Rayark Games is a developer well known for their many rhythm games for iOS and Android devices. In 2013 they released their second title, Deemo, as a free-to-start game with additional features and song packs available in the form of micro-transactions. Now the full Deemo package has been ported to Nintendo Switch. Without the anxiety of micro-transactions constantly looming overhead, there has never been a better chance to jump into this mesmerizing musical recital.
Unlike many other rhythm games, Deemo has a central story that actually serves as a foundation for which the entirety of the game is based on. The titular Deemo is a shadowy figure who lives a solitary life in a mansion. One day a small girl falls through a window in the ceiling into Deemo’s arms. The girl has no memories of who she is or where she came from but she wants to return from whence she came, nonetheless. The two soon realize that a small tree sprouting from Deemo’s piano grows ever so slightly whenever the shadowy visage plays a song. Thus, they decide to nurture the tree until it’s tall enough to reach the window the girl fell through. It’s a simple story, told through gorgeous still-frame cutscenes akin to watercolor paintings. These are accompanied by poignant piano tracks that evoke feelings of melancholy, isolation, and warmth all at the same time.
In between piano sessions, the girl can explore Deemo’s mansion and investigate various parts of it. Examining certain objects prompts the girl to give her thoughts on it and may even turn up a sheet of music to be played in the main rhythm game. The girl only has access to the piano room and the library at the start of the game. As the tree grows, however, more rooms become accessible, further adding to the mystery surrounding the mansion and its curious master.
Play songs on the piano, grow the tree, investigate the mansion, and repeat. This sequence serves as an unexpectedly satisfying gameplay loop not often found in the rhythm game genre and provides extra incentive for playing the main game.
The most quality of stories means nothing if the actual rhythm game portion doesn’t perform well, though. Fortunately, Deemo fully delivers on that important aspect. Keeping to the piano motif, Deemo can only be played in handheld mode using the Switch’s touchscreen. There are only two kinds of notes to look out for as they move from the background to the foreground: black single tap notes and yellow slide notes. The size of the notes may vary in accordance with the pitch and intensity of the sound they represent, but they are all functionally identical in the end.
The simplicity of movements allows for the songs to be mapped in such a natural and intuitive manner that the fingers fluidly glide across the Switch screen in a beautiful rendition of playing an actual piano. It’s easy to fall into a trance-like rhythm where your fingers naturally move from one note to the next. In a nice touch, black bars that appear whenever a note is hit mimic the location of actual piano keys being played, further adding to the melodious aesthetic.
One visual element Deemo lacks, however, is any sort of indicator for when two notes are supposed to be played together. Sometimes two notes are staggered ever so slightly as to not be simultaneous, but that can be difficult to discern in the heat of a song. Fortunately, the game’s hit detection is forgiving enough to where even if you do hit these closely staggered notes at the same time it usually will not break your combo.
The solid gameplay is supported by the game’s astounding song selection. Boasting over 200 unique tracks that range across numerous genres such as classical, pop, jazz, electronica, rock, and more; Deemo is certainly not lacking in quantity. Nor is it lacking in quality as the vast majority of its songs are an absolute treat to the ears and are only further enhanced when accompanied with a pair of quality headphones. Each song is punctuated with a stunning art piece that sometimes tells just as much about the story as the cutscenes do. In accordance with its theme, Deemo shines brightest during dedicated piano pieces when the game and the player gives the elegant instrument their undivided attention. While there are a handful of duds here and there, the average quality of songs is far and above and the sheer variety of tracks available ensures that no single genre ever grows stale or repetitive.
Unfortunately, Deemo‘s impressive spread of songs serves to highlight the game’s largest flaw. While the game does group all its tracks into various “books” to open and peruse, Deemo offers no other methods of sorting. There is no way to sort by song title, difficulty, completion, genre, or anything. The most glaring omission is the lack of a “favorite” feature that would allow players to quickly pull up the tracks they had the most fun playing. Without any kind of sorting features, trying to find specific songs amongst the massive list often becomes a chore, and even scrolling through the game’s 32 book collections can become cumbersome.
Regardless of how long it may take to find the song you want, it’s impossible to deny the pure, infectious joy Deemo provides once the music begins. The sense of orchestration and achievement is unlike that of any other game of its genre and the tragic story that frames it all gives a compelling reason to continue playing beyond simply improving raw scores. Deemo delivers a resounding performance and is a must-have title for any rhythm game enthusiast.