Before I was a (somewhat) renowned writer on examiner.com, I was a meager high school writer with aspirations to ascend to the dreamy world of video game journalism. While I haven't given up on that dream quite yet, I've uncovered this review from my times messing around on a blog during high school, the game being Rhythm Heaven for the Nintendo DS. The writing is rudimentary compared to my present work, but it's a nice trip down nostalgia lane.
Oh man, do I love my Japanese games. From the absurdness of the Katamari series to the charm of Dance Dance Revolution to the quirkiness of Space Channel 5, I can’t get enough of the games from the land of the rising sun. However, all of those aforementioned games actually came here in North America.
The music is utterly catchy. You’ll have a fun time just listening to the songs in the game, from the horribly dubbed pop songs to the simple rhythms of Built to Scale. Music, as well as sound, is vital to a rhythm game’s success, and Rhythm Heaven nails it.
The structure of the game is simple. You play through more than 50 rhythm based minigames that have a little sequence which you must complete using a simple action (Okay, it’s really 24 base games, 10 remixes, and 16 harder versions. There are also some endless minigames and rhythm toys you can unlock.) For example, in Built to Scale (the collection’s first game), you must line up two washers together with a screw. It may not sound like much, but it’s plenty addictive. There are also some unusual ones, like controlling a synchronized swimming team and training a monk in the ancient art of dumpling feeding. It’s a wacky collection that will induce some laughs (and maybe some coos, as you’ll probably notice from the charms of Glee Club, a trio of rhythm inclined singer children.)
The games are incorporated into columns of five games, with each one consisting of a remix. The remixes are a little bit of each of the previous column’s games, dubbed with another tune. It’s a blast to play these, as it’s kind of like a little test to prove your rhythm skills.
The graphics are pretty interesting, as the style differs from each one. There are some 3D looking games, but most are different styles of 2D animation, from the game show vibe of the Dazzles (budding television stars), to the roughly drawn styles of Glee Club. The animation moves very fluidly, and it really fits the tone for each game.
The first major problem with Rhythm Heaven is the control scheme. Whereas the first Rhythm Tengoku had just a single button press (occasionally two buttons were needed), this iteration uses the DS like a book in order to utilize the touch screen. Most games utilize a flick command, which is a straightforward method at first, but it can get awfully imprecise, often not registering movements (which is double trouble due to the next problem.) This hurdle will likely keep you from reaching maximum enjoyment of the game for a couple of hours, so just hang in there. The tap method (which is used in a few games) works perfectly, but they are few and far in between. Both tap and flick are used in most minigames, so you must also utilize the hold feature (in order to hush up a choir boy or stay underwater, for example). However, the worst offender of the controls is the tap lightly command. While it’s a blessing that only a couple of minigames utilize this feature (Moai Doo Wop and its harder version) it cannot be used properly, as the game will always confuse a light tap with a tap. It gets very annoying, and I really hated the minigames that used it.
The second glaring flaw in this game is the (dare I say it) ‘Asian’ difficulty. Don’t get a perfect? You’re disowned. I’m over exaggerating it, but this game will become unforgiving at times. During some levels, even missing one flick or press will cause your grade to fall from a superb to a just ok. This problem is even more elaborated in the perfect challenges the game gives you, in which you have to complete the minigame with no flaws whatsoever to receive a music track or a piece of writing. I think this is the hardest thing to do since the likes of Mega Man 9 (and I mean the challenge in where you have to beat the game without taking damage once), and the incentives after completing the perfect runs are less than rewarding. Sure, an explanation of the world of backbeats is exciting, but I’d rather read it before I try to perfect my performance on Lockstep, thank you very much.
So in ending, I believe this is a marvelous game to hit the Nintendo DS. While I do disagree with the difficulty and slightly off controls, the music and graphics (as well as the quirkiness of the game itself) well make up for it.