Monday, February 13, 2012

Review: Rhythm Heaven Fever

The third game in the Rhythm Heaven franchise (though only the second to see an international relase) fits right into the delightfully wacky, decidedly Japanese mold that the first two games have established. Veterans of the series will find themselves just as charmed and just as challenged as they have in the past, while newcomers are in for a much more accessible experience than they might have found had they jumped aboard on the DS.

As a franchise, Rhythm Heaven has always felt to me like the truest expression of a "rhythm game;" games like Parappa the Rapper, Guitar Hero, and Elite Beat Agents, while fantastic, rely just as much (if not more so) on visual cues as they do a genuine sense of rhythm. But Rhythm Heaven is much more subtle in the way that it incorporates its visuals, and they will frequently wean you off of such cues until you are left solely with your ears and your gut to guide you. Rhythm Heaven Fever is no different, and all manner of clouds, leaves, Japanese sumi-e paintings, and monkeys riding hot-air balloons will obstruct your view of the scene to help you build a natural sense of rhythm. The game's audio cues, as always, are relentlessly charming and fiercely memorable; "Wubba dubba dub, was that true?" and "Babom bom bom" are as thoroughly embedded in my head as the previous game's "Scratch-o" and "Together now" were. Just play either game and you'll see what I mean.

"Whoa, you go, big guy!"

Gameplay in Rhythm Heaven Fever is just as fun and addictive as it was in the two previous installments, and just as challenging. The developers of the Wario Ware series have once again built up an enthralling collection of amusing mini-games that must be navigated by keeping proper time. These encompass a wide variety of themes, ranging from golfing with monkeys to sorting candies, from playing badminton in the sky to interviewing a luchador. It is the eclectic nature of these mini-games that make the franchise so endearing to me and so infinitely replayable, and as usual, we're dealing with a delicious slice of Japanese wackiness. There are some stinkers, of course (one stage in which you play as a back-up singer rapping about how "into you" and "all about you" the lead songstress is proves to be as frustratingly difficult as it is annoying), but they are the exception rather than the rule.

While Rhythm Heaven on the DS was every bit as fun and as challenging as its Japan-only predecessor for the GBA, there was no denying the learning curve involved in mastering the game's ubiqitous "flick" mechanic. Rhythm Heaven Fever is much more accessible, using only the A and B buttons, and I think it's a better game for it. It serves as sort of a "return-to-form," adapting the simplified control scheme that made the original GBA title so great. Rhythm Heaven Fever is, as a result, easy to learn and very difficult to master, as I feel it should be.

The game calls these critters "weasels," though they look
more like gophers or groundhogs to me.
After finishing a stage with a "Superb" rating, the player receives a medal which goes toward unlocking "rhythm toys" and endless minigames that the player can mess around with at their leisure. Stages cleared with a "Superb" rating also randomly grant the player three consecutive chances to attempt a "Perfect" score, where the player must not miss a single beat. The medals and Perfect ratings give the game significant replay value for those interested in collecting them, though I've wished since the first title that I should be allowed to attempt a Perfect score whenever I pleased. Still, even for the player disinterested in collecting Perfect ratings, there are 50 minigames and many hours of fun to be had here.

As is par for the course for this series, the game's visuals are amusing, cartoony, and charming, though they look more crisp and more colorful on the Wii than they ever have. The back of the box boasts that Rhythm Heaven Fever is "hilarious to play or just watch," a statement which couldn't be more true. In truth, casual observers might even find themselves even more amused than the player, as they may be too engrossed in keeping the beat to notice the hilarious happenings in the far background. I personally guarantee that if a friend or family member watching from the couch sees you slip up spectacularly on an especially fun-looking stage, the next words out of their mouth will be "let me try."

Ee-oo. Ba-boom. Ee-oo ba-boom ee-oo. Ba-boom.
In short, Rhythm Heaven Fever is undeniable fun that should charm the pants off of all but the most stubborn of manly men, and is well worth its budget price of $29.99. I should mention that the game includes a selection of cooperative two-player minigames, a feature that, regrettably, I've been unable to test out. I'm sure they would be a blast and I applaud their inclusion, especially on a console as family-centric as the Wii. Pick up Rhythm Heaven if you can; at least rent it, if you can't afford it. It's exactly the sort of fun, challenging, accessible, addictive party game that would have sold like hotcakes in the Wii's prime, and I hope its dreadfully late appearance in the system's lifespan doesn't doom it to obscurity. It's a game I'd recommend to absolutely anybody.

One word of caution; while this is certainly no fault of the game's, be sure to confirm the settings on your television. In my case, if my TV isn't set to "Game Mode," there is noticeable input lag that can significantly throw off your groove, particularly when attempting a Perfect.

Ricky thought this game was...

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