Deki Deki Deki Desu Ka? Zzz
Rhythm games have been a major part of my life as a gamer since my childhood although they wouldn't get to flourish until my teenage years. Chances are if you've owned a handheld, you've played a rhythm game in some capacity. While I've discussed PSP's rhythm games with DJMAX and how the series continues to influence titles like MUSYNX, there were just as many on the Nintendo DS. Games like Elite Beat Agents were the catalyst for an entire community of gamers that still exist to this day. After playing Melatonin I was reminiscent of another Nintendo rhythm game, Rhythm Heaven.
Playing Melatonin and experiencing the demo for myself wouldn't have been possible if it wasn't for Half Asleep giving me the opportunity. At the time of this writing, a public demo for Melatonin is now available on the Steam store featured here. Now, what was Rhythm Heaven, and how does this relate to Melatonin? Developed in-house by Nintendo and released in 2008, Rhythm Heaven was the sequel to the Japanese-only GBA game, Rhythm Tengoku. Released for the first time outside of Japan, Rhythm Heaven let the player focus on visual and audio cues to tap the notes on the beat. Melatonin takes the same rules from Rhythm Heaven and adds its own unique lo-fi spin to it. Rather than taking the players on crazy adventures, this time the player explores their own dreams.
Melatonin Allows You To Count Pizza Slices Over Sheep
The premise is simple. You're on the couch relaxing watching TV until eventually TV watches you and you fall asleep. You're then placed in a dream world where you have four dreams to choose from. The only one unlocked is the Food Dream, so you jump in to discover you are sitting on a chair with wings flying over a city of food. In front of you is a box of pizza that somehow also grew wings and sentience. Rather than attack you, it throws food at you and your job is to catch it, of course, this is done by pressing the button to the beat.
There is a tutorial that explains the general gameplay for Melatonin in which you press the right button prompt on a 4/4 time signature. The button prompt could be on the fourth beat, the second, or on all four. There could also be button prompts in-between beats as well. The important thing to note is that listening to various audio cues and watching the visuals will be your guide. Back to the pizza scenario, if the pizza box flings a slice of pizza in your direction, your cue to press the button is different from if the box approaches you. As the song persists, a combination of mechanics is introduced yet the main beat remains the same.
The Best Part About Shopping Is That It's All Free
Players who complete the normal difficulty of the song will unlock a "Hard" version of the song. The normal versions of each dream allows the player to practice the general beat that comes with the dream. The "Hard" version thrusts the player right into the action, having knowledge of the song itself. There are no assists and there are unique patterns involved with the new chart. None of it is impossible however and I found some Hard variants of the songs easier than the Normal variants. The game doesn't penalize you for bombing a song, but rather it encourages you to do your best.
The second level has the player go on a shopping spree. I found this level easier to grasp than the first level as the visual cues are the items you're ringing up rather than waiting for something to happen. Another thing I noticed that became clearer in later stages is the play on the word Melatonin. You're playing as a character in their dreams but as you continue to do well in the songs, you tend to enter a "tunnel vision" mode as you hit the notes on the beat. I'm not a psychologist, but Melatonin does have a calming effect on the player whether it's the soft pink art style, the music, or the relaxing tone itself.
Bringing It All Together
Later dreams will have the player engage in a VR-style shooter as well as increase their followers on Social Media. These dreams are all dreams that most gamers would probably have. The dreams themselves aren't realistic, but the thought of dreaming about wealth, food, tech, and a following is very much so realistic. While it's too early to state if there's an overall plot for the story, I hope Half Asleep games keep the ambiguity of the plot and the main character. The protagonist is plain, but in a good way as it's easy for anyone of any gender to self-insert. What are the inspirations behind these dreams? Who else knows but you, the dreamer, right?
At the end of the night, there's a "boss," which is a compilation of all the dreams the player had into one mega dream. Donuts will feed you donuts while you have to get ready to shoot at space zombies. You're expected to run your bill to the skies while you're soaring through the skies on social media. Each dream borrows an element from its original dream while combining it with other dreams to present a symphony. It's similar to how boss levels are handled in Wario Ware if that's the best way to explain it.
Don't Eat Before You Sleep Or You'll Dream About...Eating?
The only real critique I have about the demo is that it's short. It's understandable as due to the nature of rhythm games, a handful of songs is enough to get the player enticed while showing them what their vision is. Another thing I can recommend is an auto-calibration system. You can manually calibrate the timing if it feels off, but I'd also like the option to run tests so I can see for myself what the "best number" is. On default settings it wasn't an issue for me and chances are it won't be for you.
Melatonin was an impressive demo to check out. It's not often you see an indie Rhythm Heaven/Wario Ware style game. Especially one that's chilled out as this one is. Once again, the public demo is out now so players who are interested in games like these will greatly enjoy it.
Melatonin releases on PC and the Nintendo Switch later this year.