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Review: Melatonin is Exactly What the Rhythm Game Genre Needs More Of

Get Your Groove On.
Melatonin Tech
In the ‘Tech’ dream, our protagonist enjoys some good, old-fashioned VR shooting. | Image via Half Asleep Games

I am only a recent convert to the Church of Rhythm Heaven. I have always had an inexplicable adoration for the institution of rhythm games, but … this one is different, somehow. Boasting an infectious soundtrack paired with adorable cartoon visuals and challenging gameplay, it disturbs me that the series is dormant. But, since last year, we’ve been able to witness the renaissance … no, a revival of the rhythm game genre.

Between Friday Night Funkin’, Scratchin’ Melodii, Bits and Bops, and many others, we are on the ground floor of a musical revolution in gaming, and I am very much here for it. But today, I would like to highlight a game that is what I affectionately call a Rhythm Heaven-like. In that it takes the style established by the Rhythm Heaven franchise and gives it a chill-hop coat of paint. Let’s take a look at Melatonin.

Review Takeaways

  • It’s a rhythm game that revolves around the concept of dreams, worries, desires, and more.
  • It makes clever use of a calming visual aesthetic, but don’t fall asleep or you won’t succeed!
  • There are a number of incredibly catchy lo-fi/hip-hop beats to study/relax to in this one, and that’s something I never imagined I’d say about a rhythm game.
  • It is both incredibly easy to mess up and equally frustrating when you inevitably do. Especially when you factor in the slow load times on Switch.
  • Final Score: 9/10

I Am So Tired, Bro

Melatonin Shopping
In the ‘Shopping’ dream, our protagonist is as irresponsible with their money as I am on an average Friday. | Image via Half Asleep Games

It’s been a long day. You had to wake up incredibly early so you could hit the gym, and as a result, your sleep was … negligible, at best. So, while you thought you might try to catch up on that show you’ve been watching or play that game you’ve been neglecting, you end up just sitting there, disassociating until you fall asleep. Any extracurricular activities will have to be saved for the realm of dreams.

This is the base concept of Melatonin, a rhythm game revolving around dreams. In each level, our exhausted protagonist explores a different aspect of their dreams, from food to shopping to dating to technology and everything in-between. And, in order to successfully navigate this blank slate through their dreams, we as the player are responsible for … completing a rhythm game set to an infectious beat.

It could sound odd, but Melatonin has this general aesthetic that’s easy on the eyes, and as a result it can almost make you kinda sleepy. I think that actually contributes to this game’s rather significant difficulty. And then there are powerful tracks like the gym level that create a sense of whiplash in the best way. But it’s clear that, as you progress from night to night, you’re helping this nameless character come to terms with their dreams. And that’s largely because the dreams start with concepts like social media followers and shopping and eventually become more abstract, with concepts like the future, the past, and stress.

Press ‘A’ to Cope!

Melatonin Followers
In the ‘Followers’ dream, our protagonist pretends they’re OK being terminally online. | Image via Half Asleep Games

In terms of Melatonin’s gameplay loop, it’s simple; and, this is where we draw direct comparisons to Rhythm Heaven. Each ‘night’ has four levels that highlight a particular concern, dream, or worry in our protagonist’s life, and is capped off by a stage that combines elements of each dream.

You can tackle each night’s dreams in any order you’d like, but the fifth requires each of the dreams to be completed first. This is likely because the dev team wanted players to have some experience dealing with each dream’s mechanics before they tried the medley stage. It also allows you to get each dream’s tune stuck in your head before you replace it with the medley stage’s track.

Each stage mostly consists of well-timed presses of the ‘A’, ‘L’, or ‘R’ buttons on the Switch, depending on the night. But you shouldn’t underestimate the game’s difficulty. In each dream, you have the option of normal or hard mode, but whichever you choose, it can be very easy to mess up. It’s not impossible to get perfect scores on some dreams, but without a flawless sense of rhythm, you won’t get perfect scores on all of the dreams. But, that’s OK, in the end. Because Melatonin isn’t the kind of game you need to achieve perfection on. It’s still fun, even if you’re messing up every other note, which is an achievement in my eyes.

I think the only thing I could say to Melatonin’s detriment is that its performance seems to struggle on the Switch. I cannot vouch for the PC version, but while each stage runs fine, the loading time when going from night to night can be abysmal. It’s a small note, but still worth mentioning all the same.

You Can’t Have Just One

Melatonin Stage Select
In the stage select, you control our protagonist and can run over to your desired dream in (mostly) any order you’d like. | Image via Half Asleep Games

Melatonin is an achievement. It takes a tried-and-true genre from the earliest eras of gaming and gives it a new life with the help of an underserved genre of music. If the rhythm game revolution consists of more titles like Melatonin, I will forever and always be on the front lines. In the meantime, however … I am going to keep developer Half Asleep Games on my radar. I need to be ready in case they drop Melatonin 2 in the near — or not so near — future.

Thanks for reading this review of Melatonin! Now that you know how we feel about it, why not take a look at some of our other content, such as Opinion: Garfield Lasagna Party is Holy Doctrine and Review: Meg’s Monster is a Brilliant, Albeit Short, Tale of Found Family and Loss! Also, be sure to check out Gamer Journalist on Facebook to stay in the conversation!

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