Platform: Nintendo DS , DSI
Touch Screen Compatible
When Rhythm Heaven arrived on my office desk I honestly did not know what I was getting into to. I had seen snippets of information via previews, and heard some rumblings amongst other reviewers, but it was not until I finally got my hands on an actual copy of the game that I realized what this quirky title was all about. It is a game full of musical mini-games that somewhat reminds of Nintendo’s Wario Ware titles. After spending some time with the retail version I have to say that the game is sure to keep anyone playing for awhile, but there are a few peculiarities that may hamper the pure enjoyment that this title can offer.
If there is one thing that I can say about Rhythm Heaven’s visuals it is that they are definitely original and stylistic. If you have played any of the Wario Ware games of past then you’ll be familiar with the visual approach. For those of you not familiar with any of the Wario Ware titles, then the best way to explain the graphics is crazy and quirky all wrapped up into one. Each mini-game has a colorful (and sometimes black and white) look and style all its own, and given the time you spend on each challenge, you’ll appreciate the fact that things change up so quickly and stylistically. Overall the visuals really match the theme of the game.
Given that Rhythm Heaven relies on the use of music for gameplay, I can happily report that the songs found in this game really make it a solid title in this area. Sure, you won’t find any top 40 songs, and most, if not all, of the music is not recognizable, but that doesn’t stop it from being memorable. I actually caught myself on repeated occasions humming a tune or two long after I had shut off my DS. My wife even asked what I was humming, and when I told her I had no clue of what the tune was called but it was from the Rhythm Heaven game, she just shook her head and looked at me with that look she does so well. Each mini-game you play follows a distinct beat, and each tune that is offered manages to match the task at hand. If you listen close enough, and manage to find the beat, you’ll appreciate the songs and gameplay, even more. Bottomline, the music is what counts here and in Rhythm Heaven it really makes for an engaging game. On a side note, and for a true fidelity experience, use a set of headphones to play the game to get the highest quality sound, but that being said, the DS’s standard speakers do a great job here too.
As Rhythm Heaven is a musical mini-game compilation there is no story attached to the title. You just make your way through the more then 50 musical rhythm mini-games and try to do the best you can at each one.
When playing Rhythm Heaven the DS is held like a book. This reminded me of some of Brain Age titles given how you hold your handheld console when playing those games too. To control the on-screen action you use nothing but the stylus. You won’t be pushing any buttons or pressing the d-pad in any direction. There are only a few moves using the stylus that you will need to implement during the whole game (e.g. flicking or tapping the screen) so in this manner the game is very simple to learn. I was somewhat doubtful in terms of this simplicity, but it not only adds playability, it also adds to the charm offered in this game. Trust me, one of the first few mini-games involves you controlling your character in a glee club and you make him sing is by holding the stylus on screen to keep quiet, and lift it off to make him sing. It is quite effective and pretty cute looking all at the same time.
If there is one thing that I can confidently say about Rhythm Heaven is that it is an original take on the music genre. The 50 or so mini-games are quick and quite addictive. These games are also not your traditional ‘play-along-with-the-band’ affair. Each one has an interesting theme (e.g. the aforementioned glee club) or something interesting to do while tapping or flicking to the music. This becomes very apparent from the start where you first are tasked to put a metal pin through two pieces of steel in a production plant. Another task found during the first series of mini-games has you filling up robots with fuel to the beat of the music. There is definitely no lack of originality here as you will find yourself doing interesting things on-screen while grooving to the various beats.
Although Rhythm Heaven has an undeniable charm its’ music, visual approach and overall presentation, there is a dark side to the game as it can prove to a somewhat difficult game to master, especially if you are not as musically adept at following the beat. I consider myself rather capable of tapping along to the beat of any song, but when playing Rhythm Heaven I found my progress in the game crawling along at a snails pace at times as I struggled with many of the mini-games found along the way. I ended up having to play some mini-games over and over again for what seemed to be an eternity. This definitely proved to be frustrating for me, and I think many people out there will be surprised with how difficult the game can be. Add to this that there is no adjustable difficulty setting as there is only one default skill level. At the end of the day however, the rewarding feeling of finally getting through a difficult mini-game is very satisfying, but it may come at a cost: one’s sanity.
Another issue I seemed to have with the game is that the control did not always register. There were many times that a flick on the screen did not record resulting in a missed note or move. This was quite frustrating as it could cause me to fail a particular mini-game, which only added to the frustration of the ‘silent but deadly’ difficulty. As well, when you fail a mini-game you are not given any stats on how close, or far off for that matter, you are from actually completing it. This in itself is another frustrating aspect as you may have missed a couple of taps or flicks only to fail the task at hand. It would be a benefit to know where the weak part of a particular mini-game lies and what could be done to improve it. But alas, you are left on your own with very little input to figure out where you need more strength.
In terms of gameplay length, should you plow through the game, and not get stuck on many of the challenges put forth, you should get through the main game in a few hours or so. There are a total of six tiers of four different mini-games. Each of these tiers ends in what I have coined a “Super Master Remix” of all the previous mini-games you already played. This is challenging in its own right given that you are now in charge of playing all the previous challenges mixed into one. It can get pretty crazy. Although it seems like a small number of games, the replay in Rhythm Heaven is in the ability to earn medal points to unlock even more mini-games that can be accessed outside the main game. These mini-games are separate of the actual main ‘quest’ and can be accessed anytime after opening them. The pursuit to open up all 50 mini-games found in Rhythm Heaven (both in the main game and via the medal points) will take most players a long time and this fully extends the replay value of the game.
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