Review: Tadpole Treble Encore

21 Jan 2021

I always adore when a game takes the music out of the background and makes it the front and center star. Its driven my love for rhythm games and this little musical side scroller is certainly no exception.

Created by Matthew Taranto, known for their long-running webcomic Brawl in the Family, Tadpole Treble was originally released for Steam back in September 2016. Today, we’re reviewing the Switch port Tadpole Treble Encore, which comes with new unlockables, a new stage, and portable play. Tadpole Treble Encore releases on Nintendo Switch on January 21st, 2021.

What’s a Life Without Adventure

Tadpole Treble Encore follows the story of Baton, a freshly hatched tadpole who’s journeyed just a bit too far outside, nearly got swallowed by a pelican, and finds themselves miles from home trying to make their way back. Along the way they meet more things trying to eat them, awkward fans, things accidentally at risk of eating them, currents both watery and electrical, things threatening to eat them, and impromptu musical numbers. There’s a bit of a theme in the hazards you see.

The story is primarily told via comic book panels every few levels or so, beautifully drawn and with the cutscene revealing each panel one by one to keep the tension of an animation while sticking to the art style. Not every level gets such a scene, but it’s not really needed either. The vast majority of the levels are simply one more dangerous path between you and home.

Go Little Tadpole!

Tadpole Treble Encore is a… rhythm game? It’s a little rough to put a label to it, because while the music is a core component of the game, for the most part you’re not doing something to the beat or notes. Rather it’s an auto-scroller where both obstacles and collectables are represented as notes on a musical score. This meant I often was able to take a break, find a lane with no obstacles for a bit, and sit back for a while… up until the beat got hectic again and forced me to dodge.

Things change a fair bit if you try to go after one of the challenges however. Each level has a few goals to go after: A high score of course, grabbing all 100 bubbles in a stage, a unique objective for each level such as avoiding getting hit or avoiding certain routes, and oddly enough the most challenging objective which is to get an F rank.

Each objective results in playing the level in a different fashion. Getting a high score and collecting all the bubbles are fairly similar, with bubbles being more strict about hitting collectables and a high score being more strict on avoiding obstacles. The unique challenges range from ones you’re likely to do on accident to ones that require going out of your way to make things harder on yourself. Lastly, the F rank challenge requires hitting obstacles regularly to reset your combo, riding a razor’s edge between life and death as you dart in to grab healing food while avoiding the other collectables.

This isn’t even getting into the composer mode, which allows you to create your own level, with the level even playing the tune you’ve written. For such a simple concept, a level comprised of the sheet music of the level’s song, they managed to pack a lot of variety into it.

Bayous are so Beautiful

It should come as no surprise that the soundtrack is amazing. There’s a wide variety of genres covered, from waltzes to westerns, and they’re all absolutely stunning. I have my favorites of course; the triumphant swell of Thunder Creek always feels satisfying, but there’s not a single track that I dislike. In fact each of the section titles in this review is a line from one of the songs because I absolutely cannot get them out of my head… not that I’m trying very hard to.

The art as well is frankly adorable. Each of the critters you meet along the way has plenty of character to them that made it fun to go through a level disregarding the score just so I could pay attention to their animations.

It Cuts, It Fries, It Juliennes

Tadpole Treble Encore is certainly what I would call “content dense.” It’s not a long game by any stretch – one of the unlockables is a mode where you go through the whole game in one life with no saving – but it delivers a lot in the time that it has.

Every level is determined to knock it out of the park, presenting something fresh and new before dipping out to make way for the next level. If you like precision dodging to avoid obstacles or strong soundtracks, you really need to pick this up.

~ Final Score: 9/10 ~

Review copy provided by Bitfinity for Switch. Screenshots provided by reviewer.