Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Review: Rhythm Heaven Fever

It’s back to more crazy situations as the 3rd game in the Rhythm Heaven series launches on the Wii. Coming after the DS’s Rhythm Heaven (Rhythm Tengoku Gold in Japan), this new entry brings with it a multitude of new stages with its simple inputs. Unlike its DS brethren, Rhythm Heaven Fever uses more functional controls than the stylus taps and the unwieldy swipes. This entry continues to offer the stages that range from easy to exceedingly difficult, but as with everything musical, playing this game well just takes practice.

Unlike the peripheral based rhythm games like Guitar Hero that uses many different button inputs to play a song, Rhythm Heaven Fever only uses 2 inputs: the A button and the A and B buttons together. This may make the game sound like a walk in the park, but the game is certainly not. Because of the simple inputs, the game can just about throw any situation at you and all you have do is hit the A button or the A and B buttons to the rhythm to complete tasks such as testing a seesaw, tap dancing or even giving an after-match interview as a wrestler just to name a few.

Almost all of the stages are outrageous and hilarious. In one stage, you play badminton and you are to hit the A button at the set rhythm to strike the shuttle. Except, it isn’t simply playing badminton, the characters (portrayed as a dog and a cat, as if that’s not ridiculous already) are also flying private airplanes. As if that wasn’t enough, your opponent will fly ahead and sometimes way up ahead while still rallying the shuttle back to you, but the timing of your hits does not change. As if even that wasn’t enough, you will fly through clouds and day and night cycles that would completely obstruct your view and concentration. I failed a few times just because I couldn’t help but to laugh at the kinds of obstacles used to through me off rhythm.

Tutorials can be down right silly, but that you'd want to play them.

The games user interface is set up in batches. Each batch has 4 unique stages and remixes all 4 in a themed 5th stage. The types of tasks are all original and often very humorous to watch. Since none of the stages are alike, they would always begin with a tutorial that, to Nintendo’s credit, are generally enjoyable as they are often hilarious to play through. In the Tambourine stage tutorial, you’d have to learn to play the tambourine in time with a monkey, but the monkey would begin his lessons by speaking in monkey grunts with English translations in parentheses. As a reward for passing the first lesson, the monkey decides to speak English for the rest of the tutorial, but changes back to grunts for the evaluation of your performance after you’ve completed the stage. All of this personality in tutorials makes sure you would play them, which are very important, before tackling the main stage.

The action is still happening in the back.  Simply hilarious.
Rhythm Heaven Fever requires the player to predict the timing by listening and watching for audio and visual cues that are unique to each stage. While the visual cues are often helpful when beginning a stage, they are primarily what the game uses to throw the player off rhythm. In the Samurai Slice stage, there are demons that jump out of a portal after making a screech. Slicing the demons as they come out was easy enough, but mid way through the stage, the game decides to tell a story by slapping images in front of the action. Meanwhile, I can still hear the moans and groans from the monsters used as audio cues in the background, but now I’m distracted by the story presented to me. If it was any other game, this would have been fairly annoying, but in Rhythm Heaven, it is simply the whimsical nature of the game. After getting the hang of the rhythm, you’d be able to slice at the demons without looking at them and that is a very satisfying feeling.

In other stages, you’d have to keep up with the increasingly fast and often confusing combinations of audio and visual cues. In the Screwbot Factory, players are to screw on the heads of robots with the A and B buttons held together. There are gray robots with longer screws and white robots with shorter screws. If you were not hold A and B long enough, the robot will not turn on, contrastingly, if you were to hold the buttons too long, the robots will break. When the stage begins, the game with slowly give you gray robots successively and then the white robots afterwards. Well into the stage, the game will begin to increase the speed in which you are given robots and even switches up the gray and white robots to test your timing skills. Being able to maintain your level of concentration through these increasing demands is part of the fun.
Can be frustrating when you don't see the happy monkeys.
Some stages will have you pulling your hair out in frustration. At times the player is to predict button presses without the aid of audio cues. The Monkey Watch stage has the player high five monkeys in the rhythm of the second hand. Because of how precise and often the player is supposed to input the button presses, maintaining the kind of precision throughout the entire stage without the aid of audio cues makes players confused to how inaccurate their rhythm is. Stages like this are rare, however. You’d more likely be frustrated by trying to play a stage perfectly than to be frustrated with trying to pass a stage.

Many stages do not require the A and B button squeezes, and these are some of the best ones as they can be played with the Wii remote on the lap or on a table. It is extremely exhilarating to be able to jam on the A button like a drum while seeing all of your inputs hitting the exact mark. Speaking of jamming to the rhythm, the music is a mixed bag of great tunes from many genres. It is really impressive to see how well the visual complements the audio and vice versa. All of the sounds the player makes when pressing the buttons makes sense and really adds the overall sound. Although you don’t play instruments in the game (except the tambourine, I suppose) you’d feel like you’re playing music.

Donk-Donk stage. Visually beautiful and only uses the A button.
 In place of difficulty levels, Rhythm Heaven Fever features 2 ranks of completion. The OK rank, the equivalent to normal, will let players progress to the next level while doing particularly well will net the player a Superb rank, the equivalent to hard, and a medal. Accumulating these medals will unlock more stages as well as endless score challenge games. For those looking for an extra challenge, there will be random opportunities to play a stage perfectly. Doing so will give you a perfect medal, but if you were to play a stage perfectly without the clearly marked opportunity, you will receive no more than just the Superb rank and the normal medal.

There are a few endless games that are score challenges, while fun, without an online leader board, there is very little incentive to continue playing. There is also a 2 player mode that is unlocked while you play the single player game. These stages are ripped from the single player and since the stages not only have to be unlocked by playing the 2 player stage but also the single player counterparts, the mode seems more like an afterthought than a point of entry.

Rhythm Heaven Fever isn’t a simulation of playing instruments; it is, instead, a game that makes every task in the world more fun when it is played in tune with a rhythm. It is a game that is both an audio experience and a visual one. The diversity and hilarity of each stage makes the player want to keep playing even though the control schemes are so simple. In fact, even with the simple controls, the game manages to be extremely difficult because it isn’t about how well you press the buttons, it is whether you can press them in time with the rhythm and if you can stand the hilarious distractions thrown at you. This game will certainly cramp your hand, so make sure you don’t play too long at a time, but I think you’d find you’d want to keep trying for the Superb or the Perfect rank well into the night.

Score: 8.5

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