The Beat Goes On
Three years ago, a game called Rhythm Heaven came out for the Nintendo DS. The game had players tapping and sliding your stylus across the screen to the beat of a song while outrageous scenarios played out in the background. At its heart it was a rhythm game, but on the surface you had martial artists deflecting bombs, aliens playing space soccer, robots being built in a factory, and more. Little did most people know that Rhythm Heaven on the DS was not the first game of its kind. The series actually started on the GBA in Japan, and, instead of tapping and flicking a touchscreen, you simply pressed the A and B buttons to the rhythm of the game. Rhythm Heaven Fever for the Wii is the latest in the Rhythm Heaven series, and it too decides to follow a standard button-based control system, eschewing the waggle controls of the Wiimote. While this may seem disappointing, trust me, the game is better off for it.
There are around fifty different rhythm games in Rhythm Heaven Fever. Most of these games feature completely new scenarios such as slashing apart ghosts that are coming through a portal or catching peas that are flung at you with a fork. Some old favorites do come back, though. The Karate Man returns, as do the factories that make robots and weird metal donuts with pegs in them. There are even some games that make a return from the original GBA game, though only hardcore fans of the series and importers will recognize them.
As I said before, this game is a rhythm game at its heart. Your goal is to press A, B, or A and B together in time with the rhythm. Certain visual and audio cues will allow you to time your button presses more exactly. For example, one game has you volleying a badminton birdie back and forth between a cat and a dog, both of which are flying planes (don’t ask.) Whenever you have to delay a beat, the planes will separate, causing the birdie to fly a longer distance and giving you an opportunity to recognize the change in timing. However, this also comes with an audio cue right before the planes separate. If you listen for audio cues, you can actually play every single game in Rhythm Heaven with your eyes closed. This is actually what the game wants you to do, as it will frequently obscure the visual cues, causing you to rely on your sense of rhythm alone.
Before each game, you are walked through a simple slow-motion tutorial to get the hang of the game’s controls. Unfortunately, many control schemes are vaguely explained, and it takes a while to get them down. However, the beat flows naturally once you get the hang of it. This is really more of a “learn as you do” affair. There’s no penalty for screwing up or losing; you play the song until the end either way, and if you fail, you can just replay the song again and again until you succeed.
There are four degrees of success in Rhythm Heaven Fever. You can fail a song, pass a song, pass a song superbly, and pass a song perfectly. Obviously, a perfect rating is awarded by never missing a note, but the other three levels of success are poorly defined. Sometimes you can flub entire sections and get a superb rating, while other times you’ll miss one single note and get an OK. The game tries to tell you what areas you passed and what areas you need to work on after every attempt at a song, but they are all said in a vague casual language that needs to be deciphered before any real advice is extracted from it. You never have any idea of how good you are doing until you get to the end of the song, so it’s really just a matter of trying your best and hoping not to fail.
The songs in the game are unlocked sequentially, and this can be a bit annoying. If you are having problems with one particular song, you could be stuck on that one song for an incredibly long time. There is also a bit of repetition. For example, many songs are “remixes” that re-use scenarios and beats from previous songs. Still other songs are just harder versions of songs you have played before. While each of these remixes and new song versions have totally new visual assets (seeing a pro wrestler become a ninja in a remix was pretty funny to see) you really aren’t varying up the gameplay all that much.
The game makes an attempt to integrate multiplayer into the mix, but it doesn’t manage that very well. All multiplayer songs are just alterations on stages you have already played in single-player mode. At the end of every multiplayer song your score is shown as a jar being filled with balls. Fill it past a line and you’ll pass the song. Unfortunately, this just boils down to playing the same songs you can play in single-player mode with the added chance that your friend will screw everything up for you. It’s frustrating, it’s not very social, and since there are far fewer multiplayer songs than there are single-player songs, you’ll probably experience everything multiplayer has to offer in about a half hour and then get bored with it.
What’s even worse is that you can’t play multiplayer mode off the bat. You actually have to unlock the multiplayer stages by earning “medals,” which you get from getting superb ratings on songs. This basically assures that at least one of people playing in multiplayer has the song down cold. Not only does this create massive skill differentials in multiplayer, but more often than not you simply don’t want to play a song in multiplayer that you already managed to basically perfect in the single-player mode.
Besides multiplayer songs, you can also unlock things like endless minigames that have you play a song until you screw up, music toys that let you just screw around, and songs in the café. These rewards are pretty cool and the endless minigames are actually rather fun. It’s certainly enough to motivate you to try and perfect every song, as insurmountable as that may seem.
Overall, Rhythm Heaven is just fun. It’s not the longest game out there and it’s a simple premise, but it has the childlike charm that its predecessors had, coupled with the graphics capabilities of a console rather than a handheld. The music is great, the graphics are fun to look at, and completing songs actually gives you a sense of accomplishment. If you don’t like Rhythm Games or minigame compilations, Rhythm Heaven Fever won’t make you a believer. However, if you have ever picked up a Guitar Hero controller or tried your hand at WarioWare, then you’ll probably be just as amused by Rhythm Heaven.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.0 Graphics
The graphics aren’t bad. The cartoony look of the game serves its purpose. The assets are just re-used too much. 4.0 Control
Tap buttons to the beat of the Rhythm. Check! 4.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
You couldn’t have a music-based game without music could you? The music is really good, though some tunes are overly cheesy. 3.4 Play Value
The game encouraged me to play until I got a gold rating on every single song, but there are some unnecessarily difficult roadblocks. 4.1 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best