I can’t sing, I don’t play any instruments, and I can’t dance. Hell, I can barely keep up in Guitar Hero. In fact, I even needed to recruit a friend to help me beat the music-based race in Mario RPG. Needless to say, I’m completely helpless when it comes to rhythm. So one might imagine I’d stay as far as from a game with “rhythm” in the name as possible, right? Well, not when that word is followed my “Heaven” in the title.
Rhythm Heaven Fever for the Nintendo Wii may be the third game in series, but it’s only the second to reach our shores. It’s based entirely around short musical games where you play along to the beat. Oh, and as it’s from the same team responsible for WarioWare, so it’s batshit insane too (which is a very good thing, I assure you).
Rhythm Heaven Fever contains about 50 of these games, with even more diversions serving as unlockables for the most dedicated players. The game’s core, however, is centered around playing through sets of four games, each culminating in a “remix” stage where you tackle a new song as it effortlessly weaves between the four games, forcing you to switch up your gameplay on the fly.
As I said in my preview, calling them “games” is a bit of a misnomer, as they’re really more like events. Basically, each stage consists of a single element you control, such as a high-fiving monkey or a dancing lobster, and it’s up to you to perform the proper move at the right time. Now the moves themselves couldn’t be simpler, as they all involve pressing either A, B, or both together. The hard part is timing it so it matches the music’s beat, and there’s very little room for error.
Fortunately, the game often provides visual clues to help you out. For example, in Double Date, where you have to kick away stray balls to impress both your girl and a pair of dating weasels (told you this game was weird!), you can rely almost entirely on the visuals, timing your kick just as the balls pass. However, even these aids lessen as you get deeper into the title, particularly as the game is rather fond of purposefully obscuring the gameplay with things such as a hot air balloon-riding monkey or thick clouds that just happened to roll in.
What makes Rhythm Heaven so unique, aside from the deceptively simple but challenging gameplay, is the completely off-the-wall scenarios imagined for each game. In Air Rally, a cat and dog flying prop planes share a nice game of badminton far above the ground, whereas Board Meeting has an office full of suited-up pigs that must stop spinning in their chairs on cue. And these are only the scenarios we are actually able to describe, as there are several that are simply beyond words (hell, even the game admits it doesn’t have a description for “Donk Donk.”)
Now one of the most important aspects of a music game is, of course, the music itself. And Rhythm Heaven Fever doesn't disappoint with a wide variety of musical genres, including some new additions such as rap and bossa nova. And of course, the game’s best songs (Air Rally and Flock Step) are as infectious as ever, owing themselves to many repeated plays. With that said, even Fever’s very best can’t quite topple my absolute favorite songs from the DS version, but it does offer a higher quality soundtrack on the whole. This is due, in part, to the fantastic localization which offers a lot more energy than the soulless conversion we saw in the DS version.
Bringing the zany scenarios and catchy tunes into harmony is a simple, yet extremely charming visual style. Each game combines a hand-drawn look with the “bounciness” of Flash animation. It’s extremely endearing, particularly when the characters react to your rhythm prowess with suitably elated or frustrated expressions.
Speaking of frustration, there were a few times when I found myself becoming aggravated by the demanding precision that’s required by some (well, most) of the games. Although every game does feature a tutorial, their effectiveness isn’t entirely consistent, such as in Donk-Donk which actually made it harder to discover the rhythm than just by playing the game itself.
My frustrations were furthered by the fact that it’s sometimes difficult to tell what exactly I was doing wrong. Although the game does provide some very loose feedback at the end of each song, it’s not always enough to help. It’s unfortunate that you’re not able to replay problematic segments of each game, instead forcing you to start the entire thing over. And even that is more cumbersome than it needs to be, requiring you to back out to the menu and then reselect the game--is a restart option too much to ask for, Nintendo?
Finally, because of the way the game is structured, getting stuck on a challenge effectively turns it into a dead-end, which caused me the occasional bout of Rhythm Rage. Luckily, the game will allow you to eventually skip any challenge once you’ve failed it enough times (and fail I did!), but I’m at a loss as to why Rhythm doesn’t offer a slightly looser structure and allow you to play any of the four games in a set. It would add a sense of openness, as well as offering temporary relief from an aggravating challenge without having to skip it entirely.
Now I realize it may seem I harped a lot on the difficulty, but it’s for good reason: it’s really the only flaw this game has (besides perhaps the lack of 3 and 4-player support). Rhythm Heaver Fever is otherwise a very compelling and well-produced experience, though one that largely hinges on one’s ability to keep a beat (which, I can’t stress enough, I lack).
Even though it may not be a AAA+ blockbuster title, Rhythm Heaven Fever is an experience well worth having. It offers a refreshing form of gameplay that’s both exceedingly punishing, but also immensely rewarding. It’s also one of the most charming games this generation with a wonderfully whimsical sense of humor. It never takes itself too seriously, which isn't a bad idea to keep in mind when tackling some of the game's harder challenges.
Don't be afraid of giving it a try if you lack rhythm. Take it from one who has none, at all (seriously, you don't even want to see me attempt the drums in Rock Band...).
Rhythm Heaven Fever also features a cooperative 2-Player mode featuring a small amount of re-tooled games from the single-player experience. In general, both players are simply performing the same actions at the same time, though the game does mix it up occasionally giving each player the occasional solo moment.
Though the games are about as fun as they are in single-player, the multiplayer factor really doesn’t add much, except for an additional challenge after finishing the same challenge in single-player.
I found the experience fun for a single play-through, but this a single-player focused title and it shows.
Genre: Minigame Collection, Music/Rhythm
Release: February 13, 2012
Available On: Wii
Guitar Hero / Rock Band: Meh
Rhythm Heaven DS: Liked
WarioWare Microgames: Loved
Mario RPG: Loved
Mario RPG Boshi Race: Hated