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Rhythm Heaven November 8, 2009

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Reviews, Video Games.

When I first heard of Rhythm Tengoku for the Game Boy Advance, I didn’t know what to think. How could a game revolving around “keeping to the beat” be so popular in Japan? Mind, this was well before I’d even tried a “rhythm” game, so for the most part I chalked it up to the craziness that occasionally arises from Japanese culture because, let’s face it, sometimes the Japanese are simply wired differently.

Then came games like Patapon and Ouendan/Elite Beat Agents, which after I’d tried and enjoyed got me interested in Rhythm Tengoku’s sequel on the Nintendo DS, Rhythm Heaven. By the time I’d gotten a chance to try out the first-stage demo (Built to Scale) at the neighborhood Gamestop during the last trip to the US, I was sold.

My brother jokingly describes it as ADD on steroids, and in a sense that’s true. Overall, Rhythm Heaven is nothing more than a collection of mostly senseless and often punishingly hard minigames. How senseless? Along the lines of dancing frogs/soldier ducks/ninja dog kind of senseless, to name but a few. And just how difficult? Let’s just say that gunning to perfect each and every stage is almost a masochistic exercise, because when the game demands “perfect”, it demands perfect.

Yet how can one not be won over by Rhythm Heaven? While it may fall under what some consider the “casual game” category (if you buy that canard, which I don’t), at its core it’s a title that is deviously creative, precisely because the gameplay mechanic is absurdly simple. There’s a lot of monkey-see-monkey-do/tap into the beat/watch the offbeats going on in Rhythm Heaven, and while there are a couple of forgettable clunkers in this compendium of mini-games there’s much more that’ll have most gamers shaking their heads at how ingeniously everything just comes together. To take do-re-mi and turn it into addictive gameplay? That’s downright clever.

At a time when many games distinguish themselves by their graphics and involved storylines or promise to offer massive multiplayer experiences, it’s refreshing to find a game like Rhythm Heaven. It serves to remind us that simplicity itself can make for a fantastic game, even if only for the few minutes you do decide to pick up and play.


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