Raised in the era of PaRappa the Rapper, I am a sucker for rhythm games. PaRappa was the poster boy for the genre when I was a child, so in my mind he still is. But – if you aren’t an old person – rhythm games are games that involve rhythm. Guitar Hero is a rhythm game. They tend to follow a simple premise: Listen to the music. Push buttons to the beat.
It’s an extremely simplistic gameplay device, which can be at once a blessing and a curse. At its best the genre is fast-paced and arcadey, while at its worst can quickly become repetitive, unoriginal and lazy. PaRappa and Guitar Hero are arguably the faces of the genre. They address the issue of repetition through a combination of special game modes, unlocks, button combinations and hellish difficulty levels. I enjoyed both. But in my experience the best of the genre can be found in the Patapon series on the PSP. Players control a small tribe of musically-oriented warriors through rhythmic battle, and it keeps things fresh by having an actual story and a narrative reason for the rhythm, a crucial component of any rhythm game.
My love for the genre had me justifiably excited for Rhythm Paradise Megamix, released in Japan as Rhythm Heaven Megamix, a rhythm game for the Nintendo 3DS just released in New Zealand and Australia.
Unlike other titles in the genre, Rhythm Paradise makes no guise of its base premise, but it revels in it. It is one of the simplest games I’ve ever played. There’s no over complication. Listen to the music. Push buttons to the beat.
What I really loved about Rhythm Paradise is that it is a game that recognises the weaknesses of its own genre and attempts to address them. It technically is a new game, however it’s the fourth in a series of titles. In Paradise there are more than 100 different rhythm mini-games, with 70 of those coming from previous games in the series. Games see you do anything from chopping wood to playing ping-pong to translating for an alien visiting Earth, all with one goal in mind - “flow,” Apparently.
It opens with a narrator who informs us that although there is a story in the game, it isn’t much of one, and we should really just feel groovy. Enter protagonist Tibby, who is stuck on Earth and needs to restore the world’s flow in order to get back to his home, Heaven World. Tibby is sharp-tongued and the story is pretty half-arsed but the entire game is cleverly written and it actually works very nicely. Every stage features a selection of rhythm games and a character to be helped, and although the game is aimed at children the dialogue is laced with innuendo (eg. a donut-infatuated character who makes multiple references to “glaze”), and who doesn’t enjoy that? (My editor might not enjoy that bit, and might take it out) [Editor’s note: We’ll let it slide – this time.]
These pros are important because as mentioned, the gameplay doesn’t get quite as clever. Given the capabilities of the 3DS it is surprising Rhythm Paradise makes no use of the stylus or the touch screen. Instead, perhaps as a nod to older titles in the series, the game affords the player the A, B, and directional buttons as their only rhythmic allies. This has a couple of effects, both good and bad. The lack of depth in the gameplay means there isn’t much need to upskill, except in the case of perhaps five quite difficult mini-games. Even with a cute story Rhythm Paradise is an arcade game at heart. That’s not a bad thing, especially for a handheld device, but there isn’t quite enough there for me to praise it too much - there are so few buttons involved, and the console has so many more, that no matter how complicated and fast the beats get, the player is very rarely tested.
A massive focus of this game is, rather predictably, music. While you're playing as a dancing frog or playing badminton between aeroplanes, frantic and varied music holds the game together and also provides added difficulty through tricky rhythms and tempo changes. The music is really good with lots of variety in genre and speed, and I found the tunes catchy to the point where I am still humming some of them. This is great for the person playing, but will almost certainly drive friends and family away from you like an infection. Soldier through it for the dancing frogs.
The game’s visuals are cartoonish and adorable (trained seals that loll around on the ground in time to the beat, jigging bacteria, etc.) and they complement the soundtrack well. Pushing the buttons with perfect timing yields a very satisfying flash of sparks, with various levels of achievement to be attained per game based on how many perfects you manage to hit. Towards the end of the game you start to encounter "Remix" games, which are a combination of multiple rhythm games already completed. These are the closest thing to hard mode Rhythm Paradise has, and they are tricky, but won’t take more than a couple of attempts to beat.
Rhythm Paradise isn’t a bad game, in fact it’s an entertaining and enjoyable title. It makes a decided effort to under-promise in terms of story and depth, and delivers something fun that I liked. It isn’t a groundbreaking entrant into the gaming landscape and it doesn’t make me go ‘wow’ like Patapon and PaRappa did when I first played them. That is an experience Rhythm Paradise does not provide. Once the story is completed there is replay value in trying to perfect the 100+ rhythm games, but once you’ve done that there’s nowhere left to go. However, as a handheld game that can be played by anyone without tutorials or explanation it’s worth taking a look at, and for kids (fun fact: they play video games) Rhythm Paradise is going to be a loud, irritating, and fun time – if only for a little while.
Brendan received a physical copy of Rhythm Paradise Megamix from Nintendo for review.