Remember Wario Ware? Well the brilliant minds behind that frenetic and fast-paced game also created a game called Rhythm Heaven for the DS. Using a similar game design, Rhythm Heaven is a game with over 30 different challenges, which are all based around using the stylus to input swipes and taps in time with the beat. There’s no story, no over-arching plot, it’s just a collection of mini-games which are all totally crazy. You’ll encounter levels which put you in a wide array of circumstances from fuelling up robots on an assembly line to slicing up vegetables as a dog dressed like a ninja. The game is simple but thoroughly addictive, and you’ll find yourself replaying levels over and over to become the best damn ping pong ball flicker in the entire world.
In terms of gameplay, it’s really very simple. The mini-games are much longer than the super short Wario Ware games, and they also aren’t quite as confusing because there’s little tutorials before each level to teach you what to look out for. There are only a limited set of input commands from swipes, flicks and taps on the touch screen using the stylus. There is one game which also utilises the shoulder buttons, but apart from that, the majority of gameplay is all done using simple motions.
But what makes the game challenging is the timing and precision aspects, where each input has to be done in time to the music. Many levels require utilising different combinations of input commands which keeps it interesting and varied. Plus, the whole time, you’ll be so absorbed in the music and the crazy cartoon that your actions correspond to, you’ll forget that you’re essentially just swiping the stylus again and again.
The difficulty level of this game ranges from so easy a baby could play to so frustratingly difficult that you’ll want to throw your DS into the ocean. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though and it definitely keeps the game interesting. Plus, there’s not cheating or anything, the levels aren’t designed to be unbeatable. There’s plenty of practice and perfecting to do which gives the game a lot of replay value.
To beat the level, you first just have to get an ‘Ok’ rating. But to unlock more stuff, you can get a ‘Superb’ rating. Then, randomly, a ‘Superb’ level can be chosen for a ‘Perfect’ attempt, which is exactly what it sounds like. Perfecting a level then unlocks even more goodies and mini-games. But which games are chosen for a ‘Perfect’ attempt is entirely randomised, so playing a different game will cause the ‘Perfect’ to move elsewhere. So if you’re a perfectionist going for the Perfect run, then you might get pretty mad when you miss a beat by ½ a second and have to restart the level. Still, it’s a whole heap of fun doing it. Oh and the reward for perfecting a lot of the times is oftentimes unlocking harder versions of the level! You probably do have to be a bit of a masochist to fully complete this game.
Of course, being a music game, I have to comment on the music and sound assets. It’s all an original soundtrack so unlike other music games, you won’t recognise any of the songs in this game. That’s both a blessing and a curse; I think having its own soundtrack imbues a lot of personality and charm into the music, but then at times, it can feel a little lacklustre. For the most part though, it’s very catchy and generally upbeat throughout. Every level is extremely energetic and fast, meaning to keep up, you do have to tap and swipe a lot. Personally, I think all the instrumental-only tunes are fantastic and very well suited to the gameplay. Where it is a bit lacking is in the English localisation and the corresponding English lyrics; they’re really quite banal, and at times, a bit off beat.
Really though the charm in this game lies in the incredible variety of off-the-wall challenges you have to do. It’s very typically Japanese in humour, with crazy levels including one where you have to wipe someone’s snotty nose and another where you control a synchronised swimming team. Frankly, the game is totally bizarre; it’s the sort of thing you couldn’t get away with as a Western publisher. Luckily for us, the Japanese have no such inhibitions and as a result, we get a fantastically weird and lovable game with plenty of charisma and humour.
I’d highly recommend Rhythm Heaven as a small cute game for DS owners. Even if you’re not a fan of music games, it’s the sort of addictive gameplay which I think is totally accessible for everyone. Whether you’re more of a casual player and alright with just proceeding through the main levels with ‘Ok’ ratings or you’re a hardcore music nerd who wants to perfect everything, there is a lot to enjoy in Rhythm Heaven.
And just to finish off, here’s a little taster of the game, featuring a level called Love Lab: