Review: Deemo -Reborn- (PS4/PSVR)

Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4

Platform/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • 4K TV

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • PlayStation VR Optional
  • Move Two Required in VR
Title: Deemo -Reborn-
Format: PSN (8.06 GB)
Release Date: November 21, 2019
Publisher: Unties
Developer: Rayark Games
Original MSRP: $39.99 (USD)
ESRB Rating: E
A code for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
Deemo -Reborn- was a game I was very curious about when it was announced. The original Deemo on mobile has been ported to Vita and Switch, with all three versions relying either entirely or primarily on touch screen controls. Obviously the PS4 doesn’t have that, so I was curious how they would adapt it. But alongside the PS4 version, Reborn was announced to have a VR mode. And that was even more curious to me.

On the story side of things, and yes that’s story in a rhythm game, not much has changed. The story involves a strange entity named Deemo, who finds a young girl when she falls into his home. She has no memory of where she came from other than falling from the hole in the ceiling. Together, she and Deemo play the piano to grow a tree with the hopes that she will eventually be able to climb it back to where she came from.

On the rhythm gameplay side, the designer’s solution to adapting the gameplay was pretty much just to take the songs from the other versions and just jam them into a pretty standard PS4 rhythm game. As normal, notes will scroll down a track into one of six lanes and you’ll have to hit the corresponding button at the right time. It’s almost the same gameplay as DJMAX Respect and MUSYNX, and even has the note highway tilted like the latter. There are sliding notes, which require using the analog sticks, but again that’s not something we haven’t seen in other rhythm games before.

And honestly, there’s not much else to say. The songs play well and they’re competently charted. The most unique thing about the rhythm gameplay is the choice of songs, but I’ll get into that in a later section. The only real issue I had with the rhythm gameplay is how the game varies the size of the notes. The mobile versions did this too, but on that platform the larger notes, which often represent chords, could be hit by tapping anywhere in that area. Here, where there should be six distinct lanes, the larger notes impede on other lanes. The game does have different color notes for two of the lanes, but in a few songs, the larger notes seemed like they started to cover the neighboring note. It’s a minor complaint but it did pop up in a few places.

The place where they really changed from the mobile versions is in the stuff outside the rhythm game. While the mobile game featured a few static environments that held some secrets, -Reborn- has fully 3D environments that the girl can walk around and explore. While doing so, she can find new music for Deemo to play as well as solve mysteries to find out more about the strange place she is in.

This part of the game is like a point-and-click adventure game but played with a traditional third person perspective. You can move the girl around the various rooms and interact with specific parts of the environment. Occasionally you’ll have to pick up items and use them elsewhere for puzzles, or sometimes the game will drop you into a more first person view to interact with more involved sliding or item swapping puzzles. At first I was unsure if a company that primarily makes rhythm games would do well at adding puzzles, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this part of the game.

For me, the puzzles hit just the right balance of being easy enough to not stump me, but hard enough to give me a sense of satisfaction when I solved them. Most puzzles rely on clues hidden in the environment, or finding the right item or interaction point. And with the exception of a couple of items, which are usually pretty obvious, most of the puzzles are contained to a single room so you don’t have to worry about trying to scout far and wide for some obscure clue. (At least this is the case as far as I have currently progressed in the game.) Finding the clues means thoroughly investigating the rooms, but I also never felt like I was pixel hunting, like in some point-and-click games.

Progression was probably my biggest issue with the original Deemo and -Reborn- is much, much better in that regard. There’s still a tree height that dictates story progression while metering the acquisition of new songs and rooms, but it no longer requires far too many song plays between key tree heights. I could usually get by with playing the new songs I unlocked, then in some cases one or two repeated songs, before the game would be pulling me back for more story or puzzle gameplay (and thus new song unlocks). And likewise, I never felt like I was stuck in the puzzle gameplay for too long. Unfortunately for players who might want only the rhythm sections, you do have to do both to progress. But as someone who enjoys puzzles and rhythm games, the balance between them felt good to me.

For VR, the puzzle sections really don’t change too much, except that instead of being a third person camera following the girl around, you’re now stationary and pointing at things for her to interact with. Otherwise, the puzzles are exactly the same and you can play the whole game in either mode.

The rhythm game sections are where VR changes a lot, and not for the better. Now, you have two floating hands controlled by the two Move controllers and you have to tap the notes that fall down the note lanes by physically tapping with your hand. In some ways, this play method is probably closer to the mobile game’s gameplay, but far less satisfying. I found it a bit finicky to get the notes to register unless I greatly exaggerated the up and down tapping movement, which just made me feel more like I was playing the drums than the piano.


VR screen captures

Two other small complaints for both VR and non-VR: this game has annoyingly long load times, and there are some confusing/incorrect button prompts. For the load times, the game has to jump to a loading screen every time you change rooms in the castle, every time you go to the rhythm game section and back to the castle, and every time you select a song. The time varies, but it does take a while sometimes. As for the button prompts, I’m hoping this is something that’ll change with a day-one patch but at the moment my version has a few places where the game indicates to press Cross for something but it actually wants Circle, or vise versa. I’d be willing to bet this is just an oversight during the localization process.

Visuals:
Deemo -Reborn- looks pretty good overall. The environments you move around in for the puzzle games have a lot of great ambiance and definitely add to the mysterious nature of the story and gameplay, thanks to little clues hidden everywhere and a general sense of malaise. Adding to that is Deemo himself, who always looked a little creepy in the mobile game but when rendered in full 3D seems even more strange. His long lanky arms and spindly fingers definitely make you think of slenderman, but his actions in game are so calm and helpful, it just adds to the sense of discontent. This is especially apparent in VR, where you can see and interact with him in a virtual environment.

The rhythm game sections have a solid aesthetic, though as noted before there were a few times where I didn’t care for how large the notes themselves got, as they could start to cover up their neighbor. The rhythm game background actually changes through out the story during certain moments and I kinda liked the variety. I hope there’s a way to swap between the backgrounds once I complete the game (haven’t quite made it yet, but I’m close) as it would be nice to be able to select my favorite on.

Audio:
Deemo -Reborn- includes many (maybe all, but I’m still working on unlocking stuff) of the songs from the base version of the mobile game. Since the story relies a lot on Deemo’s piano playing, the soundtrack is likewise very centered on piano music. It’s not purely piano, as the tracks usually have some other instruments, but the main melody is the piano and that’s often what the game’s note charts are keyed to. As noted in my review of the Vita version, on one hand this makes for a pretty unique soundtrack compared to many other rhythm games, but on the other hand, the softer music can sometimes be to the game’s detriment. -Reborn- adds a chunk of new music, and much of this new music seems designed to vary the genres and feel of the soundtrack, which gives players something ‘heavier’ to play if all the piano tracks start to put them to sleep.

Outside the rhythm game portion, the music and sound effects are all very effective. Many areas of the game have soft but effective ambient noise and at times music, especially when Deemo decides to play the piano while you’re solving puzzles. As with some games where it’s possible to spend a long time puzzling over a decision, there were a couple situations where the background music started to bother me. One time in particular was a puzzle that involved a short loop of music and hearing it repeated so much while trying to solve the puzzle made me give up and go elsewhere. But this was not the norm for me.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is single player only with no online component.

Conclusion:
I liked the original Deemo but I didn’t love it. Deemo -Reborn- seems to fix many of my complaints: namely how long it took to unlock new songs, the narrow genres of music available (without DLC), and the lack of extra variety outside the rhythm game. Fixing these doesn’t make Deemo -Reborn- perfect by any stretch, but it’s now a game I really do love. That being said, -Reborn- does require its players to be on-board for both the puzzles and the rhythm game, as you really can’t do only one part of the gameplay. Strange how adding more variety might actually reduce the niche of players, but at least it’s a better game for people in that niche.

The other caveat to my score is that I really wouldn’t recommend Deemo -Reborn- for the VR component. It’s fine for moving around and solving things, but I really didn’t care for how it played when you were playing music. Just a little too finicky to feel good. If you’ve got a PSVR and wanna try it out, go ahead, but I’d avoid buying it just for the VR gameplay. The ‘flat’ version is very good though, so maybe still think about trying it for that and considering the VR as a freebie inclusion.

Score:
8.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Written by Andy Richardson

Andy Richardson

A longtime PlayStation fan who enjoys JRPGs and rhythm games when he’s not tweeting about his parrot.

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