Videogames attempts to marry gameplay to music have long suffered from a case of ‘this’ or ‘that’. Narrative or pure mechanics, simon says memorization or notes on cue. Music rhythm games have been largely forced to pigeonhole themselves into working with a single mechanic with little flexibility. None of those games are Rhythm Heaven Fever.
Since Rhythm Tengokou came out at the end of the Game Boy Advance’s lifetime, the series created by the lunatics behind Warioware have given players music-based mini-games that can each be custom built for various gameplay types and any music genre. A simple but fundamental structure is why the Rhythm Heaven series is so successful; each song’s composition and aesthetics are built around a single theme with implied story and the player is assigned a character that moves to the beat. The controls in Fever have been stripped down compared to the GBA and DS versions; the player only hits A or both A + B simultaneously. That’s it, two commands. No wiggle, no D-pad.
Simple doesn’t mean easy. The controls allow for precision and each game demands it. Whether you’re screwing on robot heads to the beat or banging a tambourine to imitate a monkey and create it, keeping to the beat is the only way to succeed. And don’t try to rely on the games beautiful flat drawn animation as visual cues, they will only get you so far and often act to obscure the action and force you to stay with the flow.
To help get you there, every song offers pre-game tutorials, but the nature of each individual composition makes practice pretty hit-or-miss; you’ll get the moves but not always the rhythm. That wouldn’t be that bad if the game was great about giving your performance better feedback, but it’s not. There will be sections where you will trip up. And you aren’t given the chance to practice any section you’re having trouble with and must instead start at the beginning and work your way back which can be maddening if you spend minutes doing so only to fail at it again. It’s a frustration made worse since you don’t have a quick way to retry a level- you must quit out to the menu and reselect it. A post-game report tells you whether-or-not you passed, but, while better than the other versions, often feels finicky.
Passing a song opens up the next, but doing really well earns you a medal and makes that song eligible for a random opportunity to play through the song perfectly. While the progression is 100% linear, you’ll play four songs in what amounts to a set and then a remix that throws each of that sets compositions and rules into one unique song. Rhythm Heaven Fever offers fifty regular games, two-player variants and bonus rhythm toys and endless challenges that open up by earning medals.
And if you weren’t playing each song for its medal, you’ll do so because so many are incredibly fun and catchy. Diverse too. While there are a few repeats of a theme, each has its own rhythm and art style and they’ll be in your head for a few days after you’ve finished playing. Some stand outs include the luchadore post-match press conference in ‘Ring Side’, the samurai woodblock adventure ‘Samurai Slice’ and the opening games primate caddy golf game ‘Hole in One’. Perfecting a song will open up an epilogue text that sets up the context for its story, as much as there is.
For three titles, the Rhythm Heaven franchise has offered diverse beats and stylized aesthetics. Despite a handful of legacy issues that are true of the other two games, Fever is a manic wonder; one better for its stripped down controls. It might be one of the Wii’s swan songs, but it deserves to be played. Do it now.
DEVELOPER: Nintendo R&D1
PLATFORM: Nintendo Wii