If there’s one thing I remember most about my time playing games in the NES days, it’s that perseverance always lead to the greatest sense of achievement. From Ninja Gaiden to Castlevania 3 & Battletoads, difficulty was something that many old school gamers have learned to embrace and relish over the years (granted, I never could conquer a few of the games but they were rewarding nonetheless). However, many old school gamers such as myself also tend to criticize the current industry for lessening the difficulty of games over the last few decades just to appease the wider group of gamers it’s marketing to (and almost all companies have succumbed to this tactic). In the age of the NES, there were numerous games that could break your spirit but many of which were all the more rewarding to complete. Difficulty was and has always been a major plus to any game’s pedigree to me when looking back on my experiences with it.
However, with difficulty comes the dreaded double-edged sword; many games are difficult but also not fun to play, sometimes even due to design deficiencies (the days of the NES also had many of these games riddled through the masses of titles available). But the truly great games can transcend the stereotypes of what a game should be: ones that can be brutally difficult but at the same time can make you smile in endearment are an example of this type of diamond in the rough. After falling upon Rhythm Heaven for the DS due to a recommendation by one of my good friends, I remember recognizing the sense of enlightenment the game brought upon me.
Not only does Rhythm Heaven provide some brutally unforgiving difficulty in its rhythm based gameplay, but it also constantly encourages you and rewards you for your efforts. Rhythm Heaven’s quirky style may look like it’s marketing a casual audience but contrary to its appearance it’s as hardcore as you can get. And all the while that you’re wrapped up in its bizarre world of mini-games backed up by catchy tunes, you’re getting to experience the same levels of pain and reward brought forth by some of the industry’s most iconic franchises of old. I remember on many occasions feeling myself overcome with enjoyment to the point of uncontrollable smiling and giddiness whilst playing through the DS game.
Finally, the US has received its second entry in the franchise (after missing out on the very first GBA title). I could only hope that the Wii version of the game would bring the same level of enjoyment as its DS predecessor without being tempted to utilize badly implemented motion controls (many games work well with motion controls but others are best suited to leaving out the current gaming fad). Can Rhythm Heaven Fever leave as lasting of an impression as its DS predecessor?
Minimalist control, Complex Implementation
Rhythm Heaven has sometimes been called the odd cousin of the WarioWare franchise due to their similarly quirky style and mini-game based gameplay (and rightfully so). Building gameplay around minimalistic input while retaining robust gameplay is also a staple in both franchises. WarioWare has always had simplistic controls but the quick thinking required to successfully conquer the blitzkrieg of mini-games brought forth is where the game introduces complexity.
Rhythm Heaven follows a similar style of deceptive complexity where input is never more than one or two buttons throughout the entire game but the complexity comes from the variance of rhythm schemes introduced and the overlapping involved during the game’s many remixes (the most WarioWare-resembling portions of the game). In both cases, each series succeeds at being extremely simple on the surface (and thus easy to pick up by anyone) but more difficult as the game progresses. This is the secret to the success of both series and thankfully Rhythm Heaven Fever follows the same design by foregoing motion controls for simplistic A & B input (motion controls would add too much complexity for gamers to truly appreciate the rhythmic complexity these games bring forth as well as the level of precision necessary to finish its many challenges).
The game begins as usual with only one mini-game available but if you can complete it without having too many miscues, you’ll move on through the tier to the next completely different challenge. After completing the four mini-games of a group, you’ll finally be able to challenge a remix that pulls all of the previous mini-games together for a challenging mash-up that requires both quick thinking and rhythmic variance. As with the DS Rhythm Heaven, the majority of mini-games are unique but a few are remixed in their own right to provide you with a more difficult version of individual games as well (the first 28 mini-games+7 remixes are completely unique whereas the last 12 mini-games are more difficult versions of some of the first games and the last 3 remixes feature a larger group of mini-games meshed together).
The true success in Rhythm Heaven, however, isn’t linked to merely passing a level, but rather in earning its medals. After practice, a near perfect run will earn you a superb score and subsequently a medal. Though earning a medal only has small repercussions, earning medals is extremely enriching because it can be very difficult to do (granted some of the games are easier to pick up for some but others are downright hard). Aside from the pure satisfaction of earning a medal, they are also used for unlocking the game’s extra mini-games and rhythm toys.
But for those who are truly hardcore (such as myself), after ever three level completions the game offers you three chances to obtain a perfect medal on a randomly chosen round that you’ve already medaled. It is during these moments that the truly damning difficulty of the game is revealed, bringing back memories of some of the most difficult moments of my gaming past. There are rare times nowadays that I reach the level of suspense that swells up inside of me as I attempt perfect runs on the levels of this and the DS game (I had earned 18 in the DS version and 9 in this one before writing this review). Knowing that one mistake can destroy your run only adds to the suspense and previous failures adds to the ensuing rage of losing. But there are few moments more rewarding than achieving a perfect on a level as you know you’ve accomplished something great (despite the fact that you only unlock either a song or a short story for conquering the feat).
Rhythm Heaven Fever also feels much like the DS version in that it has an almost identical number of mini-games to overcome. Unfortunately, the number of unlockables is higher in the DS game with 2 more endless mini-games and 3 more toys as well as two guitar lesson modes and a battle of the bands mode. Also I personally liked the extra mini-games from the DS game better than the single-player ones in Rhythm Heaven Fever as they were deeper overall in terms of gameplay changes and length of the games (especially the epic Rhythmove Dungeon that featured rhythm mechanics and dungeon escape all packaged into a surprisingly deep added game).
Rhythm Heaven Fever does include a multiplayer mode, however, that features a surprisingly fun Rhythm Fighter game that allows you to duke it out with a friend with dueling rhythm cues to make your fighter so different attacks as well as a short campaign featuring eight of the 1-player levels broken into two player cooperative matches. Finally, there are 5 mini-games that are unlockable and these are quite fun (as well as extremely difficult). Thus, if you can find a friend who also has rhythmic skills or preferably has also played Rhythm Heaven, there is more of the game to be had.