By Babylonian 12 Comments
First, a little pretext: I'm the oldest of four brothers. All of us play games to varying degrees, and as with any family and any medium, our tastes vary. For whatever reason, the only game that's ever resonated with all four of us in equal measure is Rhythm Heaven on the DS. I couldn't tell you why, but every single one of us got completely obsessed with that game - so much so that when I first put it my brother Porter's hands two summers ago, he played it for four hours nonstop, determined to Superb each song before moving onto the next one. True story: the night I introduced it to him, we went on a trip to the grocery store, and he brought the DS with him and walked around the store playing it. Like, it hit our family that hard.
So late last year, I set out to get my brothers an import copy of the Wii's Rhythm Heaven installment - a game that, at the time, hadn't been announced for a North American release yet - as a Christmas gift. I won't get into the details, but suffice it to say it was a lot harder than I expected! Despite that, they were able to open a new Rhythm Heaven game to play on Christmas morning, and that surprise was totally worth it. I'm only a couple months away from college graduation, and after that, I'm not sure how many more chances I'll get to hang out with my literal bros for extended periods of time, so it was important to me that I make this happen, and I'm really glad it all came together!
All that stuff aside, though, I'm pretty much here to say one thing, and that thing is this: Rhythm Heaven is fucking awesome, you guys. Like, it's seriously the best! No kiddin'!
First of all, let's talk about how it's a Wii game with no motion controls. Like, none at all. As a first-party Wii game, the temptation to shoehorn motion controls into this game must've been strong, but they resisted, and I couldn't be more grateful. The decision to entirely forego waggle is a huge part of makes this game so brilliant. There are things that motion controls are perfect for, but precise, timing-based rhythm game mechanics are definitely not it. This seems like a lesson learned from Rhythm Heaven Gold on the DS, whose mildly controversial sliding/flicking mechanic rubbed (heh) some people the wrong way. While the touchscreen stuff was never enough to make me feel cheated, I can understand the frustration of futzing with analog movement in a game that requires digital precision. Rhythm Heaven can be pretty brutal and demanding, and the last thing you want is to feel like you lost a minigame for reasons other than your own nonrhythmic tendencies. Trying to incorporate the Wii remote's gyroscope and accelerometers in a Rhythm Heaven game would have made a small problem huge, but luckily, they opted not to do that.
Actually, they went just as far in the opposite direction as possible. A lof the minigames in this package exclusively make use of the A button. If it weren't for the occasional (judicious) use of the B button, Rhythm Heaven Fever would probably be the most brilliant one-switch ever conceived. Every minigame uses between 1 and 2 buttons, which is already crazy - what's crazier is that they manage to eek out over 50 unique ideas from the game.
Instead of getting increasingly more complex by stacking on more ideas like many sequels do, this game is the simplest, purest Rhythm Heaven yet. This is the barest input they've ever pared down to in a Nintendo SPD Group No.1 game (much less a Nintendo game), and the the game is better for it. I spent some time playing my copy of the original Rhythm Tengoku for the GBA earlier today, and while it's still totally amazing, it's also less elegant than Fever in a couple pretty crucial ways. The obvious way is that the GBA game used up to 6 inputs (all four D-pad directions, plus A and B), which seems pretty excessive compared to Fever's two-button approach. But the second difference is a lot more subtle and a lot more interesting.
In most games, the sound is an inessential bonus to what's going on visually. In Rhythm Heaven, the opposite is true. Unless I'm mistaken, every single minigame in Fever could be literally played blind, which is insane! The visuals are there as a bonus, but you could use just the audio cues and get through the entire game just fine. There are a few exceptions to this in Rhythm Heaven GBA (and, as SpunkyHePanda pointed out to me, at least one in Gold), but even most of those minigames hold up just fine to the eyes-closed test.
Actually, Fever plays a lot with obscuring your vision. It's an idea they touched on a little bit in the original GBA game and barely played with in Gold, but the later minigames in Fever often go out of their way to force you to rely more on what you hear and less on what you see. It really helps to hit home the fact that, again, every single one of these could be played without the use of your sight.
Actually, playing with your eyes shut makes a lot of the games easier. Rhythm Heaven minigames often ask you to accomplish impossibly precise feats of timing that would be impossible if they weren't aligned with music. Here's a great example from the GBA version:
Imagine trying to play a non-rhythm-game version of that. You couldn't do it! And I find that a lot of times, that psyches people out. Specifically, the Hole In One minigame that Fever opens with tends to frustrate people who are relying too much on their eyesight, but invariably, if I suggest they try it again without looking, they crush it. Weird how that works!
Still, given the option, it's not a game you'd want to play blind, as it's pleasant as hell to look at. Rhythm Heaven has made the transition to
HD ED really well. In lieu of the previous portable entries' pixel art, they've opted this time for a clean-looking, thickly-bordered, minimally animated look. It's resembles a somehow-even-more-colorful take on the Panty & Stocking art style, and all it fits the gameplay perfectly. The extra screen real estate is used to fantastic effect, too - there is a lot more panning and zooming going on here, and it's always in ways that wouldnt've worked especially well within the portable entries' rigid pixel art. Basically: the visuals are yet another category where they hit it out of the park. I think you see where I'm going with this.
There's a lot of other stuff I could talk about: the fact that the first week we had Rhythm Heaven Fever, I woke up most days with its music playing in my head; the fact that this is the first entry with multiplayer, and that they somehow nailed that, too; the fact that there's a remarkable consistency to the Rhythm Heaven universe, ranging from minigames evocative of previous ones to straight-up cameos; and the fact that the pacing is better than its ever been, with practice sections that have cute little visual differences, not to mention killer chiptune versions of the upcoming song... and, yeah, just a million other things. I could talk about that, but I'm not gonna. I'm just gonna be like "Buy this game when it comes out here, you idiot," and leave it at that.
Like, it'd be an easy enough game to recommend importing if they hadn't chosen to bring it here (the language barrier is pretty much a non-issue), but they totally did! And it's only thirty dollars! Whether you've already played it or not (and I have it on good authority that most of you haven't), I think it'd be great if we all, like, just did our part and bought an English copy or two. Can we do that? Let's do that.