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Game Review: Rhythm Heaven Fever

By / Posted on 01 March 2012

Rhythm Heaven FeverYou are a boy meeting up with a cute girl after school. Maybe she likes you. Oh wait, there’s a boy gopher hanging out nearby and he’s trying to impress a lady gopher! Oh no, all the afterschool sports teams are playing now, too, and they keep kicking their balls near your double date! You’d better kick those balls away so maybe both you and the boy gopher can get lucky. Oh hey, and kicking the balls syncs perfectly with the beat of this romantic pop song, which only helps to put our ladies in the mood.

No, hang on, now you’re a dog flying a single-person airplane alongside a cat in his near-identical plane. And now the cat wants to play badmitton. While flying. Oh great, and now the clouds that you’re both flying directly through are completely obstructing your view. Good thing the cat keeps lobbing the birdie at you perfectly in sync with the beat of this infectious pop song that is coming from absolutely nowhere, so at least you can focus on the music.

No, wait, now you’re a… um… one of those drinking bird office toys? And you’re on a blimp? Taking orders from a space squid? Whatever, there’s music, okay?

Rhythm Heaven Fever is the third game in Nintendo’s musically-minded cartoon minigame series (the first, Rhythm Tengoku for the Game Boy Advance, was only released in Japan, but is still easy enough to get through for the non-Japanese speaking gamer). The premise is so simple, it straight up crosses the border of Ridiculous and sets up camp right there and refuses to listen as border control tells the premise to go back home to Nintendo because the premise swears it’s always been Ridiculous and nobody can convince him otherwise, no matter how they try. Unlike the more popular rhythm video games (Rock Band, Guitar Hero, DJ Hero) that involve complicated combinations of button presses in order to simulate the sensation of playing a musical instrument, Rhythm Heaven merely asks players to keep the beat of a pop song as a silly cartoon scenario plays out along with the beat.

Rhythm Heaven Fever

As the third in a series, the general formula of Rhythm Heaven hasn’t changed much, or at all. Cute cartoon characters appear and explain their core mechanic—one that can be activated in beat with the music to succeed in the game, but it high-fiving all the monkeys that live inside the second markers on a wristwatch or screwing the heads onto tiny robots. The evolution comes in the graphic fidelity and control scheme. Both the Game Boy Advance and DS has small screens that were well-suited to chunky pixel art, but with the Wii squarely situated as a living room experience, Rhythm Heaven Fever needed to be shinier and full of life, not only for the player but for any onlookers that might also be in the room watching. The added screen real estate allows the designers to have fun throwing in gags, like the row of nearly identical hands snatching or failing to snatch candies and spiders and the same time you are in the foreground or the football your double-dating boy kicks into the background being caught by football players, dogs, and… was that a ninja? Okay, sure, whatever Nintendo…

The other change is in the controls. The GBA title started off using only one or two buttons but eventually tasked players with use of four or even six buttons. The DS sequel mostly stuck to taps and swipes on the touch screen, but even incorporated the shoulder buttons in later challenges. Rhythm Heaven Fever, on the other hand, by and large uses only one button, with occasional flourishes of a second button. That’s it. We managed to play from the tutorial straight on through to the staff credits and beyond entirely one-handed, mostly lying back on the couch, sometimes not even looking at the screen (which can actually make the game easier, relying entirely on audio cues rather than being distracted by the hilarity on-screen). Don’t mistake this for the game being easy, though, as the game can be rather punishing at times and each stage/song is pass-fail with no clear indicator or running score to let you know whether you’re doing “good enough.” You’ve got to have rhythm. The game telegraphs what it wants you to do fairly well, but just like in WarioWare you’ve got to have quick reflexes to pick up on those cues.

Rhythm Heaven Fever

Of those two major features in Rhythm Heaven Fever, the big-screen experience is the one that makes the more noticeable difference. Finally, quirk-enthusiast gamers with a sense of rhythm can show the game to their friends and family without have to crowd around a tiny handheld screen, and the game’s boxart even announces that Fever is fun just to watch as well as to play. Backseat gamers will find themselves tapping the beat and declaring how they could do it better than the player at bat, which prompts to pass-the-wiimote competitive play. A few of the games offer head-to-head two-player options, but these largely feel unconsidered are unnecessary.

For the uninitiated, Rhythm Heaven Fever is a revelation in gameplay. It’s easy to pick up, charming, intensely fun, and the songs are deceptively catchy (note the hordes of fans already mimicking “wubbadubbadub is that true?” from the Ring Side game. I expect we’ll hear a fair bit of the “bah bom-bom bom” from the Air Rally game soon.). For series veterans, comparing the games will cause a great deal of debate. Some will sing the praises of the simplified control scheme while others will mourn the abandoned complexity. We found that this entry offered less challenge than the previous two and offered fewer memorable characters and scenarios, but that’s mostly at the fault of the 2006 original being unfairly genius in every way, shape, and form. Rhythm Heaven Fever is still well worth the attention of absolutely anybody with access to a Nintendo Wii, a sense of whimsy, and the ability to keep track of an eight-step beat.

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Derrick Sanskrit has produced critically-acclaimed work as an artist and writer for Nerve, Babble, Pitchfork, The Onion and the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, among others. He founded The Pop Aesthetic during the coldest months of his life in 2010.