The main objective of Taiko no Tatsujin games is to hit a simulated Taiko drum following a chosen piece of music, corresponding tonotes scrolling from the right. A song is cleared when the spirit gauge is filled past the target, by playing accurately enough.
Arcade releases are equipped with simulated Taiko, which can register hits when played with drum sticks. Console releases mainly uses buttons to play, while certain devices can support additional methods of input:
- A virtual Taiko drum is provided on devices with touchscreens (DS, 3DS, Wii U, iPod touch, smartphone), played with either styluses or fingers.
- Dedicated peripherals simulating real drums can be purchased additionally for PS2, Wii or Wii U releases.
The variety of notes in the game consists mainly of red and blue markers. The red don note requires a hit on the face of the drum, and the blue kat note requires a hit on the rim. Other notes require quick consecutive hits on the drum. Types of such notes includes the yellow bar, the balloon note and the Kusudama ball.
Most games in the franchise provides four difficulty levels for play, namely Easy (kantan), Normal (futsū) and Hard muzukashii) and the hardest Oni (insane). The sequence of the notes in a level is commonly referred to as a notechart.
Certain songs also have extra inner note charts in addition to the four standard levels. These are intended to be alternative takes on the regular set.Although not a main objective, most inner note charts are made more difficult than regular note charts. Some inner note charts work by changing to an alternative version of the song, or, exclusively in arcades, switching to a completely different song.
Some songs can feature notechart branching in certain difficulty levels. According to the player's performance, the notechart changes between Normal notechart, Expert notechart or Master notechart.
Various aspects of the game can be changed to the player's liking:
- Players can choose an alternate instrument or sound to play, instead of the classic Taiko drum.
- Players can apply modifiers to change aspects of gameplay, like increased note speeds, reversed notecharts (red and blue notes interchanged) or randomized notecharts.
- In console releases, players can choose to have the notechart played automatically and correctly.
- In console releases, players can choose to have the song end early as soon as they miss one note.