I’ll be the first one to say it. Some of the absolute peaks of the rhythm game genre are Nintendo’s Rhythm Heaven series. Across four entries, spanning through the Game Boy Advance through to the 3DS, players would pass through creative levels such as commanding marching soldiers or plucking an onion with tweezers. Talk about a way to make the known gameplay loop of pressing buttons to a beat interesting. However, that series hasn’t seen a new entry in almost six years. The Rhythm genre is starving. Enter Melatonin, a dreamy rhythmic experience dedicated to filling that void in your heart.
Melatonin is a simple game concept that’s appeal looks to be the way its ideas are extrapolated upon. Your character is having a dream, making up the courses of levels are weird, trippy mishmashes of a dream state and reality. The opening features our hero dozing on the couch in what has to be the most millennial space ever – surrounded by plants, gaming consoles, half-filled glasses of water and leftover takeout. Before a short tutorial, you’re transported to a dreamy space that serves as your overworld.
Once you’re in this space, your character can move about and choose which level they so wish to enter. Levels will be clearly indicated, with big font reading “Dream about FOOD” or “Dream about TECH” while being surrounded by a VR headset, AirPods and a Switch joy-con. That’s the closest any semblance of a narrative to each level provides. Just enough correlation and links to present such a theme, much like the way our subconscious mind works.
Melatonin is broken into a series of nights, each with a set of dreams to complete. Topping off this is a medley song, blending together the beats and sequences from all prior songs into one. At least, that’s as far as I can see the loop going thus far. The game is still a few months away and is currently only available via a demo on Steam.
The tech level is a particular highlight for me. We see the character slumped in an office chair, VR headset on. On a screen in front of us, enemies will pop up. A crosshair will cycle between targets, with players pressing the required button prompt as it lands on a foe. As the song progresses, the challenge ramps and reaches that Rhythm Heaven flair. The crosshair disappears. You’re left to your own devices. Players will have to rely less on the visual cues and pay more attention to the beat.
The thinking about food level provided me with the most challenge, however. The napping protagonist is seated on a chair, soaring through the air as animated pizza slices, doughnuts and the likes are flying toward them. Ejecting from boxes, they’ll often fake-out, throwing off your rhythm and resulting in you landing the button prompt too early. That’s scaled all the more up when clouds enter your path, obscuring your vision. This was without a doubt the toughest one to crack, but still enjoyable to try and wrangle, pressing along to the beat.
Rounding it out is a dream where you go shopping, maxing out a credit card to a beat as your purchases fall into place. The other that follows is one all about the obsession with finding followers on social media, seeing our protagonist jump between apps on their phone to a beat. As mentioned earlier, the true millennial experience.
Melatonin is still a few months away but truly looks the part. A pretty pastel presentation with an art style like this can only be described as resembling an afternoon cartoon on a channel like Cartoon Network. Accompanying this are enjoyable challenges and funky beats that are fun to bop along to and learn. Receiving enough star rankings in a given level to be able to unlock that final medley proved a fun nut to crack. There’s a lot of promise here.
All of that is said when I haven’t even seen all of the game’s complexities thus far. The tutorial walked me through more complex and alternate button presses, which I’ve not yet witnessed throughout. Perusing the Steam page, it looks like a crane machine and swiping left or right on a dating app makes up just some of the other joyful oddities we’ll experience.
Melatonin will be available on September 16 on Nintendo Switch and PC, but you can play the demo on Steam now. If you’re looking for your rhythm game experience of the year, this should be at the tippy top of your list.