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855093042_MadRatDeadboxart.jpg.c72e10d49a64ff9d2967ce0d0baf5257.jpgRhythmic gameplay, colorful and cartoonish graphics, and one rat's mad quest for revenge—Mad Rat Dead is definitely a singular type of game. It's also the type of game that can be fiendishly addictive if you're easily pulled in by rhythm-platformers, though some of the game's trickier sections and flaws might deter more casual players.
A lab rat killed in an experiment is visited by the Rat God and given a second chance to relive his last day on Earth, but all the rat can think about is killing the scientist that experimented on him. Mad Rat discovers he can hear and speak to his own heart, who provides the rhythmic beat of the adventure. Thus begins Mad Rat's obsessive quest for revenge that sees him running through labs and sewers in the single-minded pursuit of his goal. For as fantastical and absurd as the premise of Mad Rat Dead is, the story is surprisingly engaging. You probably wouldn't expect to become emotionally invested in a sentient rat's quest for revenge who is accompanied by its own talking heart, but this game will surprise you.
As a rhythm platformer, all of your movements in the game are tied to the beat. Press A at the right time and Mad Rat will dash forward. B lets him jump, and Y allows him to slam down to the ground. You can also attack enemies by pressing B again in mid-air to lock onto targets, which is sometimes necessary to pinball your way up a cliff (Sonic style). You can also press X to charge your next move, which makes you dash or jump further than normal. Every action needs to land on the rhythm—if you're off the beat nothing happens, though it actually is possible to inch forward a tiny bit just by walking forward.
Mad Rat Dead is actually pretty forgiving about its rhythm mechanics. Even if you're a bit off rhythm the action still carries out, so you don't have to be perfect just to progress. You also don't have to maintain the rhythm with every single beat. It's actually possible to let the beat go by without moving and you won't lose your score chain, which is pretty nice when you feel yourself slipping and need to take a second to find the rhythm again. The game is also very forgiving about dying. When you die you can rewind time beat by beat, which allows you to find the exact moment you went wrong and correct it. There's no limit to the number of deaths/rewinds you get in a single stage, though the stage's timer continually ticks down and if it reaches zero it's game over. This rewind mechanic, in place of a checkpoint system or something like that, means you don't have to keep replaying parts of the stage over and over just because you missed the beat once or twice. It's a lot more convenient to jump right back into the action like this.
The game still has its tricky moments, though. Most of the platforming gameplay has a satisfying sense of pacing and flow, which makes sense given the focus on rhythm, but some sections can be obnoxiously tricky with enemies that appear almost before you can react, or chains of aerial enemies that you need to bounce between that are difficult to land since the game's auto-aim sometimes locks you onto a target you don't want to hit. Later levels can be a little bit cruel in the way the music changes up its tempo sporadically—it's still set to a rhythm, but it feels almost designed to trip you up. The biggest frustrations of the game are the boss fights, which just don't have the same charm as the platforming levels. The fundamentals are the same, but focusing on dodging the boss's attacks is somehow far less engaging than platforming.
Since the game doesn't have different difficulty levels it does tend to be a little more difficult than similar rhythm-based games, but it still feels built for replay value. Getting through the game once should only take seven or eight hours and most stages are relatively short (or at least not excessively long), but if you take the time to get a high grade on every level you'll end up devoting a lot more time to the game.
The visual style of Mad Rat Dead perfectly captures the zany tone of the premise with stylish character designs and bright, colorful effects. Many of the background environments can be a bit bland, but in a fast-paced rhythm game like this you don't want to be distracted by the scenery anyway. The soundtrack is, of course, the highlight of the game's presentation, with an awesome collection of catchy, jazzy tunes that you can't help but bob your head along to and tap your finger—or thumb, in this case.
Mad Rat Dead does a great job of accomplishing what it set out to do: provide a madcap adventure that keeps you bouncing to the rhythm across a variety of increasingly difficult levels. Some of that difficulty could be balanced a bit better, but overall, rhythm-platformer fans will enjoy this unusual but catchy number.
Rating: 8 out of 10 Rats
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