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Rhythm Heaven (DS) artwork

Rhythm Heaven (DS) review

"Unfortunately, when my tour with Fever was done, I left with a feeling of disdain, that and a lingering question that stuck with me for months: how does the DS predecessor play?"

Every now and again, a break is needed from the abundance of action, role-playing, or sports titles that clutter the medium, and that's likely the reason I was first attracted to the Rhythm Heaven IP, eventually buying Fever for the Nintendo Wii. A "musical" series, these games require that you pass its segments by pressing the buttons in line with specific beats with the help of visual cues, and these are done in the most unconventional, oddball ways imaginable. To name a few from Fever, one involves being interviewed as a masked wrestler, listening to rhythmic gibberish and striking poses on cue as responses, while another features you as a member of a cheer squad, praising a guy reading a book in a library.

I love that about Fever, how the title doesn't take itself seriously with its simplistic art style, lighthearted beats, and goofy sense of humor, giving off an air of fun and relaxation. However, when I actually attempted to play through the entire thing, I was constantly met with questionable button detection on certain stages and a grading system that harshly punishes for one or two mistakes. Unfortunately, when my tour with Fever was done, I left with a feeling of disdain, that and a lingering question that stuck with me for months: how does the DS predecessor play? My reasoning for thinking the DS version might control better was due to the touch screen and stylus, and how this combination would make for a more fluid experience.

Thankfully, my assumptions were proven right when I dove into Rhythm Heaven's first four stages and was pleased by the more intuitive mechanics: "singing" in a chorus of bow-tied aliens is a cinch and being in an idol concert as a monkey-clapping audience participant feels natural. Unlike its Wii sequel, the DS incarnation feels like it was made with a lot of thought put into the controls; to go along with the tapping, you'll need to perform other motions for bigger moments, like holding down and flicking the stylus to make dolphins jump and spin, or rubbing the screen to control the volume of your guitar. Though, to be fair, I don't blame the devs for not taking advantage of the Wii's motion controls, because that's always a huge hit or miss with the console.

While the controls are more, um, in touch here than in its successor, Rhythm Heaven still has issues in some of its stages concerning the hit detection in conjunction with.the beats. The Rhythm Rally stages, which are ping-pong challenges, are probably the biggest offenders. The detection is so strict here to the point of extreme frustration, which isn't good when having to hit the ball at a continuous speed throughout, and whenever a slow one comes, it's an absurd guessing game; I've tested hitting it early, hitting late, and hitting it on the beat countless times, and I come away every time not having a clue about the definitive method. That's a problem for the entire game, as well, since there's no "middle ground" detection for every stage to go by, you got to figure out what hopefully works with each new one you come across.

Fortunately, they aren't as annoyingly abundant as they are in the Wii edition, but it still stinks if you're trying to get a Perfect rating, a task that crops up randomly and with limited chances to succeed, in one of those flimsy stages. In fact, good luck getting a Superb rating in half the stages without constant replays and the patience of a monk, as Rhythm Heaven also has a grading system that flip-flops. Nowhere in the instruction manual or in-game does it explain how this system works, but based on my experience across the two releases, it tries to go for a point system where the regular beats don't go for much, while the flashier, hard to pull beats are worth a lot. Emphasis on "tries", due to how it manages to fail in this aspect.

One particular example that stood out for me were my back to back sessions of Love Lab, a stage where you need to catch flasks, shake them several times to create hearts, and toss them to the next person. When I played it the first time, I didn't drop a single flask and only messed up two shakes, but the game considered this an absolute failure, forcing me to replay in order to advance. On my second go, however, I dropped a flask and screwed up a shake... and got a Superb rating. This might very well be the first time a video game made me rage and curse at the screen for receiving a great rating.

Despite the frustrations with specific stages, the hassle of the grading system, and the iffy hit detection, Rhythm Heaven is not a lost cause, since a decent chunk of the game is pretty playable and fun. Again, I contribute this to how well its template works off the touch screen/stylus, allowing a more personal experience than any of Fever's attempts; their flexibility made me at ease and more willing to concede that some mistakes that occurred were, *gasp*, actually my fault. With that mindset, I was able to enjoy myself, attain more Superb ratings than in the Wii game, and just get in the flow of things: you haven't lived if you've yet to experience an in-the-zone moment as a backup frog dancer during a rock 'n' roll vocal performance.

If a Rhythm Heaven title ever comes to the 3DS, the only thing the devs would have to do is clean up on the detection and modify the grading system so that it, well, makes sense. Better yet, simply add an unobtrusive scale or percentage bar within each stage so that players can have a better understanding on how to improve their mistakes. That's it. With these refinements and more of the same quirky, musical oddities the series is known for, the next game, if it comes to fruition, can easily be the best installment.

Time will tell.


pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (December 13, 2013)

In Blood & Truth, the protagonist is supposedly named Ryan Marks. But the Japanese title for the game, Ryan Mark's Revenge Mission, implies that it's Ryan Mark. Which one is it???


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