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by Angelo M. D’Argenio
I'm a sucker for any import game, and the Rhythm Heaven demo for the Wii was in Japanese so that was close enough for me. For those of you who don't know, Rhythm Heaven is a series that tasks you with performing different actions to the beat of rhythms of growing speed and complexity. The first game of the franchise we saw in America was on the DS, but it previously had an iteration on the GBA that the States didn't get to try.
That's actually what Rhythm Heaven for the Wii plays like, the old GBA game. Even though every rhythm mini-game we have seen thus far (stabbing peas with a fork, slashing up ghosts, and playing badminton) appears as if it was designed around motion controls, none of the Wii's motion controls are utilized in this game. The booth rep told me that the Wii motion controls simply weren't accurate enough to be used in a game that judges your rhythm as harshly as Rhythm Heaven does, so they went with the digital controls instead.
That being said, the controls are unbelievably simple. You have to use the visual and sound cues of the game you are in to press the A button to a very particular beat. If there is a special action you have to perform, you do so by pressing the A and B buttons at the same time. That's literally all there is to it.
Here's a concrete example. The first mini-game I played involved a hand flicking peas toward me. My job was to stab them with a fork, exactly two beats after they were flicked. Sure at the beginning this was decently easy, but then peas started coming in sets of two and three at a time, some in rapid succession, and others on half beats! Eventually I was missing pea after pea, making my audience boo and my hungry pea-eating man choke on his own food. All Rhythm Heaven games have this strange quirky feel to them, and it really just gets more bizarre from here.
The second mini-game involves a samurai slashing apart ghosts to a slower beat. The samurai stares into the darkness where he sees a pair of demonic eyes look back to him. After that happens, you hear the demon growl out a three count before leaping at the Samurai in an attack. If you press the A button on the beat after the three count, you'll slash the beastie in half! However, sometimes multiple demons with green eyes show up all growling at once. If you see/hear this, you have to press A and B together after a much faster count to perform a flurry of slashes that slices them all to pieces.
Now here is the trick, as the game goes on the Samurai starts remembering the events that brought him to this demon battle. He remembers a couple of kids who lost their pinwheels, a town plagued by demon attacks, and his own lonely wandering self on the road with nothing but his memories. These flashbacks start taking up the screen space and overlapping the on-screen action! So eventually you have to press the A button in time using only audio cues, not visual ones!
The final game was probably the weirdest of all. A cat and a dog are flying in two separate planes and playing badminton with each other (Japanese games are weird). On every beat you have to press the A button to volley the birdie back and forth. Sometimes the cat shouts out a command and lobs the birdie high and you have to stall for three beats before swinging in order to hit it. As the game progresses, the cat will change position and clouds will cover the screen making it hard to see, but don't be fooled. The rules of the game remain the same. Simply press A to the beat and stall when you hear the cat. It's way harder than it sounds. It also doesn't help that the game is extremely strict in judging you. A few misses and you are given a horrible rating at the end of the song. (The game also tells you what you are screwing up and how to fix it at the end of each song, but it's in Japanese so I couldn't read it.)
Rhythm Heaven is basically going to be a mini-game compilation, and there is a rumor going around that it won't retail at full price, which makes me happy. Unfortunately, I couldn't get a booth rep to comment on this so take it with a grain of salt. Honestly, no matter the price, Rhythm Heaven is fun! So if you like music games with a quirky little twist, you might want to look into Rhythm Heaven when it hits store shelves.
Angelo M. D’Argenio
CCC Contributing Writer