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Friday, April 20, 2012

Review: Rhythm Heaven Fever

It's maddening more often than entertaining, but Rhythm Heaven Fever's catchy tunes and varied, gratifying gameplay make it worth seeking out.

By Callum Rakestraw

The one and only major problem with rhythm games is the need for a good sense of rhythm to play them. And you either have it or you don’t, all but locking you out of such games if you don’t possess said sense.
Although in most cases, "good" isn't enough; superb would be the better word. Nintendo's Rhythm Heaven series is a prime example of this, asking players to master the beat of a myriad of wacky minigames, which range from playing golf to picking up pieces of food with a fork. They all seem deceptively simple on the surface, but turn into hellish tests of both endurance and rhythmic abilities right from the get-go. As the first installment to land on a home console, Rhythm Heaven Fever lives up to its reputation, bringing its special brand of crazy to a more appropriate format.
Chances are you might already be familiar with this series through 2009's entry on the DS, which served as its debut outside Japan. If you aren't, however, then the best comparison would be WarioWare with longer minigames and tighter timing. It's an apt comparison because each minigame is radically different in theme. One moment you're screwing heads onto robots, the next you're dancing with a group of shrimp, or playing badminton while flying a couple of small planes, or assuming the role of a wrestler answering questions from a reporter, or... you get the picture.
The sheer randomness of it is a delight. You never know what absurd scenario you're going to find yourself in next. The art style remains consistent throughout -- a sort of anime-esque style with lots of vibrant colors -- though there are some differences in terms of character design sometimes. Regardless, the style works, making characters highly expressive as they move along to the music.

Screwbot Factory: one of the earliest and easiest games, but also one of the best.

You don't follow the tune too closely, however. It certainly does act as a guide, but a good number of the games have a separate rhythm to adhere to. Visual and audio cues that are easy to follow make up the general assortment. Though occasionally the cues are invisible and have to be identified through trial and error, because the timing is so tight that mere visuals or audio are unable to guide.
Example: A game titled "Monkey Watch," which sees you controlling a monkey riding a hand of a clock high-fiving other simians who emerge from hatches surrounding the clock-face. The window of opportunity on it, however, is super tight. You have a split second between when the primates pull their hands back and when you pass them that you're able to high-five them. There's a definite rhythm to it, which you ease into easily before the "off-beat" variety starts cropping up, at which point it becomes a ton more difficult. So much so that its cues don’t manage to help even marginally. Makes me mad just thinking about it... grr. That blasted game... damn you!
Thankfully, if a game proves too hard, you can skip it entirely after several consecutive failures. All you have to do is drop by the cafe and let the barista do its thing, letting you merrily continue on to the next potentially anger-inducing game.
Rhythm Heaven, despite its hard-boiled nature, keeps up a feeling of fairness throughout. Seldom do any of the games feel truly impossible, even if you’ll feel otherwise whilst playing. It’s simply a matter of patience. Taking the time to properly learn the nuances of each minigame is the only road to success. Each game gives you a brief practice round to get acquainted with they all work, but it’s only enough to understand the basics. Playing the actual game itself is the only way to master it – trial and error, in short. It takes a long while to get the hang of the games, in this case, but you do often feel yourself getting better and better with each attempt… even if your performance does end up going south towards the end. And it will. Time after time, until you finally get it and are overtaken by a huge sense of relief and reward for completing such a near insurmountable challenge.
Generally the frustration factor is a lot lower here than it was in the DS game, though. And the controls are to thank. On the DS, Rhythm Heaven exclusively relied on the stylus for input, which saw all manner of movements: from swiping, to tapping, to flicking, and sliding, Rhythm Heaven DS had it all. It wasn't broken, mind you; it was functional. It just lacked accuracy. Finding the correct millisecond to swipe is a lot harder than discerning the moment to tap a button. Less delay, looser timing.
Fever only uses a few buttons: A, B, A and B, or some combination thereof, but never all three at once. Such a basic configuration ensures that everything runs smoothly, eliminating the feel that the controls are at fault for failure.

Slashing demons proves to be one of the more unusual activities available.

Rhythm Heaven has 50 games total, all spread among ten sets of five, each culminating in a remix that combines the four games of that row into one long song, swapping between games at rapid pace. They act as the ultimate test of your abilities, to see how good a player you are. Each remix has a consistent theme, both visually and musically. A tropical motif dresses characters in beachside apparel, backgrounds made colorful and sunny as a jubilant tune beats along to the steady rhythms beneath each game.
As the very crux of Rhythm Heaven, the music is as infectious as it is varied, subtle sound effects fleshing out the compositions to their fullest. Tracks move in symmetry to your actions, attaining a harmonious performance that only the most carefully crafted music games can achieve. Most, if not all of its soundtrack is sure to stick with you, frequently playing in the back of your head.
Fever contains a healthy amount of re-playability as well. From medals earned from superb performances and the extra games unlocked from obtaining them, to the set of activities devoted for cooperative play, Rhythm Heaven Fever ensures you'll get the most out of its entrancing experience.

Final Score - 9.0

As one of the last games to come from Nintendo before it retires the Wii in favor of its tablet-controlled successor, chances are this game will see a small audience as everyone begins packing away their consoles. Even so, at least Nintendo is sending off the Wii with a bang, having saved its best for last. If you still have your Wii set-up, or are willing to bring it back out for another spin, then Rhythm Heaven Fever is well worth your time.

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