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Rhythm Heaven Fever

Platform(s): Nintendo DS, Wii
Genre: Rhythm
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: TNX
Release Date: April 5, 2009 (US), May 1, 2009 (EU)

About Brad Hilderbrand

I've been covering the various facets of gaming for the past five years and have been permanently indentured to WorthPlaying since I borrowed $20K from Rainier to pay off the Russian mob. When I'm not furiously writing reviews, I enjoy RPGs, rhythm games and casual titles that no one else on staff is willing to play. I'm also a staunch supporter of the PS3.


NDS Review - 'Rhythm Heaven'

by Brad Hilderbrand on April 13, 2009 @ 2:39 a.m. PDT

Rhythm Heaven is a simple and infectious rhythm game that anyone can play. If you can tap your finger in time to music, you'll get the hang of Rhythm Heaven in no time!

What do a band composed entirely of ghosts, a synchronized swimming team and a vegetable-slashing ninja dog all have in common? Well, absolutely nothing really, but you'll see all three — and much more — in Nintendo's latest bit of handheld goofiness, Rhythm Heaven. The team that brought you Wario Ware has taken perhaps one of that franchise's most fun elements and created a stand-alone game, and the results are addictive yet annoying.

What you may not know about Rhythm Heaven is that it isn't exactly a brand new IP, instead continuing down the path set by Rhythm Tengoku, a GBA title that unfortunately never made it out of Japan. The team behind both titles is the same group that worked on Wario Ware, and the idea is fairly simple: take the rhythm-based micro-games of that franchise, stretch them out a bit and see if it's possible to create a title based solely on this gameplay concept.

There is no real plot to Rhythm Heaven, nor is there any sort of overarching goal that ties together all of the disparate games beyond their individual tiers. Each tier features four different rhythm challenges, which are then mashed together for a final "remix" level to test your skills one last time before you move on. Doing exceptionally well on a stage will grant you a "Superb" ranking and a medal, and acquiring medals unlocks some random and forgettable bonus content. Furthermore, the game will occasionally throw you random challenges where landing a perfect ranking will net you even more bonus content, but these opportunities are rare and fleeting. You get three chances to ace a stage, and after that, the challenge disappears and won't come back for a long, long time. The pressure level is high, and only the absolute best will be able to nail them all.

What makes all the games of Rhythm Heaven so addicting is the fact that the title uses incredibly simple commands to create a rich and complex experience. Players are asked merely to tap, hold and flick the stylus, and these simple gestures control all necessary input throughout the game. Each challenge uses this combination of commands in unique ways, and no two games ever feel like they play the same way twice. In fact, one of the things that makes the remix stages so difficult is remembering which combinations of taps and flicks go with which mini-game you're seeing at this very second. It's fast and entertaining, and it's incredibly easy to let yourself get sucked into the game and continue playing for hours.

Unfortunately, though, while the title's simple controls are an asset, they're also a big hindrance, particularly when it comes to the later challenges. On the upper tiers, timing gets incredibly tight and precision is critical, and the DS just isn't quite responsive enough to keep up with the action. Movements with the stylus don't register as a flick until they reach a certain speed, so a quick snap of the wrist may not always be enough to register, and you'll end up missing a cue. Combine this with the fact that some of the challenges offer little margin of error, and it's easy to get stuck on certain stages; scoring well enough to earn a medal or a perfect bonus also gets to be damn near impossible.

Generally speaking, the game's difficulty may be enough to turn off a lot of folks, as the title has brutally high standards. The games are all very short (most lasting roughly a minute), so even a handful of mistakes will be enough to fail you out and force a retry of the challenge. Furthermore, the games aren't always completely clear on what they want from the player, so you'll either spend a lot of time in the pregame training sessions or just simply fail a challenge over and over again until you can memorize what the level wants from you and just repeat it from muscle memory. Most of the time, things are laid out clearly, but the title sometimes leaves gamers weakly wondering what they must do in order to succeed.

Obviously, the soundtrack plays a huge role in games like this, and the tunes in Rhythm Heaven are decent but not particularly memorable. Most stages feature music that is quirky and catchy yet largely generic, but the few levels that showcase songs with lyrics stand out as utter rubbish. These songs are about as bubblegum pop as it gets, with lazy songwriting and a severe overreliance on hooks like "yeah, yeah, yeah" and "oh, oh, oh." Sorry guys, but there will be no Grammies here.

Ever since Elite Beat Agents came along and showed what rhythm games on the DS could really do, I've been waiting for a game that can show that same level of polish, expertise and fun. Rhythm Heaven succeeds on most counts, creating a fun and entertaining title that is great when you just want to do something fairly mindless and goofy for a little while. The levels are all pretty hilarious, and the developers have managed to create rhythmic versions of beet farming, dumpling eating and even robot fueling. There's no doubt that this title is unique, and for those wanting something quirky, Japanese and musically infused, it's the perfect ticket.

The problem, however, is that Rhythm Heaven also suffers from a myriad of shortcomings that make it hard to recommend without reservation. The title has very high standards, so failure is always an option, and those without lightning reflexes and a finely tuned ear may have tremendous trouble finding the joy that the game offers. Furthermore, the musical choices aren't exactly all that inspired, and while they fulfill their purpose without question, it would have been nice if some of the arrangements had a little more "oomph."

It is my sincere hope that Rhythm Heaven finds its audience, because for a subset of the gaming populace, it's going to be the source of many hours of enthusiastic fun. As far as widespread appeal goes, that may be harder to come by. Wario Ware devotees will snap up this game quickly, as they well should, but those whose music-gaming prowess doesn't extend beyond occasional Rock Band sessions with friends likely won't find the appeal in this one.

Score: 8.2/10

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