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November 4, 2016

Rhythm Heaven

Just in case you want to know what
my title card was parodying.
…I don’t want to review this. I’m gonna get blasted all around if I do. I’ve seen all those videos, either the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic ones, or the one that used Katamari Damacy. Not to mention the dozens upon dozens of other parodies of the rhythm-based gameplay of this DS title that has become a classic. Not necessarily a must-own, but still definitely a title to try once in your life.

One problem, though: While I believed I had a sense of rhythm, this game proved me dead wrong. I have no rhythm, apparently. In fact, I have such awful rhythm that I properly completed very few of the mini-games presented in this collection.

What will follow is a review that, hopefully, contains as few of my biases as possible. I’ve done it before, I’ve reviewed games I sucked at but I still said they were good. Because, you see, my talent at a game is not supposed to represent the actual quality of a game. I have a lot of good to say about Rhythm Heaven. I also have some points of criticism. My experience with the game may taint this article, but I’ll do my best to make sure it doesn’t. Because I know Rhythm Heaven is actually good, and that if I’m not able to beat many of the levels in it, the problem isn’t the game, the problem is me. And I will keep that in mind.

We’re all set?

Alright, here we go.

Rhythm Heaven was developed by Nintendo SP&D1, which you might know better as the main developer of the WarioWare series. And indeed, this game has all of the qualities of a WarioWare title: Lots of minigames, wildly different art styles between said mini-games, and completely off-the-wall comedy that is guaranteed to make you laugh always when you’re supposed to concentrate. And while the Rhythm Heaven series has become its own thing, it still has that connection. Just with 100% less fat red noses with zigzag mustaches. Released on July 31st 2008, the game then became a worldwide sensation. As I said earlier, this franchise just seems to invite the creation of dozens upon dozens of fan videos that combine these existing mini-games with any zany idea you can think of. It was preceded by Rhythm Tengoku in Japan, and this DS game’s worldwide release was such a success that sequels were made, including Rhythm Heaven Fever for the Wii and Rhythm Heaven Megamix, which contains new mini-games as well as multiple ones from the previous installments.

Just for fun, here are some of the videos that were based on Rhythm Heaven levels.

Pictured: Something
I never saw in the game.
There are no less than fifty mini-games here to play, each with their own tune, beat and gameplay. And the comedy that goes with it. Now, these are all split in packs of five, with the fifth game always containing a mashup of the previous four. Every mini-game can be completed with mentions "Try Again", “Just OK”, “OK”, “Superb”.

(I have never seen a Superb. That’s how crappy I am at this game. All I keep seeing are “Try Again” messages that tell me what I did well, and what I need to improve on, but a point comes where one doubts they’ll ever do well enough to see even a “Just OK”, and suddenly the “Try Again” messages start feeling patronizing.)

The goal is actually to beat any mini-game by getting a Superb rank, which awards you a medal on that mini-game. Sounds simple enough, but you will soon realize that getting even one mistake will make you kiss that Superb rank goodbye. The timing in these mini-games is extremely tight, and you need incredible accuracy.

Practice flicking all you want; who knows if it's
gonna work when you're out of the practice.
Talking about that, here’s my first actual issue with the game: Some mini-games require that you flick the stylus on the touch screen. There are already many mini-games in other titles that showed that this could be a problem, since games may sometimes not notice that there was a flick of the stylus on the screen. As a result, let’s say you’re well off into a rhythm mini-game that requires such movements, and one of your flicks doesn’t register and as a result you don’t get a Perfect. Annoying, isn’t it? This was corrected in Rhythm Heaven Remix, where all of the mini-games can also be played with the buttons – thank God for that.

Good luck seeing that screen even once.
Once you get a medal on a mini-game, it becomes eligible to have a P appear on it. P stands for Perfect, and it appears completely at random on any mini-game you’ve gotten a Superb on. This is your only chance to actually get a Perfect on that game – if you perfectly beat the game without the P on it, it won’t count. Okay, that’s a shitty gameplay mechanic. For starters, it will only appear on a mini-game you’re already good at, but that’s the thing – when it appears, you get three chances to score a Perfect on the game. Three strikes, the P vanishes, and you can never know when it will come back. If you could score a Perfect on a game at any moment, it wouldn’t be a problem, but the fact that the P moves randomly among the 50 mini-games AND that it gives you very limited chances to get a Perfect score… well, that’s pretty bad. Even many who own the game (and who, unlike me, are actually good at it) agree on this.

While we’re on the subject of the mini-games themselves, the way this game works, you start off with only one mini-game, and when you beat it, you unlock another one. And then you must beat that one. You are never given a choice of more than one new game to beat. There’s plenty of variety, but you’re forced to beat every challenge one by one, in order, to progress. Don’t like the new one? Tough. This and the Perfect mechanic are rather poor decisions that stunt your progress.

Catching potions to make hearts and spread love.
What happened to good ol' dating?
But, to be completely fair, the mini-games ARE a lot of fun. I will never deny that. Difficult? Yes. Tricky? Yes. Do they demand incredible timing? Heck yea. But every mini-game has its quirks, its comical elements. You’re offered a tutorial before every level (though Remixes don’t have this), so that you have an idea of what’s coming next – and that doesn’t mean that level won’t throw a few curveballs your way. In fact, you can practically expect the unexpected spikes in difficulty that the tutorials do not cover. It actually shows in the very first game, Built To Scale, where at one point the top screen has a blackout and you can only rely on a small circle on the screen and the sounds you’ve heard up to that point. There are other examples, like in Love Lab which suddenly throws beats that the tutorial didn’t quite prepare you for. And no, that’s not a complaint – after all, tutorials are supposed to show the basics first, and then let the player deal with the more complex portions that were built out of the basics. Also, you can skip every tutorial if you want, so there’s that. That’s more than I can say of other titles out there, amirite Bowser’s Inside Story?

And, to this game’s credit, many mini-games are excellent. This game knows how to combine the visuals to the music to make something that will be interesting to watch and play. The second mini-game, the one with the three choir boys, already puts you in a funny situation. When you fail, your choir boy gets annoyed looks from the other two, and it’s quite comical. Not to mention all of the other mini-games with funny stuff happening if you fail. And you’ll be happy to have them, as you’ll fail a lot.

You’ll fail… A LOT. And unless you have excellent memory, timing and patience, you might just drop the game.

Could I just stay here forever instead of playing the
rhythm games? ...No? Awww, please... This place has
free wi-fi!
Thankfully, it’s not all there is to see in the game – well, alright, it is most of what there is to see, but it’s not everything. If you’re stressed out by the current challenge, you can spend some time at the Café. Need a break? Go there and relax. I just hope they have hot chocolate at that Café. Oh, and biscotto! Perhaps ham sandwiches. No, wait, chicken sandwiches! Maybe a bunch of donuts of varying flavors? Okay, I should stop there, I can’t be expecting a freaking Tim Hortons in a game from Japan. If the barista isn’t too busy, you can chat a bit. It’s not a character, more like disembodied text without an identity. Pretty much nothing to know from that person and what they say is generic enough, so you can probably imagine whoever you want in that role. Also of note, if you come to the Café after repeatedly failing the latest mini-game, the barista may be nice enough to unlock the next one for you. That’s also very sweet… but in my case? That’s how I got so far. By failing in style and getting pitied by a disembodied text. Kind of pathetic, isn’t it?

Thanks, but, if I want music classes, I'll pay a
professional, thank you very much.
You can also choose to listen to music (mostly the tracks of the game), read something (there are as many texts to unlock as there are mini-games, but you only get them by scoring Perfects), and as a last option you can practice flicking… AKA, the tutorial that plays when you start the game for the first time and that you must pass before moving on to the actual collection.

If this still isn’t enough, there’s also the Medal Corner, where you will unlock various new things based on the number of medals you’ve collected.
-Endless games, six endless versions of mini-games available in this collection. How far can you go?
-Rhythm toys, seven little toys to, well… play around with.
-Guitar lessons: Basic and technical courses, both which involve scratching the cords on the guitar and pressing the buttons to get different pitches. I would almost enjoy those, if I could unlock them in any way…

My greatest dreams?
And so, this covers everything I had to say. Do I like it? No. Is it a good game? Yes! And I’m sorry I can’t represent it better. It was a big disappointment for me, too; you find that game for, what, 5 bucks at a little store, when it’s still being sold over 30 bucks everywhere else – for a simple DS game, mind you, not even a 3DS game – and you keep hearing good things about the game, so hey, why would you imagine you’d hate it? That was my situation. This nicely ties in with my comments about hype and fandoms and how it’s often intimidating to play for the first time a game that has received praise after praise, and you expect something that measures up to your expectations mixed with a fear that you won’t like it, even if everyone else seems to. This was my case for Rhythm Fever. I get why it’s so beloved, I honestly want to enjoy it. But my own suckiness prevents me from liking what seems to be getting all the praise. It’s a franchise I will never get more into. I have encountered a block and I still don’t think I’ll ever get past it. Oh sure, I could cheat and unlock all the mini-games by sucking royally at each and have the barista unlock them all for me, one by one.

That’s a shame, really. I watch the videos built out of the original songs in this DS title, and damn, I want to play them, enjoy them. When it comes to the music, the tracks I’ve heard are very good! And the art style is very nice too, keeping that slight WarioWare feel. I can see why these mini-games are addictive to some. If you got some sense of rhythm, you damn sure want to beat these, even if it’s just to prove to yourself that you can. The bonus options are nice, whether it’s the respectable amount of stuff to unlock, or the Café section, which I actually quite enjoy (how many games have sections expressly for personal relaxation?).

Making music for monkeys?
Eh, why not. we do have monkeys making music.
That said, while I acknowledge that it’s much better than my final opinion would say, I still see many problems with it. You pretty much need to not miss a single beat to get a Superb on a game. Sometimes it’s hard to even get a “Just OK”. The flicking mechanic can be pretty annoying, especially when the touch screen doesn’t register one, costing you the Superb or, worse even, the Perfect. Also, the randomized Perfect system is a pile of crap. Plus, only one mini-game unlocked at a time, that’s a very slow progression and if you’re stuck on a mini-game, either perseverate or ask the barista for help. But you’ve already read all this, so why do I bother writing it all over again. Why do I bother with all this. I’m not even sure anymore.

Should you try Rhythm Heaven? You should. But try it before you actually spend any money on it. You might actually have a better experience with Rhythm Heaven Megamix on the Nintendo 3DS, since it uses buttons rather than the touch screen. If you already own the game and enjoy it, more power to you. I wished I could enjoy it. But hey, I’m just one online voice, I’m no gospel, you can freely ignore what I had to say about this one. You like it? Like it all you want.

There it goes. Another review completed. See ya next week.