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Reviews

Rhythm Heaven

Randy Ma

There is nothing like the sense of excitement generated from the random play that WarioWare aggressively promotes because the entire foundation of Rhythm Heaven is so structured around the predictability of the beat and its subsequent regulation of input.


Rhythm Heaven

Publisher: Nintendo
Genres: Music/rhythm
Price: $29.99
Platforms: Nintendo DS
Number of players: 1
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Developer: Nintendo R&D1
Release Date: 2009-04-05
Website
Amazon
Developer website

When the Gameboy was first released, its library was predominantly made up of various puzzle games and mini-games. As more sophisticated gaming experiences began appearing in line with its sister home console, the handheld became a viable platform for extended escapism. Looking at the handheld today, we can see that the “evolution” of this design ultimately finds developers circling back toward the mini-game format. With the recent success of mini-game developer Nintendo R&D1’s WarioWare franchise, the studio has hired designer Yoshio Sakamoto designer of the successful Rhythm Tengoku game for the Gameboy Advance from Japan to come over to Western shores to develop Rhythm Heaven.

Rhythm Heaven is a collection of thirty core mini-games, twenty extra mini-games, and the regular WarioWare extras including fun interactive toys, guitar “lessons” in the form of scales and chords, and unlockable content. The large number of games along with its breadth of content provides ample reason to keep the game cart in the Nintendo DS long after the main missions are complete. Rhythm Heaven is not exactly a music-game, though there are oodles of J-Pop inspired tunes to wet the musical pallet. It is a beat game where you either tap the screen or flick your stylus over the screen along with the rhythm of the game -- perhaps, not a great surprise.

The problem with music games in general is there often is a discrepancy where a player believes his timing is correct while the game seems to disagree. Generally speaking in my opinion, the player is usually wrong. But while playing Rhythm Heaven one often finds it surprisingly tricky to flick the screen and even tap along to the beat in order to achieve the right timing. There were numerous moments during my play when I had to adjust how I was holding the stylus or experiment with which end of the stylus I was using to have my inputs register correctly on the screen. This basically becomes a psychological war between the player and his perception of his own success and may feel similar to the difference between karaoke singers that think they can sing but cannot and karaoke singers that know they can’t sing but sing anyways.

Surprisingly, with the limited stylus movements that the game requires, Nintendo R&D1 gets a lot of mileage from merely relying on taps and flicks. With interfaces that require you to play table tennis, eat dumplings, play guitar, snap pictures, and play the part of a groupie, the visual stimulation in Rhythm Heaven will keep you interested in unlocking all of the games in the collection and very often put a smile on your face. But because it is a music game that is structured around audio patterns, you can essentially play Rhythm Heaven with your eyes-closed if the visuals begin to distract from your timing. There is a lot of trial and error, but like any music game, once you grasp the pattern of the song the challenge diminishes.

There isn’t much more I can say about Rhythm Heaven in terms of recommending it. If you like music games, mini-games, or the WarioWare games this is definitely a must buy for you. However, if you are adverse to all the genres previously mentioned, this is not the game for you. We can argue if this game is any different than all the other music-based mini-game collections on the system or if this is an improvement on the popular Japanese series, but the argument eventually reaches a point where these points are of little consequence to the game. If I were to provide any sort of criticism against Rhythm Heaven it would be that it does not achieve the same charm as a game likeWarioWare. There is nothing like the sense of excitement generated from the random play that WarioWare aggressively promotes because the entire foundation of Rhythm Heaven is so structured around the predictability of the beat and its subsequent regulation of input.

But I can say that Rhythm Heaven is great compromise between the two casual gaming markets that are emerging around the iPhone and the Nintendo DS. I have long suspected that the iPhone is the premiere platform for taking casual gameplay from the PC and bringing it into the portable market while the Nintendo DS has been doing the same for the casual console space. Rhythm Heaven is a pseudo-flash-browser game that one would find on their PC but has a structure and interface that many console players are used to. It is not as puzzle-centric as many casual PC games, but the simple input of controls is something that you would expect in the current iPhone games market. Like any good casual handheld game, there is a great pick up and play sensibility to the game which is great for eating up small increments of free time when available.

Rhythm Heaven is frustrating like any music games. There will always be that one mini-game that you can’t wrap your head around and only perseverance or time off from play will lead to success. But it is definitely one of the more consistent DS titles because of the the ability to unlock its often creative and enchanting mini-games. Plus, the tunes are pretty catchy as well.

7

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