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This adorable rhythm game keeps kicking my ass

Don’t let its cute exterior fool you

An image from the indie game Melatonin. The character is standing on a giant phone in a dream. Each giant phone is a step and they’re floating in the air in a dream. The art style uses a cute pastel color palette. Image: Half Asleep
Ana Diaz (she/her) is a culture writer at Polygon, covering internet culture, fandom, and video games. Her work has previously appeared at NPR, Wired, and The Verge.

Melatonin’s dreamy pink exterior fooled me. Going in, I expected laid-back gameplay to match the sleepy tone of its sleepy worlds. Instead, what I got was a demanding experience that paired a tough-as-nails rhythm game with a cutesy color palette. It’s been kicking my ass, and honestly, I love it.

Created and published by Half Asleep, Melatonin takes place inside the dream world of its unnamed protagonist. You navigate a hub where you can choose between various levels — which are depicted as dreams — inspired by the character’s life. In one, you swipe a credit card to shop; in another, you shoot little aliens arcade-style, and another has you jumping from phone to phone as you dream about growing your social media following. Each minigame is set to bubbly electronic music that keeps things moving at a brisk pace.

As the game starts, it lets you know that the game requires “precise timing,” and it’s really not joking. In my experience, the window of time for a “perfect” feels incredibly small. On top of that, many of the levels rely largely on audio cues and less on visual cues. In several popular rhythm games, you get to see which button to press as it runs down a track. Melatonin will let you practice with visual support like that, but will remove it when you actually play the level.

So let’s say you go into the hub and want to dream about “gaming.” You hop into an arcade-like shooter where you zap aliens. As you play, the little aliens flash up on the screen with little to no warning, and then you have to press a button exactly one beat after each appears. It’s shockingly fast-paced for an early level because the game serves up a flurry of aliens at points.

I found myself semi-memorizing some of the minigames to max out my score. However, it’s also the kind of game where I got up from the couch and went to sit right in front of the television screen in order to be completely present in the moment. So if you are looking for a surprisingly tough and enjoyable rhythm game, I suggest you check out Melatonin.

The next level of puzzles.

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