Mad Rat Dead is presented as a rhythm game, but after playing it I wouldn’t categorize it as such, willy-nilly. But before we enter the nougat, let’s put ourselves in context.
The title doesn’t fool anyone and puts us in the shoes of a rat…dead. And while I think the main differentiator that grabs our attention the most is that it’s sold as a rhythm game, which it is, but here the music has very little meaning.
When we think of rhythm games, especially the more alternative ones like Crypt of the Necromancer, we think of making a number of inputs to the rhythm of the music. And that’s in Mad Rat Dead, but halfway there. Here we have to follow the soundtrack to move and jump, but if we don’t, not much will happen either. We’ll have a lower score, yes, but it’s not like the experience changes too much. They don’t necessarily want to repeat levels either, basically because the music is downright horrible.
And I would almost say that’s the main problem I have with Mad Rat Dead. Yes, nothing is written about tastes, but I can’t imagine anyone listening to this game’s soundtrack for pleasure (a rhythm game, let’s not forget). I couldn’t define exactly what genre it is, but I would call it “circus music”. Imagine the classic tunes you would hear entering a circus tent as the clowns and their entourage come out to smack one another, with many instruments blaring throughout, seeking prominence. Adding to the fact that each of our inputs to move the rat (I wanted to write “ratita”, but no, it’s rat, rat) is accompanied by different sounds, all at once: palms, a kind of tambourine), that they do not contribute to relax the game. Also, it feels like those claps and tambourines and other sound effects that play when we press the keys aren’t in the same key as the music, creating a sense of “am I doing it right?” although we see “GREAT!” on screen.
It does save some songs, but what doesn’t entirely convince the set is that the controls aren’t always responsive as we’d expect. The main culprit for this is the jump and a kind of downward sprint that you have to do to kill some enemies. The game does not always “see” the enemies below us, and if we carry out the order to kill them, it is very easy to end up at the bottom of the abyss, and not on our enemy. Some enemies that are very uninspired and I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what they are. Just as the scenarios make sense (we’re a rat and we’ll go through houses or the classic sewers and find common objects), the enemies are a kind of shapeless mass of a thousand colors with no particular meaning.
Where this Mad Rat Dead shines the most is in the boss fights, which are not only accompanied by the best songs, but their mechanics are the most well thought out in the game. It reminded me a bit of Cuphead, which gave me the impression that it was actually a boss onslaught (only against bosses, c’mon) and that the platforming stages are there “because they have to be”. I don’t know if that’s the case here (like it was in Cuphead), but it really feels like it. It seems they’re afraid to do a boss onslaught when everything they’ve built works best there. I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that the best music (the only decent one?) can be found there.
It’s not an overly long game (a normal game can take around 5 hours from start to finish) and if you lean into Prince of Persia, for example, the mechanic of rewinding time when we die makes it a lot more enjoyable. Especially when you consider that there are potentially very frustrating moments like those jumps that aren’t quite as smooth as they should be.
Ultimately, Mad Rat Dead is a reliable game, but could have been a lot better in all aspects with a little more restraint. I invite you to see the final world and have no sensory overload between music, visual effects, sound, flashes of light… It’s all a bit too much. I find the idea interesting, but it fails in execution because it tries to do too much when the best parts are the simplest.