Rhythm games may not have total control of the gaming market
these days, but people always want to press buttons in time to music. That’s
especially true on the Wii, where Just Dance is one of the biggest franchises
in the system’s history. But for those that prefer Japanese weirdness and catchy
tunes over hopping around to kid-friendly pop, Rhythm Heaven Fever has
finally made it to our shores. And despite being softened around the edges, the franchise's
undeniable charm shines brighter than ever.
Rhythm Heaven isn’t as well known here as it is in Japan,
but think of it as a musical WarioWare. Instead on seven second minigames, each
gaming morsel is built around a song and a simple concept, like hitting a
baseball or playing a tambourine. Get your timing right, successfully complete
a song, and you’ll unlock the next one. And just like WarioWare, Rhythm Heaven
is exploding with personality.
One very important note: Rhythm Heaven Fever is waggle-free!
Unlike virtually every Nintendo franchise that transitioned to the Wii, no
ridiculous motion controls were tacked on to RHF. For 95 percent of what you’ll
be doing in the game, you only use the A and B buttons. You'll simply tap those two in
time to music to win, which is a fairly straightforward compared to the DS
version’s more informal touch screen controls. However, don’t mistake it as
brainless, as the developers found an insane number of uses for those couple of
RHF takes you through its playlist one song at a time, with
lengthy practice for each tune beforehand should you need it (and you probably
do need it). It begins with tapping
the A button alongside simple cues like a man hitting golf balls thrown at him
by monkeys, and the music gets incrementally faster and more complex. Soon a
much bigger ape is throwing faster spheres at you set to a different tempo. As
the song progresses you catch the small audio cues telling you when to tap and
hopefully you catch on to those.
This pattern basically follows for each song you’re
introduced to, as simple concepts pile one on top of the other and you learn
each song’s tricks. As you go through the tracks they mature, getting deeper
and more interesting, some even have lyrics. We came to love the catchy
Japanese soundtrack, with the merry melodies from it rattling around in our
head days later.
Even in a game so focused on audio, the stylistic appeal is
backed up superbly by the art design. The characters and settings are simply
designed for maximum cuteness, but there’s a slight edginess and rebelliousness
to the game. Not unlike the smiling, fun-loving monkeys that frequently pop up
during the challenges, RHF has a mischievous quality to it, with lovably odd minigame
concepts like interviewing a wrestler being and kicking away annoying soccer
balls during a date. RHF is exceedingly charming and kept pulling us
back with the desire to experience everything.
That fun and exciting uniqueness to each track is needed too,
because the songs can get pretty tough as time goes on. And no matter how much
you love the feel of the game, if you lack rhythm, you’ll have a tough time
every so often. If you aren’t feeling the beat of something (like we did with
the delightful Monkey Watch), no matter how adorable the art is, you’ll be
frustrated. That’s where the relaxed tone of the game is helpful, though some
of the “hardcore” out there might reject it.
If you fail at a song a few times, RHF gives you the choice to simply give up and move on. After failing at the aforementioned Monkey
Watch, the option popped up in a sub menu to skip the track and move on
to the next one. We were so stymied by this minigame that we took that option
even though it made us feel a little dirty. When the same thing happened in
Remix 3, a boss fight of sorts that cuts together the four previous songs, we
were similarly stuck thanks to the Monkey Watch portion. Eventually we had to
skip it as well, but we felt slightly less dirty the second time.
By the end we’d skipped over several more songs (that we
eventually revisited at our own pace), and we'd stopped caring about how skipping
them made us feel. Rhythm Heaven Fever isn’t out to punish you for not getting
a song by denying you content. It wants you to experience as much as possible no
matter what your natural musical abilities may be. Instead of withholding, it
rewards players that are good with bonus items while letting everyone see all
the songs if they want. It’s a clever compromise and one we easily accept.
Perhaps due to its simple style Rhythm Heaven
Fever is launching at a value price, but it’s bursting with addictive content you’ll
want to experience over and over again. RHF is an experience you can either
face like the hardcore gamer you dream of being or in a relaxed afternoon like
a music lover not bothered by high scores. RHF finds a great middle ground between the Wii's family audience and the niche group Japanese oddities like
Rhythm Heaven normally attracts. If you want some light fun to enjoy between “serious” games, don’t deny yourself one of the last Wii games
worth your time.