Screenshot from Melatonin - captured on Nintendo Switch.

Melatonin - zen, therapeutic and ominous

Melatonin is a wonderfully pastel, rhythm game taking place in the liminal spaces between dreams


 I love rhythm games. Maybe it's just an extension of how I love music - deeply and analytically - but I love the ways that rhythm games go about mixing game design and music, with wildly varying outcomes.

The most obvious examples of the genre take existing popular music and apply game mechanics to them - often with a hunk of plastic attached. Guitar Hero famously popularised this trend, and it's legacy continues on in wonderful newer experiences like Beat Saber. That whole subgenre of games is something I'd love to delve into someday because I truly love them - as evidenced by my worrying Donkey Konga hyperfixation. Something about playing All Star by Smash Mouth on two plastic tubs hooked up to a GameCube whilst a monkey in a tie eagerly waves his arms on screen activates something so primal and joyful in me.

Melatonin, however, falls into a different subgenre - rhythm games with original music and minigames. I personally fell in love with this genre with the Rhythm Heaven series (or Rhythm Paradise alternatively), and whilst Melatonin takes clear inspiration from the series gameplay-wise, it's stylistically a completely different ballpark.

The game goes for a very lo-fi, soft and dreamy vibe - and it commits to that through every fibre of it's being. The lines are all loose, thin and hazy. Edges are soft and fuzzy, in a way that feels difficult to parse at times whilst still being clean cut concise. The soundtrack is both unobtrusive and percussive - perfect for typing up a little essay like this, but also perfect for focusing on and trying to get the timing down to. Everything is purposeful, nothing is loose - but at the same time, everything feels loose enough that you could just dive in and get submerged in this dreamscape.

I suffer from a lovely mix of both fatigue and insomnia - sleeping at adorably confusing hours because my body betrays me - and playing this game at the more delicate hours of the night really helped me relax and got my imagination going. There's something wonderfully liminal about this game - the lo-fi beats, the beautiful pastel colour palette.

There are games where you are trying to grow your follower count - floating through a void of phones. Games where you are working in an office - surrounded by copies of yourself - all performing the exact same tasks in synchronicity. For a game so wildly surreal, it flirts with reality in a really interesting way - creating these introverted, lonely environments surrounding extraverted activities.

In a game like Rhythm Heaven - every game feels distinct, clearly part of the same world but very unrelated thematically. Everything in Melatonin oozes this dissociative vibe that feels specifically intentional. The vibe of scrolling through potential partners on dating apps, and not focusing on any of them. The vibe of entering a dream-like state whilst gaming. The game lets the player link these disconnected vignettes together with their own life - you can read into it, or you can relax out of it, and no option is prescribed.

This game isn't super long, but there's a late game minigame I really want to discuss, so I'm spoilering it just in case people don't like any form of spoilers - I can get like that sometimes.


The penultimate minigame, Dream About The Past, is one of my absolute favourites in the game, purely for the extreme ominous vibe about it. This line of blank polaroids, shifting along, whilst the player burns them one by one with a lighter. Even the most surreal games before this point have been pretty friendly on the exterior - this one is sterile to the touch, strangely alienating and insanely cool.

It made me think of a game using this sort of idea to tell a subtle narrative - having pictures on the polaroids, burning memories from the previous games, linking everything together. But I also appreciate how this game does it, blurring the lines together, really adding to the dream-like quality. Nothing makes sense, but it all kind of does? All the photos are blank - it sort of evokes that feeling of trying to remember a dream, but not being able to remember the faces.

Melatonin ultimately doesn't need to stitch a specific narrative - it's going for dreams, and dreams almost never make sense. It's going for sleep deprived - and sometimes the connective tissue between these tired moments don't link together - but sometimes you'll read into them even more.


The best word I can use to describe this game is zen. Other rhythm games can sometimes stress me out if I'm trying to perfect each song - Melatonin relaxes my shoulders and lets the player breathe between each note. You can take it as seriously as you want - you can go for every perfect, or you can kick back and indulge in the smoothly sculptured atmosphere. It hyper-emphasises the state of flow and makes it easy to just sink into this pastel dreamworld, fluttering between nightmares and... anti-nightmares (they really should come up with a word for that), and loosening the lines between them.