As I maneuver Baton the tadpole to shoot past the grabbing claws of a carnivorous crab and whip his tail around to smash a cymbal shaped flower, I am rewarded with an orchestral crescendo that blends the music and gameplay into a single satisfying experience. This is what makes Tadpole Treble so much fun to play.
Part runner, part rhythm game, in BitFiniti’s Tadpole Treble you control Baton, a scrappy tadpole who’s just trying to get back to his home pond after being separated from his mother. To get home you must traverse through multiple levels of musical madness. The gameplay is almost an inversion of the classic rhythm game; Baton swims through sheet music, avoiding the notes of that level’s theme song. As you steer Baton out of the way of certain notes, you also use her tail to slap other in-game objects in time with the beat. The way that the music and gameplay coalesce is truly rewarding; the music really feels like it’s what’s pushing Baton, and the gameplay, forward.
The gameplay in Tadpole Treble is both frantic and simple, making it a challenge for seasoned gamers, but also accessible for children or casual gamers. As you pilot Baton through the troubled waters, you’ll have to dodge schools of hungry fish, slap at hungry mosquitos, and even face the occasional boss. But Baton’s not defenseless; aside from the tail slap, collecting points fills Baton’s “treble meter” which, when full, allows Baton to shoot forward and smash through any obstacles in her way. When I began playing the game I was worried that the gameplay would become stale after a few levels, but Bitfiniti did a great job of mixing up the gameplay by putting a twist on the established mechanics. In one level, the game had Baton moving from right to left, rather than the established left to right. I was surprised by how this minor change amped up the difficulty! It was like if someone asked you to read a book from right to left - even if the words are in the correct order, your brain just isn’t used to working that way. The boss battle levels are similar to the normal levels, except that Baton has a hungry predator nipping at her heels. While this may seem like a fairly simple mechanic, it really adds to the frantic nature of the gameplay. Avoiding the snapping jaws from behind while dodging obstacles in front makes the boss levels a real challenge and help to add variety. Bitfiniti also included an in-game store where you can spend your hard earned bubbles to a kindly bullfrog for various extras.
What really shines in Tadpole Treble is the music. The levels' themes aren’t just simple rhythms recorded from a Casio keyboard. These are fully realized, original musical numbers from multiple genres. One level will swell with a full orchestral ensemble, while others let you swim along to a swinging jazz number. Some of the songs even have lyrics. In one level, a Frank Sinatraesque tadpole follows Baton, serenading her through the level. The vocals are sung beautifully, complete with backup singers and karaoke style lyrics streaming across the bottom for those who want to sing along.
While Tadpole Treble is a game based around music, it still looks beautiful. Baton will swim her way through a river animated like a children’s story book in one level, and then suddenly be dropped into a full on 8-bit pixelated stream full of ducks right out of the NES Duck Hunt. The in-game animations accompany the music perfectly; watching a group of Venus flytraps harmonize along with the music brought a genuine smile to my face. There’s just something about how the art and music come together that gives the same enjoyment of watching a well made cartoon.
Along with a substantial story mode, Tadpole Treble also allows players to create their own levels. Every in-game element, from the instruments to the obstacles, are available for the player’s use. I can’t carry a tune in a bucket, so I didn’t play around with the level-editing mode too much. However, I think that for a more musically inclined player, the level editor mode could potentially provide more hours of entertainment than the game’s story mode.
Tadpole Treble takes everything that you know about rhythm games and runners and inverts them in an extremely pleasing way. It’s a game that, at its core, is about music and it is clear that it was made by music lovers for music lovers. The game is accessible to players of all ages and skill levels, and is challenging while never being frustrating. If you love music, as a composer or just as a fan, Tadpole Treble will be a pleasure from start to finish.