These days, a great rhythm game is hard to find. Though Guitar Hero and Rock Band are just dandy, I think of myself as a music game connoisseur. If it exists, and features music in some way, shape, or form, I must obtain it. After a couple years of gazing longingly toward Japan’s Rhythm Tengoku, I was on cloud nine when it was given an American release. After trysts with a couple of my personal favorites (Parappa and Lammy come to mind), and witnessing the evolution into games such as Rock Band and various other knockoffs, Nintendo’s Rhythm Heaven (its English title) was a breath of fresh air like I had not seen before.
Rhythm Heaven is hard to explain unless you’ve actually experienced it. At its core, it is a collection of WarioWare-type gameplay rolled up into one explosive little package. There is no story to contend with, no licensed songs to debate whether they belong on there or not, and no overpriced peripherals. It’s simply you, your Nintendo DS, and the game, and one very practiced stylus hand for flicking. From a colorful menu opening up with some sprightly music, you’ll choose a mini game to complete in order to make progress.
There is quite the assortment of mini-games within to complete. Each one employs a specific mode of “flicking” your stylus on a blank touch screen. All the immediate action takes place on the top screen, where you’ll be participating in real-life events as games. For example, you’ll help a new girl out with her position in a singing/dancing troupe, and you’ll even fill the role of a race car photographer. Ever wanted to fill robots up with gas in a musical factory? What about cheering with a fan club of monkeys for your favorite pop star? You’ll do all that and more in Rhythm Heaven. Sound funky? It is – quite possibly one of the quirkiest rhythm games that I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing.
Each game’s controls involve only the stylus. You’ll never need to press a face button while completing them. You’ll need to apply different kinds of pressure, flick at the right point in time during a song, and hold down the stylus to the screen in order to sustain notes or to keep the beat moving along. While these maneuvers may sound simple, the variety of games will keep you struggling to meet Rhythm Heaven’s harsh judging criteria. If you miss a few beats then you’ll be relegated to just “OKAY” status when it’s possible to receive a Superb or even Perfect regarding medals the game awards. Perfects can only be attained randomly, and once you’ve blown your chance at greatness, it will be quite a while before you see it again. Luckily, if you begin to have trouble within certain mini games, the friendly barista is around to help you get past troubling pieces.
When you’ve completed enough games you’ll be rewarded with a remix of all the games you’ve completed up until that point brilliantly orchestrated with a brand new musical track. They fit gorgeously and seamlessly together, and you’ll be in awe at how well certain games and different styles can fit together so well. In fact, you’ll wonder why America has been missing out on such sheer genius for so long. I know I did.
Some may complain that the localized English dub for the Japanese tracks were not so lovingly crafted. I have to disagree. While the voice actors and actresses may be lacking enthusiasm in some bits, the English lyrics accompanying the original Japanese music are quite charming and easy to get stuck in your head. It’s likely that after only a few minutes spent with the few songs including lyrics, you won’t be able to forget them for quite some time. Such is the charm of Rhythm Heaven. It may feel strange and foreign at first, but once you find out that you absolutely love it, it’s too late to escape from its grasp!
Rhythm Heaven isn’t your typical music game, and that may be a turnoff for some people. Many will flock to it expecting Rock Band or Singstar, when it couldn’t be much further from the norm. If you pick up the game, be advised that you’re in for some scathing difficulty, quirky Japanese moments, and characters you just plain won’t understand – that’s another culture for you! However, if you do choose to put down your hard-earned cash on this fantastic offering from Nintendo, then rest assured that you won’t be disappointed. Well, perhaps that’s not entirely true – you might get a little upset from failing out on the mini-game Lockstep a few more times than you’re used to in other games!