It has been the year of the Nintendo DS so far in 2009, with a few megaton titles flanked by plenty of hardcore offerings to keep gamers of all types happy. There are a few unconventional titles that deserve attention in addition though, such as Nintendo’s latest release for the handheld, Rhythm Heaven.
Rhythm Heaven is the DS sequel to the Game Boy Advances’ Japan-only Rhythm Tengoku. Unlike many music or rhythm games, where you try to match certain symbols on screen with timed button presses to mimic the music, everything is controlled by the stylus on the touch screen, with timing, or rhythm the focus. By tapping the stylus, releasing it, or “flicking” it at the proper time in each of the 50 mini games, you can add to the music and learn a thing or two about rhythm.
Apr. 5, 2009
Tapping and releasing the stylus are obvious control inputs; you simply perform that action at the correct time in order to match the rhythm of the song. Flicking is a bit different though, as you tap, hold, and then flick to perform a different action required of you. It’s all in the wrist when it comes to flicking, and after some practice you will learn just how hard or fast you have to flick in order to consistently perform the action correctly. That’s all there is to controlling Rhythm Heaven, but in spite of this seemingly simplistic control method, there’s a very deep music title to be found here.
There are three levels of success with your stylus movements: correct, half-miss, or a complete miss. You can get by with half-misses, but in order to master the game, you will need to string together lots of correct taps and movements. Too many complete misses and you will fail to pass a level, and will need to try it again before you can move on to the next one. If you fail enough times, the game will ask if you want to skip that particular game for now, and allow you to move on to the next game. This is a welcome addition, as sometimes you just don’t have the rhythm down for a particular game at that time. For example, I could not complete the table tennis rhythm game for the life of me, but after playing a more difficult version of it later on, I was able to go back and easily complete the original version.
There are multiple sets of music in this title, and each one has a “Remix” which combines all of the lessons and games you have learned in each set together into a longer song. These start off easy enough, but as you delve further into the game the songs and requirements become more complicated; it’s nice to see this level of difficulty from what seems like such a simplistic game at first glance.
Each level can be completed without you absolutely nailing the rhythm all the way through, but you won’t get opportunities to score a “Perfect” ranking on the games if you fail to secure a “Suberb!” medal first. Games where you have achieved a Superb ranking will randomly give you opportunities to score Perfect, so replaying levels for practice and to score medals is encouraged. Medals allow you to unlock additional mini games as well as basic and advanced guitar lessons that let you play some of the songs from the game. The game has plenty of replayability even without this, as there are a ton of games and styles to master on your way to securing Perfect and Superb rankings, so including this in is a nifty bonus for those who are very dedicated to Rhythm Heaven.
Visually, this game is simple but full of charm. It’s produced by the same team that has created Wario Ware, and you will notice the similarities in style right off of the bat. It’s very heavy in its Japanese charms and quirks, but for me, that’s a bonus. In fact, the original music from the Japanese release of Rhythm Heaven is intact here; aside from the occasional vocal track with poor lyrics (there are just one or two of these instances throughout 50 songs) the music is fantastic, fun, and catchy. I can’t tell you how many times I have had some of these songs stuck in my head when I was not playing the game.
Rhythm Heaven fits perfectly into the idea of what I like to see in handheld video games. It’s fun, it’s charming, it’s quirky, and though it’s easy enough to pick up the title and progress through the game once, it’s very difficult to master, which gives me reason to go back for more. The visuals are fun, and the music is fantastic-I almost wish Nintendo would release the soundtrack over DSi Ware so I could listen to it out of context when I want to. This is a must-buy DS title, and one that will stay in your collection and in your DS for a long time to come.