Rhythm Heaven Fever

Rhythm Heaven Fever
Rhythm Heaven Fever Cover
Platforms Wii
Genre Percussion paradise
Score 9  Clock score of 9
Buy from Amazon

Rhythm Heaven Fever is a procession of adorable cartoon situations. A boy kicks away stray footballs that threaten to ruin his date. A quartet of baby seals tilt back-and-forth in marching-style unison. A tiny monkey taps a tambourine, its big brown eyes gleaming with joy as you repeat its patterns. The game's energetic sweetness is the antithesis of this console generation's characteristic gravelly machismo and brooding drama. It's pure joy.

And yet, it wracks my nerves like a Counter-Strike match. My palms sweat as I constrict the Wii remote in a boa's death grip. My heart races before I even select a song. Like a tiger crouched in the brush, I await the right moment to strike each note with parched eyes. Even with the peppy rhythms as a constant guide, relaxation is a shortcut to failure.

You can't get careless because the game demands total precision. Guitar Hero understands that you have five frets to manage and cuts you some slack if you're a split-second early on the downbeat. Rhythm Heaven Fever scrutinizes to your timing to the millisecond: near the end of the following video, the song approaches 180 beats per minute and splits each beat into 23 blocks; I am tasked with hitting only the center column. There is no room for error.

The smiles and rainbows are a front, as the cute chimps and happy cheerleaders of Rhythm Heaven Fever know exactly how well your internal metronome is running. And they are judging you. Harshly.

This level of perfectionism is unexpected considering that Rhythm Heaven's producer, prolific Japanese pop music producer Tsunku, hoped the game would help the musically inexperienced find their rhythm. I was only coaxed into playing drums by overly supportive personal instructors that lavished me with praise even when my nerves turned quarter note patterns into morse code. Somehow I don't think Fever's judgmental bodysuit tap-dancers would have convinced a young me to keep trying.

Rhythm Heaven Fever Oops

The game does occasionally provide softer feedback on your performance. The Hole in One song is a personal favorite because it helps me tweak my timing towards perfection with every swing. If the ball overshoots the flag and then backspins into the cup, I know that rushed the beat just slightly (but not enough to miss). It's both instructive and entertaining. The vague "Try Again"/"Just OK"/"Superb" ratings at the end of each song are also accompanied by some wacky analogy ("You played like a 2nd-level baby chick!"), which at least stings less than a straight hit/miss ratio would. The denizens of Rhythm Heaven may demand perfection, but they at least address my failure with more than just boos and bad grades.

As a whole, Rhythm Heaven happily marries context and cues, which is unusual in the genre and one of the reasons I love to play the game even when it puts me in panic mode. The Beatles: Rock Band might have the most incredible psychedelic visual splendor of all time, but I'd never know it: it's all shoved behind the note highway, which requires my full attention. Instead of rewarding my performance or aiding my understanding, the yellow submarines and silver hammers are just visual noise, threatening to disrupt that desired Guitar Hero Trance where the falling colors bypass higher thought and direct my limbs reflexively as the rest of reality fades away. But in Rhythm Heaven, the on-screen characters are the cues: I know the rhythm at which to hit the A button by the ways the cat and dog hit the shuttlecock in their airborne badminton game. This cohesion allows me to enjoy the show while playing the game, while Rock Band asks me to choose one or the other.

And the show is worth watching, thanks to the franchise's unique thick-lined cartoon style and the nonsense drawn with it. With the player's limited influence on the game, the developers were free to create scenes that can be as outlandish and incomprehensible as they want without tacking on lengthy tutorials or narrative excuses. You don't need to know why four pigs are spinning their chairs in tandem at a board of directors meeting. You just need to catch onto their rhythm. The result is a game where you can never predict what the next stage will be.

Unfortunately the parade of wacky wonders doesn't last forever, and the pursuit of Superb and Perfect ratings isn't as rewarding as the first glimpse of each of the 50+ games in the package. It took me about seven hours to earn all fifty Superb ratings (which unlock a dozen or so extra games) and a handful of Perfects (which unlock a soundtrack mode and other less interesting nuggets). The game also offers a slim multiplayer section, though I have only one Wii remote at the moment and didn't get to try it out.

It's tough to compare the value of this $30 package to that of other games, as Rhythm Heaven is barely comparable even within its own genre. It's not the ever-expanding service that is Rock Band, updating every week with new attempts to grab your time and money. I don't even think it would be effective as a rhythm tutor, like Tsunku intended. It's a showcase of absurd song-and-dance routines that the developers seem to have enjoyed creating as much as I did playing. Your satisfaction with the purchase will depend on how much you enjoy the game's cartoony charms and your ability to align to a rhythm with mechanical precision.

But for me, Rhythm Heaven Fever is bliss. Palm-sweating, eye-baking, heart-thumping bliss.

Rhythm Heaven Fever Badminton_0