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Review: Melatonin Dreams of Reaching Rhythm Heaven

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melatonin review

Developers choosing to do what “Nintendon’t” has become something of a trend in recent years. If there’s a franchise that the company has left dormant too long for fans, or if they simply want more of it than is available? Indies are happy to step in and cater to those cravings with spiritual successors. Melatonin, a new game from indie developer Half Asleep, takes on the Rhythm Heaven formula with its own sort of style.

Melatonin tells the story of a bout of insomnia, as the player character works through a week of nights of challenging sleep. This manifests in the form of rhythm challenges, all about the stressors of modern life. These can be as mundane as “food,” or as abstract as “the future.”

By iterating on the ideas of Rhythm Heaven, Melatonin is a great case study on what makes the formula work. It’s about catchy visuals! It’s about rhythm that lets you play the game with your eyes closed if you want! And Melatonin manages both of these admirably.

melatonin review

Where it falters a bit is in the energy and variety. Because of the sleepy theme, the tunes and visuals don’t have a particular pop that helps Rhythm Heaven players better stick to the rhythm and know where they are in the level’s pacing. And because the songs’ tone and complexity stays relatively similar throughout, the combination challenges at the end of each night don’t feel particularly special. Rhythm Heaven takes simpler approaches to individual stages, then blows out the mix for those special levels. And not only are Melatonin’s tracks similar, they’re also soothing. Which is sort of a problem! They occasionally fight against engagement with the gameplay, making us want to instead sit back, relax and listen.

Melatonin is a more complex game in some ways, starting where Rhythm Heaven often ends and ramping up a bit from there. A simpler approach allows for a little less needed tutorialization, but Melatonin ends up needing to throw players into practice to pick up a few things before each new game. It also sometimes uses more buttons, by default the shoulders, to vary what it asks you to do. These particularly need a quick dip into practice to pick up. There’s an optional training wheels setting to show these prompts as you play, but it disrupts the look and we can understand why it’s off by default.

level select screen half asleep rhythm game

Speaking of that look: it’s really quite well-executed. There’s an approach here with a real point of view. It’s meant to capture the experience of modern young adulthood, with concerns like money and dating serving as the basis for its rhythm games. The color palette sticks to a particular wedge of the wheel, centered around purple. This does mean particular levels don’t stick out as visually memorable, but it does make for a cohesive whole.

Melatonin has something of the opposite effect of, well, melatonin. It more closely replicates the experience of someone who, perhaps, might need some? Given the game’s theme, it would have been nice to see an easier mode that’s less white-knuckle and more about entering a flow state.

The main shortcoming of Melatonin is sort of unavoidable: its length. You’ll breeze through its 20 stages in a couple of hours! Hard Mode gives you another level of challenge to try, which could extend things a bit. And there’s even a surprisingly robust editor built into the game that’s also very easy to use. This would be a lot cooler if there were a few more building blocks to use! Instead, since you’re limited to what the stage already had, there’s not as much variety to creations as there really should be.

melatonin review

Is it fair to compare indie project Melatonin to the big-studio polish of Rhythm Heaven? Perhaps not. It doesn’t quite reach those heights, but what it manages is well-executed. And, well, it’s not exactly like we’re getting flooded with games in the genre right now! So we’ll appreciate the oasis in the desert.

Melatonin, developed by Half Asleep, will launch on PC on December 15, 2022 for $14.99. It’s slated for a Switch release soon after.

Melatonin

7

Is it fair to compare indie project Melatonin to the big-studio polish of Rhythm Heaven? Perhaps not. It doesn’t quite reach those heights, but what it manages is well-executed.

Food for Thought
  • The work level does a particular visual trick that makes it stand out.
  • The protagonist makes some truly awful sleep hygiene choices that we would not recommend.
  • What if we do want to match with aliens, Half Asleep? Did you consider that?
    If you want to know more, check out Siliconera's review guide.
    Graham Russell
    Graham Russell, editor-at-large, has been writing about games for various sites and publications since 2007. He’s a fan of streamlined strategy games, local multiplayer and upbeat aesthetics. He joined Siliconera in February 2020, and served as its Managing Editor until July 2022. When he’s not writing about games, he’s a graphic designer, web developer, card/board game designer and editor.