who serenades Baton with his lovely voice show that the rest of the island isn’t all scary, and even the many villainous creatures – like a voracious barracuda – still have a somewhat cuddly aura about them. In many ways, this adventure is very much like the gaming equivalent of a warm blanket on a cold evening; it just feels so nice to wrap yourself up in.
Gameplay takes the shape of a traditional rhythm game, but with a sort of rail shooter-like infusion of intense action. Baton swims at a consistent speed along a musical staff and she can swim up or down half a note at a time, and while she moves, a constant barrage of obstacles and goodies come flying her way. Your main goal will be to avoid hitting the rocks, but deviously placed collectables like Pure Water and Bubbles always tempt you to make some risky moves to ensure you grab everything. All along, your score is constantly ticking up, while consistently avoiding rocks slowly builds a streak that can rocket your score up much higher.
Movement is only a part of the experience, however, as a tap of any button will also cause Baton to ‘kick’. So, if you happen to be swimming by a bamboo shoot or other obstacle that’s timed perfectly to the beat, a well-placed kick can give you a nice score bump. Sometimes this mixture of precise swimming and kicking can be a lot to juggle at once, which is where the Treble Charge comes in. With this, Baton can enter a temporary state of invincibility that also boosts her score potential, but it takes a while to build this up, and knowing exactly where best to use it in a level can be tricky.
Your score at the end of a level determines your rank and getting the coveted S-rank takes some extreme focus and dexterity to achieve no matter the level. Alternatively, getting an F-rank proves to be even more difficult, as it requires you to play as poorly as you possibly can. These are merely two goals of an optional five which you can aim for on each stage, and each of these extra objectives asks you to play the stage a little differently to meet the requirements. Given that it should only take about two hours to clear the entirety of the story, these optional objectives prove to be a nice addition to what can otherwise feel like a thin experience.
This being an ‘encore’, there are also some extra additions here which were not present in the original release. This new content consists of a new song, some extra unlockables to make those optional objectives a little more enticing, and of course the ability to play Tadpole Treble Encore on the go. We also noticed the new, near-instant load times, which make the overall experience a lot smoother. Those of you that are double-dipping may want to think twice before jumping in, then, but rest assured that there’s a little more here to keep you busy. We’d stop short of calling this the definitive version of Tadpole Treble, however, as there has been a rather large removal from the original.
See, alongside the main story, there’s a composition mode where you can create your own stages using an impressively thorough and easy to use toolset. In the original release, you could then save your creations as QR codes and share them with other users, which added a lot of replayability for those who wanted to engage with the community. That sharing feature has been removed in the new version, meaning that you’re much more limited in terms of levels you can share or play. Fortunately, the core experience still stands strong enough on its own that this doesn’t hinder the core game too much, but it’s still a little disappointing to see this side mode get handicapped in this manner.
As a rhythm game developed by a famed webcomic artist, Tadpole Treble Encore of course absolutely nails its presentation. Every level shows off Taranto’s signature style, and there’s a nice variety of genres represented in the soundtrack, yet it’s the way these things come together that makes for such a memorable experience. For example, one level sees the music building as a fish slowly gains on Baton while she desperately speeds away. Just as it seems that she’s going to face an early end to her journey, the music reaches a crescendo and a bear swipes the fish away just before it can reach her. Set pieces like that are especially memorable, but it’s also little things – like Baton’s squeals of joy as she slides down a snowy hill – that really cement that cosy and friendly atmosphere.