Contagious and Terminal
Rhythm Heaven Fever is not afraid to--beat---you.
Damning difficulty may not be the first thought to cross your mind as you glare at the exuberantly colorful box art and the adorable in-game personified animals and super-deformed humans; but rest assure Rhythm Heaven Fever will burn up any degree of self-respect you may have for your ability to keep rhythm. The game absolutely demands precision and gives zero leniency to missteps. As a neophyte to the Rhythm Heaven series, the sudden ramp up of difficulty seemed insurmountable. If I were to type even a third of the frustrated profanities that dripped from my lips during my playtime with Rhythm Heaven Fever, I'm sure some form of Standards and Practices for Internet user reviews would be instantaneously formed.
Yet, the feeling of accomplishment from finally cracking the correct rhythm of a nightmarish minigame rivals some of the best endorphin releasing miniature thrills I have experience in video games since the heyday of the arcades.
Rhythm Heaven Fever is the first home console release of a fairly venerable Nintendo handheld minigame series. Each bite-sized game features some wrinkle on the concept of keeping proper prolonged rhythm throughout. Some games have you playing a tempo-changing match of badminton between two fighter planes being manned by house animals or constructing robots in what must be the world's most rhythmical construction line. The game pulls no punches in the "Adorably Weird" category. Expect to see a watch compromised of high-fiving monkeys, double dates between man and weasel (along specie lines...in case, you know, you were wondering) and matching karate fighters knocking paper cups around. Coupled with the maniac tempo of the game, everything feels kinetic and bouncy-er than a shaken up aluminum can of Jolt Cola.
And all of this complements the audio production flawlessly.
Eschewing anything sounding like traditional popular music (or god forbid actual licensed music), Rhythm Heaven Fever largely trades in strongly--ahem--rhythmic diddies that fit whatever visual motif is present on a given stage. Expect to hear more clangs and metallic tings on industrial themed levels and more naturalistic sounds on earthy levels. Often times the core rhythm is tied directly into player input. While it caused a few clumps of hair to be forcefully removed from my scalp, the Tambourine Simon Says minigame perfectly exemplifies this; next to no ambient music and just the driving rhythm of the objective. I probably will not be putting any of these tracks on my iPod anytime soon, but within the context of the game, they are utterly essential and a delight to hear.
The handheld roots of the series hold true in Fever's method of input. Despite being on the Wii, the machine that single-handedly popularized motion controls, Rhythm Heaven Fever uses zero motion input. Every single one of the fifty plus separate minigames within the package only use either the "A" button alone or in combination with the "B" trigger. No waggling outside of the optional use of the cursor on the menus. While one could question why Nintendo made the decision to release Rhythm Heaven Fever on the Wii as it defiantly does not play to the alleged "strengths" of the hardware; I am thankful for this design choice. Motion controls are finicky at best and the trails and tribulations of Rhythm Heaven Fever would have likely caused a massive Wiimote genocide due to their inaccuracy. With all input being delegated to seemingly simple button presses, the player can only blame themselves for their inevitable failures.
A few oversights in user interface really cools off Rhythm Heaven Fever a bit. The biggest offender is the lack of in-minigame restart. Often time I (unsurprisingly) found myself wishing to restart from the beginning of the song. This is not possible. Instead the player must exit all the way to the main menu and restart the game from there. Likewise, you are dumped to the main menu after completion of the minigame regardless of what grade you earned. Every time you selected a game, no matter how many prior times you have played it, the game loads up the short tutorial. This is skippable, but an option to disengage the tutorial and practice run outright would have been appreciated.
It needs to be noted that despite all of my frequent bellyaching comments about difficulty, Rhythm Heaven Fever will never stop introducing new content to you based on skill. After a few botched attempts at the newest unlocked minigame, you will receive an option to skip it and jump to the next one or view a largely useless "demo" video.
The games are divided into five game columns with the fifth game being a mash-up of the previous four on the ladder. I found the difficulty to be independent of the number column. I was failing out of half of the second tier yet blowing through the fifth column with little problem. Obviously personal musical strengths are going to factor in big time...but it might have been nice to see a more uniformed difficulty curve.
Retailing for thirty US dollars and likely being the last Nintendo first party game to be released for the decrepit Wii, it's not hard to recommend the joyous insanity of Rhythm Heaven Fever to anyone looking for one last reason to strap on the Wiimote for a steep musical challenge. Like the namesake ailment, Rhythm Heaven Fever is a short burst of fatigue and delusion that is terrifyingly contagious.