Rhythm Heaven (DS) review
"One note regarding Rhythm Heaven; it's not about music. At least, not in the way that Guitar Hero, Rock Band, or Elite Beat Agents are about music. Instead, this quirky game focuses on the click-clack of a factory assembly line. It draws you into the tick-tock of a ping pong match. Spawning from the minds behind WarioWare, this title delves into the world of mercurial minigames, just as long as they have a beat. The music takes a seat in the background. "
One note regarding Rhythm Heaven; it's not about music. At least, not in the way that Guitar Hero, Rock Band, or Elite Beat Agents are about music. Instead, this quirky game focuses on the click-clack of a factory assembly line. It draws you into the tick-tock of a ping pong match. Spawning from the minds behind WarioWare, this title delves into the world of mercurial minigames, just as long as they have a beat. The music takes a seat in the background.
All the games have their own unique visual flavor, but they tend to pull from three general gameplay tendencies: following a steady beat, mimicking actions, and performing commands. Consider Built to Scale, the very first activity. Here, mechanical parts come together in synch with a piano scale. When the right note hits, you flick the stylus to meld them together. Fillbots follows a similar manufacturing theme. In this instance, your job is to fuel up completed robots as they roll off the line. Different robots require a different number of ticks to fill up. Your internal metronome has to be rock solid; Rhythm Heaven is very precise.
For the mimicking sections, the computer will lay down a sequence, and you simply play it back. Drummer Duel provides a simple example. The CPU pounds a few measures into his Japanese taiko. You reply by banging it out with the stylus. Maoi Doo-Wop is more complex; it features contrasting types of input. The giant heads of Easter Island will sing a long note if you hold down the stylus, and they'll let out a yelp with a quick tap. If your echo can't keep the appropriate style, birds will poop on you to show their displeasure.
For the last type, the computer will give you a cue – usually auditory and optical – and expects a certain action in response. Fan Club places you, as a monkey, in the audience of a starlet's concert. Joining the rest of the devoted primates in her crew, you keep the average spectators in line. When the diva utters a certain word or phrase, you tap and slide the stylus in a prescribed order. In Munchy Monk, a holy man trains by flipping dumplings into his mouth. The trainer yells out a number as he repeatedly places one in your palm; that tells the rhythm to follow in throwing the constant stream down your throat.
Obviously, there's a lot of visual kookiness here. I haven't even covered the dog ninja, ghost rockers, or synchronized swimmers. Rhythm Heaven presents twenty-five of these charming minigames, with sixteen having a harder variation. The forty total are divided into tiers containing four games each, capped off by a mashup of those entries. They call it a remix, and it's where this title's WarioWare roots really emerge. Clips of the entire tier are tweaked, then interleaved together – none more than a few seconds long. The controls, even with their limited scope, are unique for every event. In fact, each one acclimates you to its groove with a thorough tutorial. The remixes don't have refreshers, though, so it's a crazy challenge to keep all the specific commands for the separate games straight. You need a good memory and ear-hand coordination alike.
Unfortunately, the game employs an annoying unlocking system. Minigames are made available one at a time, usually by performing well enough to earn a passing grade. However, if you fail any stage three times in a row, Rhythm Heaven gives you the opportunity to skip the roadblock, basically acting like you cleared it. Certainly, the move prevents progress from coming to a permanent halt, but it's cheap. Regardless, the fact that there's always only one new challenge to tackle drags down the pace. It would've been better to present an entire tier at once so you could keep it fresh. Even if it's only a few times, I don't want to play the same thing over and over again, especially if I start out terrible at it.
Of course, the idea is not just to beat the level, it is to earn a perfect score. The game even awards special recognition if you can perform flawlessly on cue. Occasionally, it will single out a random selection, and you have three chances to clear it without mistakes. It's too bad that you don't get credit for perfection under ordinary circumstances, but that just ups the pressure when these special challenges arise.
If you survive the test, you may unlock some of the soundtrack for easy listening. As much as rhythm plays a part in this game, the music doesn't stand out. It is always light and cute, and a few songs are accompanied by silly lyrics. Combined with the inviting artwork and themes, there's no doubt this will initially bring a smile to your face. The pure, simple control structure certainly makes the title immediately accessible. However, perhaps it's a little to pure and simple. Once the game begins to reuse the same general mechanisms, only changed up a bit, there comes a point – too soon – where its offbeat style begins to dwarf its predictable substance.
Community review by woodhouse (April 26, 2009)
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