I didn’t expect to be taken on a NES-fuelled fever dream when I first started playing Old School Musical, but this retro-infused rhythm game ended up being one surprise after another. A love letter to the pixel classics of the 8 and 16-bit eras, Old School Musical follows the tale of white square Tib and his younger, taller brother, Rob, as they fight to save the world from being corrupted by a deadly virus. And what better way to do that than by tapping along to sweet chiptune tracks in a DDR-style rhythm battle?
Best played with a controller, Old School Musical tickles those retro bones like no tomorrow. After seeing their own world get corrupted by glitches and buggy code, Tib and Rob find themselves jumping from game world to game world as they try and find the source of it. By the time you hit the end credits, you’ll have travelled through everything from the Pokemon GameBoy games to a village full of Fez people, all of them rife with meme-filled dialogue and gaming in-jokes.
The latter will probably age horrible in a couple of years time (indeed, there are already a handful of crude, juvenile jokes in there that made me cringe even now), but seeing Tib and Rob get plonked into game world after game world was quite amusing for the most part, and I enjoyed seeing developer La Moutarde’s take on some of the retro classics of my youth. Not only do Tib and Rob get game-appropriate costumes, for example, such as their cute Mega Man and accompanying Rush outfits or their Player-1 / Player-2 Contra camo, but each level also looks like a direct homage to the game in question. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles level is a side-scrolling platformer, while the Metal Gear one riffs on the NES game’s opening infiltration sequence.
My favourite was the Outrun level, which sees Tib take the wheel of that classic red car while Rob smacks incoming motorcycle punks from the passenger seat. It’s also got the best chiptune track of the entire game, making it even more of a toe-tapping pleasure. Later on, there’s also an extended parody of The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past that had me grinning from ear to ear by the time it was over. I will never look at a cucco the same way again.
I must admit, it can be easy to miss some of these details when they’re being obscured by the game’s flying, direction-based rhythm commands. You see, you don’t actually control Tib and Rob in Old School Musical. Instead, you propel them through each level by correctly hitting the game’s incoming rhythm tiles. Miss one and their health bar goes down. Get a load of perfects and you can heal yourself by maintaining your combo score. It’s an interesting conceit, but I often felt like I was missing extra details or visual gags because I was focusing so intently on tapping the right rhythm buttons. I just about managed a couple of sneaky glances on the regular difficulty setting, but I’d imagine the harder difficulty levels will make that next to impossible.