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Melatonin (PS5)

Melatonin (PS5) - Review

by Lee Mehr , posted on 14 April 2024 / 2,152 Views

With special exceptions to the rule, rhythm games have this odd habit of expansion and contraction.  Arcades are guaranteed to house at least one Dance Dance Revolution cabinet, yet once-hugely-successful properties like Rock Band and Guitar Hero couldn’t reignite enthusiasm with their 'soft reboots' several years ago.  Greener pastures have been found in making rhythm part of a game's connective tissue, similar to stealth today, versus its own thing.  The appropriately-named developer Half Asleep (helmed by David Huynh) rebukes that trend by paring down the mechanical complexity of instrument-focused rhythm games and focusing on Millennial/Gen Z angst within dreams. 
The real world of an exhausted person (likely Huynh's self-insert) has bled through to his dreams.  With his takeout clutter surrounding his couch/bed the first night, there's no surprise in seeing his big thought bubble centered on eating more junk food, a shopping spree, and so on.  Every night follows a pattern of entering a small hub containing a collection of corresponding levels/challenges that highlight his real-life mediocre surroundings.

While this unnamed protagonist is in dire straits, Melatonin's atmosphere and structure is consistently upbeat.  Pastel-colored phantasms welcome you to perfectly sync the X, L1, and/or R1 buttons while following a metronome's tempo.  Alongside the 1-2-3-4 beat, corresponding visual stimuli – be it floating pizza boxes shot-gunning slices down your gullet or targeting enemy aliens in a light-gun arcade cabinet – is there to supplement the music track.  It's helpful too, given how the default UI assist only appears during practice mode (unless altered in settings), heightening your focus to what's occurring onscreen.

Minus the UI trick, most genre veterans will feel at home.  Scoring a Perfect within the timing window is quite precise, yet netting 3/3 Stars (or 3/3 Rings on Hard) allows some wiggle room for screwing up.  Final scoring meter outcomes emphasize consistent chains; it's better to totally botch one whole portion and then continually hit Perfect notes than to make small mistakes across the whole song.  Hitting said notes doesn't always come down to tapping at the right time.  Oftentimes the X button must be pressed and held for a specific amount of time too, visually reinforced by an action like swinging a bat or opening/closing a lighter.  

Unsurprisingly, a few fun wrinkles are layered in on top of matching the rhythm.  The aforementioned pizza/burger-swallowing level will occasionally have you and those boxes hide behind the clouds, visually obstructing the food so you're forced to rely on the beat.  A later dating-oriented level will play around with perspective by shifting the zoom and tilting the screen out of view.  My personal favorite though is the Dream About Work level: seemingly-infinite columns of the protagonist are answering different emails and printing on cue; despite the camera slowly moving back and forth between different "yous," I couldn't help but lock eyes with one version even while he was slowly disappearing past the screen's edge.

Not all levels are created equal, but Melatonin shares a greater amount of hits than misses.  Huynh does a better job in the first half of thematically tying real world inadequacies into this dreamscape.  The clump of four unique levels (plus an epilogue challenge sewing them together) per night harmonize with each other and match quite well with the floor clutter outside of the dream.  The latter half doesn't quite share the first's connective tissue.  While part of the better first half, the least mechanically rewarding challenge would be Dream About Shopping; matching card swipes with tempo memorization never felt rewarding, even when nailing several Perfect hits in a row.  There's something about re-re-running a credit card that doesn't have the same harmony as its better levels.

Regardless of level quality & execution, presentation remains thoroughly consistent.  The color base's creamy pink and purple look perfectly captures the dreamy mood, while also serving as a great contrast to light-blue backgrounds and visual assists.  Even the less mechanically-satisfying levels are supported by a fun beat.  Past the small retinue of older licensed tracks and new stuff by Mothense, Fillipo Vicarelli, Gravity Sound, and more, the lion's share of credit goes to Darby Phillips and her impressive mixing of synth, techno, and pop.  With the exception of a few hyperactive tempos, most of the soundtrack would make a great Lo-Fi Beats playlist as background music.  The game's best quality bar none.

Typical for these sorts of indies, another chief concern would come back to value.  While true that being able to complete a $15 title in ~2 hours is quite concerning, that disregards all of the palpable extras tied alongside it.  When considering each level (minus each night's finale) has Practice, Story, & Hard modes attached, there's a genuine timesink in internalizing and improving on your past performance.  Its lifespan can be extended more hours after that through the level editor; it may not be the most expansive (you can't alter the soundtrack), but making your own unique inputs can have its own reward.  While its brevity if skipping Hard mode does remind me of Venba, maybe one more chapter was all it needed, the narrative and your contextual actions still feel more substantial because it understands its limitations as well.

In the end, Melatonin is one of those indies that does just enough with its modest limitations.  It may pare down on the complex inputs of other rhythm contemporaries, but its ruleset and pacing feel taut and finely-tuned.  Not every opportunity hits its stride, thematically or mechanically, and yet its pleasant vibes provide enough reward to continue forward.  While the protagonist may be perpetually drowsy, Half Asleep's freshman title never threatens that you’ll suffer the same fate.

Contractor by trade and writer by hobby, Lee's obnoxious criticisms have found a way to be featured across several gaming sites: N4G, VGChartz, Gaming Nexus, DarkStation, and TechRaptor! He started gaming in the mid-90s and has had the privilege in playing many games across a plethora of platforms. Reader warning: each click given to his articles only helps to inflate his Texas-sized ego. Proceed with caution.

VGChartz Verdict


This review is based on a digital copy of Melatonin for the PS5

Read more about our Review Methodology here

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Wman1996 (on 14 April 2024)

I'm interested in this title, despite playing few rhythm games. It's nice to have a review.

  • +5
coolbeans Wman1996 (on 14 April 2024)

Awesome to see. I'm glad I got around to writing about it too, since it caught me by surprise.

  • +1