Original in its concept, outrageous in its presentation, silly in its heart and amusing its feel
In a world where, most of the times, more is usually seen as better, gamers who appreciate the two sides of the gaming world (its capacity to produce gems that are impressively big and complex, but to also come up with titles that are delightfully simple) end up falling victim to an extreme need to play something that is stripped down, straightforward and fun; a game that does not demand huge amounts of physical or mental exercise, and that amuses without trying too hard. This huge void, caused by the industry’s intense rush to increasingly produce games with more flash, is where simplicity is acknowledged as a redeeming quality, and that space is occasionally filled up by companies with very creative minds that have no fear of swimming against the undertow.
Rhythm Heaven first appeared on the Nintendo DS as a fun alternative to either those who wanted to get into the rhythm gaming genre but did not have the ability to deal with the overwhelming amount of buttons that had to be mastered in Guitar Hero and Rock Band, or as a nice break for fans of those two titles that were on the lookout for a simpler, yet charming, experience. After its well-acclaimed original title, the series spread its wings and landed on the Nintendo Wii, and the result was a musical experience as great as any other one out there.
The first thing players will notice is how the game looks. In a similar fashion to what happened to the WarioWare series when it migrated to the Nintendo GameCube, even though Rhythm Heaven now finds its home in a much more powerful hardware, the developers behind the game decided to leave its looks unaltered. After all – like it happens in Wario’s mini-game madness – the way the game looks is a big reason behind its distinct personality.
Rhythm Heaven would not be itself if quirky hand-drawn 2-D animations had been replaced by fancy polygonal models and attention-diverting environments, and it is an absolute blessing that Nintendo was sensible enough to realize that. Those who have played through the original will automatically feel at home when they glance at the game’s intentionally low production values; meanwhile, those who are new to this musical insanity will be pleased at how delightful the marriage between the rough over-the-top animations and the game’s vibe is. Equally, then, the two groups will be united in realizing that even though what is seen on screen does not quite make sense in a deep way, it is still an awesome companion to the act of pressing the button to the rhythm.
Rhythm Heaven Fever features a whopping fifty musical mini-games that last between one and three minutes each. During those musical challenges players will be met with a scenario that will involve an extravagant and wacky activity that demands rhythmic precision that matches the songs that play in the background of each mini-game. The scenarios include a pair of cats playing tennis while flying airplanes (which extrapolates all concepts of awesomeness), a samurai who must battle dark spirits in an equally dark forest, a wrestler giving interviews and posing for pictures, a boy deflecting sports balls in order to protect his date, and a bunch of seals who march to the beat and occasionally perform more complex physical maneuvers.
It sounds like total lunacy, and it is indeed absolutely insane; Rhythm Heaven unearths rhythmical scenarios in outlandish situations and makes them come off as even wackier as they are by definition by presenting them in a rough yet cute art style. And those are just five of the forty, or so, unique scenarios players will encounter during their playthrough; all of which are incredibly fun, and look like they have been created by a very mad man with an incredible sense of humor and the ability to find rhythmical value in the most mundane situations.
Being a game that demands ridiculous precision – where being off by a split of a second means not being timely enough and letting the tennis ball the cats are playing with fall from the sky, or making the wrestler pose awkwardly or say something stupid – Rhythm Heaven Fever could have suffered, and made players suffer along with it, if motion controls had been implemented.
Thankfully, as a statement on its simplicity, the game only makes use of two buttons on the Wiimote – A and B – and that is pretty much it. Variety, then, does not come from the amount of actions that can be performed, but from the different presentation of the scenarios, their individual rhythmical quirks, and the different musical genres players will encounter throughout the game. Unlike more traditional music games, Rhythm Heaven does not challenge players by presenting ultra-fast finger-bending sequences of button presses; instead, it simply focuses on keeping up with the beat and adjusting, and recovering, from the rhythmical changes, which will always try to throw players out of their groove, that will occur during the mini-games.
The game’s structure is extremely linear. The 50 mini-games are unlocked one at a time, meaning players cannot proceed to the next mini-game if they want to take a break from their current challenge or avoid the frustration a certain mini-game might be causing them. For each set of four mini-games that are completed, a remix will be revealed, where the previous four activities are all mixed up into a three-minute song that will challenge players’ muscle memory into performing the different rhythms learned from the previous four challenges and successfully switching back and forth from one to another.
Completing the 50 mini-games will not take too long, probably between five and six hours, but it is always possible to go back and replay all levels in order to try to get a perfect score and a golden medal, which can be exchanged for little extras like endless mini-games where players can keep going following the rhythm until they screw up; a simple multiplayer mode, where 10 of the game’s mini-games can be replayed by two players; or a jukebox with the game’s many nice catchy tunes.
Sadly, Rhythm Heaven Fever does inherit some very basic flaws from its predecessor that could have been easily fixed. First of all, it is impossible to simply restart a mini-game once players notice they are not doing well enough to get a passing grade. They are therefore forced to pause, quit – which will lead them back to the game’s starting screen – and trace their way back to the mini-game in question. Considering how much practice some mini-games require in order to be cleared, or worse, how many times one must play a mini-game in order to try to achieve a perfect score, not adding a retry option to the pause menu is a big sin that leads to a lot of unnecessary frustration, especially to those who will get so addicted to Rhythm Heaven they will try their best to unlock all secrets the game has to offer.
Secondly, the game features a suspicious grading system. Thinking you did just fine to get an “ok” and getting a “That could have been better” instead will be a common occurrence that will baffle – and anger – anyone who has been trying to clear a mini-game for quite some time. Thus, it would have been a positive transparent move to add some sort of performance bar so players could visually check how they are faring as the mini-games progress.
Still, Rhythm Heaven Fever is an absolute blast to play, look at and listen to: it is a feast for the senses. Games who embrace a simple approach to gameplay often rely on being addictive as a mean to achieve success, and an extremely addictive title is precisely the final result that comes out of this cauldron of insanity, wackiness, lack of common sense, music, colors and rhythm. Sure, there a few frustrating moments here and there; sure, some of the issues the game presents are addressed by any course of Game Design 101 out there; but what matters in the end is the bottom line, and the bottom line is Rhythm Heaven Fever is, like its predecessors, a unique gem among music games. It is original in its concept, outrageous in its presentation, silly in its heart and amusing in its feel. Rhythm Heaven Fever is, by all means, a game that is worth playing.