Review: Rhythm Heaven Fever
If there’s one thing Nintendo does well with the Wii, it’s make players have fun while they make complete fools of themselves. The basis of the Rhythm Heaven franchise’s appeal doesn’t stray far from that credo, except that instead of making you stand up and flail around like a maniac a la Wii Sports or WarioWare: Smooth Moves, it proves to your friends just how terrible you are at keeping a simple beat. The latest entry in the series, Rhythm Heaven Fever, is its first appearance on a home console.
You’ll be asked to kick soccer balls away from gophers during a date, prevent the escape of demons through an inter-dimensional portal with the power of timed-button presses and assemble robots at a factory to a tune, among other things. But at its core, is Rhythm Heaven Fever any fun?
The answer to that, quite simply, is yes. You’ll have a blast trying to time your button presses to whatever wacky action is happening onscreen. If you were a bit flustered by imprecise use of the stylus in the DS iteration of Rhythm Heaven and were dreading the same with waggle controls this time around, fear not: The most complicated move you’ll pull off will require you to pinch the Wii remote to press the A and B buttons at the same time.
Don’t let that lull you into a false sense of security — some of the beats in this game are pretty tough to follow. It might take a few attempts to get the rhythm during any given task, but when Rhythm Heaven Fever gets you into the groove, it’s tough to put it down. I’ll tell you right now: Often the easiest way to make it through a particularly tough section is to wave the Wii remote or tap your toes in tune to the beat. Once again, it’s Nintendo’s mission of making you look like a total jackass this generation at work.
You’ll play 50 rhythm mini-games in all, broken up into ten stages of five each. Four of those games are totally original and the last of the challenges in each group are remixes of the previous stages. I approached every end-level challenge thinking there was no way I could swap between all four games and pull off each mechanic, but the compositions do a good job of keeping things challenging without making them impossible.
The visuals help immensely. Every mini-game is animated wonderfully and is so exorbitant in its presentation that you can’t help but get swept away by the accompanying music. I was particularly fond of Air Rally. This was my favorite mini-game by far. You control a dog playing badminton with a cat while you both fly mini planes side-by-side. The beat is infectious and the cues to hit the birdie are the cat going “yeah” to the rhythm of the song. You volley back and forth at about 100 beats per minute until the cat changes things up by doing a quick “bo bom-bom-bom” where you slow down to about half speed before you hit it back. Actually, I have no clue why I’m trying to explain it to you. Just watch the clip below.
It gets tricky as the screen is covered in fog and the cat moves away from the camera, but to be quite honest, if you just close your eyes and move your arms to the beat, you hardly need to look at the screen. At least that’s how I played this particular mini-game. The strategy also helped with several others, although sometimes it’s tough to focus on just the music, what with the cute monkeys and all.
There will definitely be times when the game becomes frustrating. Some of the rhythms take a bit to get used to, prime examples of this being “Catch of the Day” and “Launch Party.” The first game has you counting beats after certain fish snag the lure in order to reel them in and the second requires you memorize the types and liftoffs of four different rockets as they count from 1, 3, 5 and 7 to zero. Both games require you to remember which fish or rocket requires what kind of timing and even after getting a “Superb” rating on both games I had to try them a couple of times on subsequent playthroughs in order to make it through.
This might be irksome to some, but if you’ve ever seen your favorite frontman or frontwoman do a solo acoustic show, you’ve probably heard them apologize for not knowing their band’s entire back catalog. This is akin to that experience and after a few minutes with a given mini-game you’ll be a pro again in no time. Unfortunately the in-game scoring system isn’t as reliable as you’d hope.
If you were infuriated by the DS Rhythm Heaven’s scoring system, don’t get your hopes up here. It’s still as inconsistent as ever and I’d only recommend trying for medals if you want to voluntarily frustrate yourself. Sometimes one or two mistakes will net you an “okay” rating while a seemingly flawed performance scores a “superb.” It doesn’t feel as though you’re being rewarded as much as it feels like the game’s taking pity on you. One of the things that gives games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero such appeal is your ability to track progress and eventually perform flawlessly. Remember the first time you gold-starred “When You Were Young”? With Rhythm Heaven Fever there’s no foundation for that sense of accomplishment.
Scoring well earns you medals, which in turn unlock features like a jukebox, a marathon mode and other goodies, which are all decent bonus materials. I can’t emphasize just how much the folks in my apartment building must have hated hearing that cat and dog play badminton in the air for as long as they were subjected to it.
Rhythm Heaven seems like a game tailor-made for gatherings of a few people or dates, so it’s a shame that the only multiplayer options available are local, two-player affairs. And there’s only a handful of mini-games — 10 of the 50 — you can play together. You’ll have more fun handing the Wii remote off in order to enjoy this with a friend, which is a sad statement to make considering just how much Nintendo championed this console as the go-to box for gatherings. There’s also no online play, a feature I wasn’t expecting but the exclusion of which is still baffling in this day and age.
It’s also a pretty short affair. I was able to breeze through all 40 mini-games and 10 remixes in a little over four hours. Add to that the fact that it falls short when it comes to multiplayer and you can see why Nintendo is only charging $30 for the game. Had the development team put a bit more effort into that particular component of the game and included more than 1o games to play with a friend, it would be well worth the investment.
If you haven’t played either of Rhythm Heaven Fever’s handheld predecessors, you owe it to yourself to experience it. If you absolutely loved either previous iteration, nothing I can say will turn you away. It’s definitely an experience worth having, but the lack of any social application and its flawed scoring system makes Rhythm Heaven Fever a good game instead of a great one.