The Patron Saint of Rhythm
I exist in somewhat of a strange relationship with Nintendo. Back in the days of the NES, I was a huge fan of their console and their games—but then again, so was nearly everyone who was into the idea of playing those crazy videogame things at home. At some point into the ownership of that wonderful old gray box, however, I received a Sega Master System for Christmas. Did it have the insanely large library or quality gaming options of Nintendo’s 8-bit console? No, of course not—but it had Phantasy Star, and that game alone would begin a change inside of me.
I have a lot of respect for Nintendo. I think they make fantastically wonderful games, I believe Nintendo’s staff puts their heart and soul into trying their best to make something of the utmost quality, and they’re an organization known for fantastic customer support. Even so, Nintendo-brand games often do little or nothing for me as a gamer, so for the most part, I’m generally ambivalent to their releases—with a huge exception given to the Rhythm Heaven series.
Though we never received it here in the States—a mistake I’d love to see the company fix now that the 3DS supports digitally delivered portable gaming from Nintendo’s past—I was interested in the original Rhythm Tengoku from the moment I saw it. Released in 2006 near the end of the Game Boy Advance’s lifecycle, Rhythm Tengoku was developed by Nintendo SPD Group No. 1, the same internal team that had been integral in the development of the WarioWare franchise. By all accounts, the game seemed to be what you’d get if you took the ideas of WarioWare’s minigames and set them to music.
In a way, Rhythm Tengoku was indeed that—but it was also more. The element that endeared the series to me is a pure, finely crafted simplicity in gameplay that it displayed so perfectly. I’ve loved a long list of music/rhythm games over the years, and in them, I’ve seen all types of concepts, styles, and gimmicks through which players attempt to overcome presented challenges. Some of my favorite games in the genre, however, are also some of the simplest—where, even more than difficulty level or hand-eye coordination, what’s most important is that the player’s able to become one with the music. Hitting buttons perfectly in time with the rhythm, feeling like you’ve entered that zone where the outside world’s melted away, and all that’s left is you and the sound filling your ears—that’s what I most live for from these kinds of games.
Rhythm Heaven Fever, in that regard, does little to stray from the path its predecessors have paved—and that’s a very thankful thing. Here, there’s no moving of the Wii Remote: No waving, no shaking, no tracing, no waggling.
One of the challenges you’ll be presented with is a watch, where at every second marker sits a monkey. On the second hand of the watch is perched another monkey, one representing you, the player. In time with the beat, the watch hand makes its journey around, and as you pass by each monkey, you hit the A button to high-five them in rhythm. Occasionally, a purple monkey will replace the normal yellow ones: For him, you must make your button presses on the off-beat.
Another challenge presents a post-contest interview with a masked wrestler, conducted by a young (but spirited) reporter. (Even if your knowledge of Rhythm Heaven Fever is low, you may have seen video of this game—or parodies of it, at least—floating around the internet, as it’s become something of a meme in recent weeks.) Depending on the question the reporter asks, you’ll either press the A button one—again, based on the rules of proper rhythmic timing—to give a simple answer, or twice to pump up the energy in the room with a quick pose or two. Occasionally, the photographers watching the press conference will call out a request for a photo opportunity, which is then performed by pressing both A and B buttons on the Wii remote together.
The entirety of Rhythm Heaven Fever’s various rhythm-based minigames will only ever require of you some combination of those two actions: Pressing the A button, or pressing the A and B buttons together. Some have said Nintendo was mistaken for not pushing this series further, or mistaken for not introducing motion controls, or mistaken for not adding more depth the the concepts the series presents. Simply put, those people are wrong; they understand neither the basic concepts the series was originally founded upon, nor what’s made the series as beloved by its fans as it is.
And yet—I don’t find myself madly in love with Rhythm Heaven Fever at this point, where I was (and still am) with its previous two chapters. All of the pieces that should be there are definitely present, but at times, it just feels like something’s missing. Fever’s offerings are great, and sometimes even fantastic—but far too often, I finished a particular game thinking it had been fun, but not something I needed to go right back and replay right away. To be fair, I’ve spent far less time with Fever than either its GBA or DS iterations—so, months from now, I could very easily end up finding more of Fever’s parts growing on me, just as its older siblings did. Still, I can’t help but feel that something—some small amount of soul, if you will—was misplaced in the move from small handheld screens to this new big-time presentation.
Even if I were to say that I’ve come away feeling that Rhythm Heaver Fever is the weakest chapter of the Rhythm Heaven series—which I do—that point must then be given together with another point: That Fever is still better than a great many other rhythm-game offerings simply by default. It reminds me of the various discussions that have been going around about which is the better game, Uncharted 2 or Uncharted 3—at the end of the day, they’re still both considered to be at the top of their genre. I’ve spoken to friends who are quite enamored with Fever, and I have no regrets at all about not only owning a North America copy of the game, but also a recently purchased Japanese copy as well.
(As a quick note to that topic—the discussion about the original Japanese songs/lyrics versus the Americanized versions is a complex one, and one that often comes down to personal tastes. While I myself do prefer the Japanese songs to their English counterparts, there’s no question that Nintendo’s done a bang-up job in their localization of Rhythm Heaven Fever.)
I’m a longtime fan of the series who can often be very picky about music/rhythm games, and Rhythm Heaven Fever wasn’t everything my high expectations were hoping for. However, I can easily say that it’s still a worthy chapter of a fantastic series whose biggest crime is having set the bar far too high for itself. For old fans of the franchise or players new to Rhythm Heaven, the worlds this game takes to you in its various music challenges are brimming with personality and excitement, all supported by gameplay that’s accessible to all while still providing plenty of challenge for even the hardest of the hardcore. Though I may hope my personal disappointments are tended to in the series’ next chapter—and that that game comes to me on the 3DS, back on handhelds where Rhythm Heaven belongs—a not-quite-perfect Rhythm Heaven game is still better than almost every other top-tier music game nearly every day of the week.
So, in the playing and reviewing of Rhythm Heaven Fever, I ran into a problem: This game was frustratingly unplayable on my home setup. I have (what I consider to be) a rather nice Sharp LED HDTV, one that comes complete with an optional “game” mode to help reduce lag for videogames. Though I can think of no other examples of games where I’ve run into problems on this television, the proper timing Rhythm Heaven Fever requires to pass its various challenges just wasn’t happening. The game was playable—but often only if I retrained my brain to hit the buttons a little faster or a little slower than I felt I should be.
However, I then had absolutely no problems when playing the game on the smaller (and not quite as fancy) HDTV that I have at my desk at the EGM offices. I have no idea what the exact problem is, and even after extensive attempts to change settings, I still couldn’t get parity in gameplay feel between the two setups when using the exact same Wii. Doing some checking on the Internet, I’ve noticed that at least a few other people out there have also have issues with input lag—something that can absolutely kill your experience with Rhythm Heaven Fever.
Due to the complexity of this issue, and the fact that I still have no clear understand of why this issue’s cropping up for me personally, I’ve left consideration for this problem out of my score on this review. However, this is an issue that I feel potential buyers should be aware of. If you’ve had serious problems with input lag in rhythm games before on your setup—especially if it happens when using your Wii—you may want to see if you can find the means to test somebody else’s copy of Rhythm Heaven Fever before committing to the purchase of your own.
SUMMARY: Rhythm Heaven Fever is fun, it’s quirky, it’s lovable, it’s charming—and it’s a perfect example of the care and consideration Nintendo puts into all of their gaming projects, big and small.
- THE GOOD: Gameplay that anybody and everybody can play and enjoy. Gorgeous art style, great music, and every minigame is its own little world. Nice selection of optional unlockable content, including a smattering of two-player minigames.
- THE BAD: Doesn’t always have the creativity of previous chapters. Some of the minigames feel too similar to previous ones. Mushy Wii Remote buttons don’t feel as good as DS touchscreen controls did in Rhythm Heaven.
- THE UGLY: Trying to satisfy the cruel mistress of Love Rap.