There are some games in one’s collection that are purely there to play when all you want to do is chill out and play something fun. They can still be challenging but the core concept and execution is simple yet effective. Tadpole Treble is one such game from indie developer BitFinity. Successfully crowdfunded on Kickstarter in 2013 it was released to Steam’s Early Access platform in May of this year followed by the Wii U in August.
You are Baton, a newly hatched tadpole who is taken from her home by a pelican and, after avoiding being the bird’s entreé, are now tasked with helping her reach her home. Tadpole Treble is what we can best describe as a musical runner. Think BitTrip Runner with a dash of Guitar Hero. Each level has the main lines of a musical stanza and your obstacles, in the form of mines, are the notes of various instruments. As you move along you must try to avoid damage, collect bubbles and score as much as possible to make your mark on the leaderboards. In addition, you also fill a “treble metre” which, when full, allows you to become temporarily invincible and gain extra points.
Control of Baton is done on the directional keys (or a d-pad on a gamepad) with space activating a tail whip. The latter can be used on special objects in a level to access hidden parts or an easier way through the level. This can make things trickier on the later levels but overall works rather well. Like all good games of this ilk, it’s easy to learn but requires time and effort to truly master and hit the top scores. For those who enjoy a challenge the level grading system at the end of each level will no doubt scratch that competitive itch. We certainly found ourselves retrying levels in the hope of upping our scores, mostly to no avail. There’s also “concerto” mode for those who want the ultimate challenge, which is to play all the levels back-to-back without dying. Given the difficulty of some of the levels any who achieve this feat will likely have lightning fast reflexes and nimble fingers.
Whilst the main story mode is fun and somewhat varied, for us the best part is the composition mode. Here you can create your own levels but, as this is a music game, you are effectively composing music. This was a first for us to see and moreover see one as comprehensive as Tadpole Treble. It’s a fantastic tool and one we could easily see being used to teach kids the basics of composition and let them go from there. The potential here is fantastic and as songs can be shared there’s a method here for feedback and critique in a fun yet engaging format. With no multiplayer available in-game this is a great way of fostering a community around the game and its potential as a learning tool. It is a shame then, that Steam Workshop isn’t available to make things easier, but it’s great that there is the ability to share.
Audibly then, Tadpole Treble is as you’d expect, fantastic, with great instrumentals ranging in their genres and a select few with lyrics which are ridiculously catchy. Each level having a tune that is either conveying something about the story or related to its environment. For example, there’s a level called Thunder Creek where we’re treated to a typical western-style tune and in the case of Saltwater Cape the music creates an air of suspense as the level progresses. We’d actually go as far to say there’s not a tune in the game that we didn’t like or felt was out of place. Given the size of the team employed to make this game that’s a fair achievement. It’s clear that this is a game created by a music lover for music lovers.
Accompanying the music is a beautifully realised art style with each level given its own unique composition. There are even cutscenes which are delivered via comic style panels which are a nice touch and tell a story with only visual cues rather than words. It should come as no surprise that the lead designer of the game once ran a popular web comic. The artwork is sharp, the animations smooth and most of the visual cues work meaning little need for any tutorials. Whilst this works for the most part the final boss level took us several runs before we figured out that some things were breakable. At times this left us playing the level with the same loop of music occurring which got rather boring. Whilst we’re not looking for the game to handhold us, and the fact that it doesn’t is great, it would be useful to include a hint system which could be deployed when it’s clear the gamer is in trouble.
Tadpole Treble is one of those games where you can clearly see the time and love poured into what is clearly a passion project. It’s one of those games where you say “just one more run” in the hope that you can beat your score and hit the next rank. There’re hours to be spent trying to ace each level which we can assure is no easy task. Though if that’s not your thing thanks to “composition mode” those who are musically minded will likely be able to sink countless hours into creating and sharing their own music. We can’t stress enough how cool and awesome this mode is and can only hope it works to inspire a new generation of composers. It’s rare that you come across a game with educational undertones that doesn’t instantly come across as one. Perhaps the team at BitFinity didn’t intend this at all but what we have here is a fun-filled game which has the potential to do so much more than just provide entertainment.