Developer: Nintendo SPD Group No. 1 / Publisher: Nintendo / Played on: Nintendo Wii / Price: $29.99 / ESRB: Everyone [Comic Mischief]
You know how in Terminator they used dogs to tell if someone was a kill-bot or a human? Well, I found a better test. Playing Rhythm Heaven Fever will tell you if there’s a shred of a soul left in your body.
Despite being a collection of minigames in WarioWare fashion, the way the game revolves around rhythm and music is so simple but so deeply enjoyable that you can’t help but love it… unless you’re an unfeeling robot trying to exterminate the human race.
Rhythm Heaven Fever’s structure is incredibly similar to its predecessor Rhythm Heaven on the DS. The game is broken up into ten sections, each of which contains four minigames and a remix stage that combines the four preceding games into a longer song. Do well enough on a game and you earn a medal; earn enough medals, and you unlock rhythm toys (a drum kit, wind-up car, etc) and extra, more difficult games. Sounds standard, but Rhythm Heaven’s real magic is how music and rhythm integrate into the minigames.
Describing that magic is difficult, but I’ll give it my best shot. By using deceptively complicated polyrhythms and visual tricks, the games in Rhythm Heaven are deceptively difficult–sort of how patting your head and rubbing your stomach sounds simple until you try it. The rhythm test at the beginning of the game is a good example of this. They start you off two measures of a simple 4/4 beat, and all you have to do is tap the A button on every eighth beat. Then they drop the seventh beat, then the sixth. Before you know it, you have two measures of total silence before you have to tap the A button, with only your internal sense of rhythm to guide you and a graph showing how far off your last beat was. It’s one-button gaming at its finest; a simple concept that anyone can play crafted with deceptive difficulty that ensnares you before you know it.
Despite hitting on such a simple but gratifying formula for gameplay, Rhythm Heaven Fever falters in its variety and content. Though the game isn’t asking full retail, I was still a little disappointed at how quickly I finished each challenge. While there are 50 events to try, the last 15 are simply harder versions of those you’ve already played. This Wii version adds limited multiplayer, but only in the case of a select few games, and won’t offer more than twenty minutes of fun. While Fever does have a few mechanics to keep you playing–the aforementioned medal collecting and the occasional opportunity to earn “perfect badges” on stages–the game winds up being more of an interesting diversion than a full gaming experience.
From a mechanical and thematic perspective, the music and sound in Rhythm Heaven Fever work incredibly well with the game. The music is all upbeat and poppy, which makes sense given that the game is backed by Japanese songwriter/producer Tsunku (writer for J-pop acts Morning Misume, Aya Matsuura, and others). If you have a baked-in aversion to bright and sunny music, the game may clash with your tastes but otherwise it’s as universal as music gets.
Mechanically speaking, the music works really well with the games themselves. The sound effects tied to your actions in the game–kicking balls, punching flying drums, etc–sound like drum hits, which reinforces the rhythmic nature of the game. The backing track is usually subtle enough not to obscure the beat, and when it does, it’s intentionally so for the sake of challenge. While this game won’t teach you about rhythm as effectively as a music class, it will show you a mechanical side to music that you may have not experienced before.
Rhythm Heaven Fever employs a simple and clean graphic style that succeeds based on how damn weird it is. Every game revolves around an oddball concept that instantly grabs your attention. One game involves a boy sitting on a park bench with his date, kicking away basketballs and soccer balls as two weasels cheer him on from a hole in the ground. Another takes place on a wristwatch, which keeps the time by a monkey sitting on the second hand high-fiving sixty other monkeys that pop out of the rim of the clock as he passes. You’ll see cats playing badminton between two airplanes in the sky and microbes swimming in unison on a petri dish. Discovering the oddball framing for the next game is just as much a hook to keep playing as the game itself.
Rhythm Heaven Fever is one of the most delightful games I’ve ever played, and the price is decent for the amount of content. For gamers interested in music or gaming oddities, this game is a must-buy, though it’s a harder recommendation for a self-professed hardcore gamer that hasn’t powered up his Wii in years. Meaty game experience it’s not, but it’s still worth experiencing unless you have cold, black oil running through your veins.
8 / 10