If I was asked what my top five games were in 1999 I would have immediately squeaked back at you Bust-A-Groove, Parappa the Rapper, Final Fantasy 7, Tony Hawk Pro Skater and obviously Dance, Dance Revolution. I was a chubby skater always on the lookout for a player two. Like me, at the turn of the century, the Rhythm Action Genre was just blossoming into maturity, peaked in 2008 and has pretty much come to nothing as of late except for the occasional flashes of mediocrity and rare brilliance.
When you start Old School Musical for the first time you are thrown straight into the bleak but amusing multi-dimension jumping narrative. Upon completion of the Story Mode’s first level, the game opens up offering Multiplayer and Arcade modes as well as the standard Story. Once you have finished the Story mode expect to unlock even more game modes! This time focusing on the development staff’s unnatural hatred of chickens of all types. The satire and references are rolled back for more focused gameplay in the Chicken Republic mode, do expect to see many slight variations of pixelated chickens and not much else. The whole game is full of oxymorons and clashes of ideas.
Unlike Guitar Hero, Parappa the Rapper or Frederic: The Resurrection of Music you do not control the music, instead you are controlling the brothers, Tib and Rob, on their multi-dimensional, world hopping quest. This design choice gives Old School Musical an air of Quick Time Events rather than a true Rhythm Action Game. Feedback from correct inputs seems lacking, if you hit or miss a button the music is never affected, only ever the visuals. In the Rhythm Action genre games, a layer of the music is removed or a disruptive sound effect is played when you miss a beat. Parappa the Rapper really nailed this way back in the day on the PlayStation. The many layers of the music would compound and form the truest version of the song depending on your skill and timings.
So it never feels like your part of the music more like tapping your toes with it. In Easy mode, it appears as though sometimes the inputs don’t seem to sync up with the actual music or not at least in a pattern that made it easy to intuit. I would definitely recommend never playing on anything lower than Normal mode once you have gotten used this game’s version of the rhythm action control set up.
Your eyes will be laser-focused tightly on the center of the screen because the button prompt reticule is right in always slap bang in the middle. This has the unfortunate consequence of your eyes often missing the normally fairly amusing background action while chasing those high scores and battling to find your lost mother. The box fresh fifty plus songs that comprise the sound music have been expertly produced for OSM by many of the Chiptune greats – including Hello World, Yponeko, Le Plancton, Dubmood and Zabutom.
While one of the most interesting chiptune soundtracks I have ever heard, it never quite stops sounding like vague remixes of beloved classics rather than authorized covers. That being said, most of the featured songs are nearly perfect representatives of the genre or specific game Old School Musical may be spoofing on that particular level. Much of the brilliant soundtrack veers litigiously close to copyright infringement, but like all of the very close to the bone references that Old School Musical is built on are made with an obvious life-long, love of the source materials.
My favourite level is a Gradius and R-Type pastiche with a chip-tune rendition of Korobeiniki performed by Yponeko. To me, this level is the most fun to play because the background theme is not a sound-a-like spoof of a beloved classic but instead a cover of actual an all-time great that has featured in not only one of the most influential games but countless others.
Outside Russia, “Korobeiniki” is widely known as the Tetris theme (titled “A-Type” in the game), from its appearance in Nintendo’s 1989 version of the game and is based on a traditional Russian folk song about market sellers bragging about their wares (with possible naughty undertones).
In an odd move the Game Over screen features, going by some of the other pixelated photographs featured in Old School Musical, one of the production team of the game topless as opposed to images of the main characters in peril (like the traditional games OSM is supposed to be aping). There are many self-indulgent references to the staff throughout the game in places where there could have been more jokes or story.
Most of the time I spent playing the game, in the back of my mind, I was contemplating how great an official musical adaptation of some of the lampooned titles would have been. Metal Slug the Musical? Madame Butterfree? Singing with Smash Bros? Who am I kidding? I just really hope TheatreRhythm comes to the Nintendo Switch soon. Now there was a Rhythm Action game that balanced visuals, gameplay and music, although it did have the advantage of being made by Square-Enix so licensing the back catalog of the entire Final Fantasy series probably wasn’t too tricky for the original IP owners!
Old School Musical is an unusual entry to the Rhythm Action genre but with some unnecessary design and humor choices it is prevented from appealing to anyone but the nostalgia addicted chiptune obsessed, pixel people, or those looking for oddball multiplayer experiences. As my abusive step-mother will tell you I fit neatly into those both of those categories. Old School Musical is a weird, wild ride. Your mileage may vary but I had a blast!
Stay tuned to n3rdabl3 for more old school chip tunes and chicken bashing. Alternatively, you can check out the Nintendo Switch Release Trailer below!