By Sarumarine 0 Comments
I find myself fortunate for playing the very excellent Rhythm Heaven Fever before taking on its handheld counterpart, Rhythm Heaven on the DS. Unlike the console version, this game is rage inducing with some pretty clumsy touch controls that make keeping the rhythm a chore rather than a joy. I think it's important I set the tone right up front, because much like the Okamiden Recently Played, I don't know if I'll be able to complain about this game without coming off like an asshole or unrealistically angry. I'm certainly going to try, but I don't like my chances.
Rhythm Heaven on the DS only seems to know how to make rhythm totally aggravating. And that fucking sucks.
Rhythm Heaven (Feel Bad Nonsense with Music: The Game)
A long time ago I played a store demo of Rhythm Heaven that involved the very first mini-game Built to Scale. It was a frustrating experience that left me cold on the whole idea. At the same time, it was a store demo where I could hardly hear the music and had to hunch over a DS at a strange angle. Then a few months ago I played Fever on the Wii and had a blast, experiencing the very best of weird Japanese visuals and damn catchy songs where hitting one or two buttons at the right time was extremely satisfying. And I wanted more. Even with the content in Fever (and the damn hard Perfect challenges) I wanted to see some more Rhythm Heaven madness. Lucky for me the DS version had come out ages ago and was pretty cheap online. I was willing to give it another chance considering I had a better idea what this series was about.
Unfortunately, this is more of a lesson in knowing when to be satisfied. It doesn't help that Rhythm Heaven is pretty mean spirited and has a bad habit of throwing patterns at you that aren't covered in tutorial sections. One dickish remix starts out giving you a long sequence to match but then switches it in the middle of your turn to another game, guaranteeing you'll mess up the next part unless you already knew that was going to happen. Other remixes lack audio cues, ambushing you with the next game without proper set up. In many cases it has less to do with rhythm and more about knowing when the game is going to sucker punch you. Sure, Fever had its moments too. But it always messed with visuals and never screwed with the beat. I don't get that feeling for Rhythm Heaven. I just feel like the game is doing its best to make sure I don't have fun.
Flail to the Beat (Try Again!)
The biggest difference from Fever is that the only way to play this game is the stylus and the touch screen controls. Maybe that wouldn't be so bad if the only thing you did was tap to the beat, but there's also a flicking mechanic where you have to quickly slide the stylus across the screen. This is where Rhythm Heaven breaks for me. Flicking is a completely unreliable motion that ruins the vast majority of the mini-games. It gets used a lot, which is damning because I find it hard enough to concentrate on the beat (as this game can get fucking hard) and now I have to split my focus on this stupid flicking motion and pray to God the game finds it acceptable. It doesn't feel good, even when it works. Games like Rhythm Rally (where all you do is flick) or Big Rock Ending (which asks you to flick impossibly fast in a row) frustrate the shit out of me. Built to Scale, the very first mini-game, really sets the mood of using these motions and never getting a very good pay off from it. The best you get is someone screaming at the top of their lungs. Maybe a dolphin leaps out of the water. It's pretty underwhelming for this series.
Gameplay works WAY better when all you do is tap (or hold) the screen to a beat. Munchy Monk 2 is the cream of the crop and it's a lot of fun to watch a dude gulp down dumplings like a speed eater. Freeze Frame is probably the most satisfying mini-game as you tap to take high speed photographs of crazy race cars. There is fun to be had in Rhythm Heaven when it isn't tripping over its controls. Not to say it doesn't figure out how to screw up tapping too. For that there's the Lockstep game. Not only does it require a ton of tapping, but it's also incredibly hard and feels like final boss material. So of course it gets Lockstep 2 just in case you were enjoying yourself or something. I remember Vinny describing this game on the Fever Quick Look. I was hoping that was just a Vinny thing, but he's totally right. It's especially fun when it shows up in remixes. What the fuck, Lockstep?
Highlights? Yeah... Highlights. We'll Go With That
The music in Rhythm Heaven doesn't feel very impressive overall. There are a few standouts, but the vast majority leaves something lacking. The visuals also don't feel nearly crazy enough to carry the music. This might have to do with the fact I played Fever first, or maybe it was drowned out in a sea of frustration and profanity. The songs with lyrics feel especially lethargic, but I have no idea of the technical hurdles of getting voice on a handheld. I'm impressed they bothered in the first place. Not to say it's all bad. I do love GBA and DS tunes if the Advance Wars series is any indication.
- Rhythm Rally
- Love Lizards
- Love Lab
- Built to Scale
- ...and many others
Special shout out to Love Lab as the turning point where I started to realize just how frustrating this game was. It has this really bad shaking motion that often transitions right into a flick. The chances of pulling either of these motions off in time to the song is next to impossible. Triple that complication when it shows up in remixes. Crop Stomp has a similar problem. And I could go on and on. But I'll always have Munchy Monk. He'll always be awesome. He's this game's Ringside. Or would that make Ringside Rhythm Heaven Fever's Munchy Monk? Either way. Stand out mini-game.
No Such Thing as a Superb Medal
I used to think that Fever was unforgiving, but Rhythm Heaven sets the bar and cripples you in both legs. I had delusions about getting medals until I realized there are no superbs in this game. There are only perfects. To give an example, I missed one widget in the first game Built to Scale. One. And I got an "OK". It wasn't even the ending. Or a big transition. It was just some random widget before the game speeds up. The only real way to get medals is to miss nothing. Couple that with the flicking motions and I don't know how people could even attempt it. And perfects? Fucking forget it. Give me some damn buttons to press. Then we can talk about perfects.
I do wonder if I would be as hard on this game if I had not played Fever first. That's not something I can fix any time soon, but I suspect it would be the same in reverse. Whatever order you find Rhythm Heaven, it's saddled with pretty awful touch controls that are nowhere near accurate enough to match the insane standards of this series. Things need to be one or two button simple in order to enjoy the craziness going on or react to some of the tricks this game enjoys pulling on you. For the people who find touch controls no big deal... I don't know how you manage it. I feel like I'm beginning to understand the people who use keyboard and mouse and won't tolerate controllers under any circumstance.
And maybe I've made it sound like the worst game ever. I don't think it deserves that title... but it does leave a lot lacking. I do find it hard to recommend even if you're a fan of Rhythm Heaven in general.