Maybe all you know about Rhythm Heaven is that Beyonce is on TV promoting it. I would be no more likely to buy Wii Fit because of Olivia Newton-John, so why would I rush out and pick up Rhythm Heaven at the chortling behest of ‘she-that-is-so-bootylicious?’ I wouldn't. But I may very well not be the target market. Discussions about demography and giving credit where credit is due always run a bit dry in the world of video game criticism, don't they? Is the game good or not? That's all the clamouring fans (and oh, how you fans clamour!) want to know.
Is the game good or not? Yes. At first, I thought it wasn't. The graphics don't push the DS anywhere it doesn't want to go, and the sound is at times actively annoying. But it doesn't take long to find oneself hopelessly addicted to the multitude of mini-games and bopping along to the soundtrack. Bystanders may size you up as a nutcase (unless you live in Wellington where being off your rocker just makes you part of the Capital's colourful societal fabric) and after a few minutes listening to the music out of context, they may even want to kill you. But who cares, right? You'll be having a great time.
Thankfully the mini-games each have a robust and generous training phase. The learning curve may only be five minutes here, but that's because the mechanics of Rhythm Heaven are moronically simple: tap or flick using the stylus. Where the challenge lies is in the timing. You can learn how to play extremely quickly, but actually getting it right may take substantially longer. Your first task is to link square washers with steel rods in a factory. The washers bounce along towards a centre point, at which time you have to flick a mechanical arm which shoots a rod toward them. Get the rod in the hole at the right time and the washers stick together before falling onto a conveyor belt. The washers move in time with music, so while you can take a visual cue for when to strike, listening to the beat is far more helpful. Nodding your head may not be helpful, but it feels like it is.
Each of the games run along similar lines, with timing and entwining yourself with the beat for success. You will fill robots with fuel on an assembly line, toss turnips into a farmer's bag, play various sports and clap along to abominable pop songs. NB: Rhythm Heaven is probably one of the only games ever made that will prompt you to say "I did everything right, so why are the monkeys giving me the hairy eyeball!?" in genuine outrage. That's the kind of game it is - fast, fun and ultimately ridiculous.
Behind Rhythm Heaven are the makers of WarioWare, and that's not such a surprise when you consider the graphical style and preposterous nature of many of the rhythm games. Success is measured by the gamer's ability to do what is asked of them and mistakes are not tolerated. Miss your cue in a singing challenge and your glee club partners will look heartbroken. At this time it's probably best to quit rather than ride the game out til the end, because in order to gain medals or even unlock the next game, you need to be nigh on perfect each time. This adds a level of difficulty that could polarise gamers: some will be excited and challenged, others will lose interest well before unlocking some of the fabulous content later on.
Medals can be used in the Medal Corner to unlock toys. Some of these toys are bizarre, such as the seemingly pointless business card toy. If I am missing something, folks, post below, but as far as I could tell, you get a business card which you can smack against the sides of the touch screen... for no effect. You just draw circles. That's it. But fortunately medals can also be used for 'endless games' in which you can test your reaction times with coin tosses, shoot-em-up games and the like.
Rhythm Heaven will start testing you from the get-go: you can't even get past the title screen without correctly flicking the touch screen at the right speed. Once you're into it, if you're still having trouble, you can practice at the Cafe. You can also get tips on how to play from the barista, as well as kick back and listen to a few tunes. As you go through, the options in the Cafe and Medal Corner will expand to keep you coming back. Unlockable content is one of those staples of mini-game collections, but it can be easy to make it feel tacked on. Fortunately there's plenty of meat on Rhythm Heaven's bones.
While it has a funky and ridiculous graphical style, it's fair to say that the envelope has not been pushed. Perhaps it has even been pulled. Surely there's no reason developers can't add a bit of shock and awe to the proceedings? Perhaps there's a danger we'll be distracted. In any case, Rhythm Heaven isn't altogether very pretty. Even the WarioWare titles seemed flashier than this.
Oh - and I did a review recently where I talked about the instruction booklet: was it Pikmin 2? Anyway, if that sort of thing is important to you, Rhythm Heaven's instructions are printed on paper with a GSM that makes me blush and giggle.
This is a valuable addition to the DS's library, and I think that casual gamers will probably be the title's big buyers. It's definitely worth a look if you're the type who keeps their DS for long plane, train or automobile journeys, and I've no doubt that Beyonce's relaxed endorsement of the product will see it enjoy some success.