Wii review: Rhythm Heaven Fever

Rhythm Heaven Fever!

Recently, my girlfriend found a five dollar copy of UmJammer Lammy at Cash-In Culture. Citing an intense love for PaRappa the Rapper, which she has beaten, she purchased the game and we sped home to play it.

It was nonsense.

After a garish Playstation-era CGI intro, Chop Chop Master Onion came onscreen and we repeatedly/endlessly failed to master his lame raps. Our failure wasn’t the typical kind, the humbling sort that reflects a gamer’s limitations and asks them to overcome. It arose from utter confusion. We pressed buttons and Lammy seemed to respond positively, but soon we were demoted from Good to Bad with no audiovisual cue to explain where we went wrong. Our demotions weren’t accompanied by jarring guitar chords or feedback. Nothing was telling us why we sucked.

We shelved the game.

I’m not telling you this to show how bad I am at videogames, but to show how far we’ve come over the years. Lammy may be the godmother of rhythm games, but she’s aged hard. The stale raps, vague cues, and late-90s kitsch just don’t hold up.

You Are Here.

Ed: Our HDTV may be partly to blame, according to Edge.

Thankfully, Rhythm Heaven Fever replaces the psychic pain UmJammer Lammy caused with newer, enjoyable psychic pain. Rhythm Heaven is absolutely brutal, but its simplicity, clarity, and charm coalesce into a maddeningly addictive experience.

It really is as simple as a game can be. Players tap the A button to the beat. Sometimes, they’re required to hit A and B together. The extreme simplicity could have wrecked the game, but Nintendo shaped the difficulty around it and created one of the Wii’s must-play titles.

Rhythm Heaven Fever can be monstrously difficult at times. The first few levels left us nervous as the grading screen came up, and it didn’t take long to reach a level that completely shocked us with its difficulty. We sat, pants peed and weeping openly, dutifully covering each others’ eyes with gore-flecked fingers as we tried to hide from the cruel and hateful thing described in-game as “Monkey Watch.”

Like any of the game’s fifty-plus levels, its simplicity is almost offensive. The player controls a monkey holding onto the second-hand of a watch, high-fiving his monkey friends as he ticks by. In case you’ve never seen this, it is completely adorable. In case you’ve never played this, it is brutal and horrible and evil and so damned cute you want to scream at and about that monkey.

That monkey.

But you don’t scream, and you don’t get mad, because the game is so charming and inviting that you take a breather and play another of the bite-sized levels before returning to Monkey Watch and beating it, pretending you destroyed it when, really, you only just eked out an OK rating. Or, if you repeatedly fail a level, the good folks at Nintendo allow you to skip it and move on.

It’s a great feature, because each level’s visual theme and mini-narrative is so bizarre and or adorable that it’d be a shame for anybody to miss out because a level’s timing isn’t clicking. Rhythm Heaven Fever is filled with scenarios I never dreamed of playing: Synchronized-dancing shrimp, military drilling expedition seals, and inflatable-muscled boxing toys all move to the beat. There are love raps, robot assembly factories, demon-slaying samurai, and even something called Donk Donk, which the developers can’t explain and neither can I.

Thematic repetitions only appear in the maddening Remix stages that pop up every fifth level. These stages rework the previous four stages together into a (usually) cohesive whole, unifying them under one visual theme. All four stages might have a prehistoric backdrop, or they might involve the quest to become a noble samurai. You never know what you’ll get until you get it. The only guarantee is a challenge, and in this respect they function as de facto boss battles, testing all the skills you’ve learned up to that point and capping off the string of levels nicely.

The heart of a music game is its music, and Rhythm Heaven Fever’s is consistently memorable and enjoyable. The songs are snappy videogame pop, occasionally infused with metal or lyrical verve, and a general peppiness is their strongest common factor. Given their short length, they can feel like snippets rather than songs, but they begin convincingly and end on moments of resolution. There are a handful of duds, like the aforementioned Love Rap, but the visuals are so charming that missteps elicit an eye-roll and a smile. Have I mentioned that the game is charming yet? It is.

Screwbots

Interestingly, the game looked like absolute nonsense to me before I played it. Youtube videos gave me no idea what exactly was being rhythmed. Thankfully, the games begin with brief tutorials and let players know exactly where they’ve made a mistake. You successfully impaled that first pea on your fork, but the second one slipped by you, and the third got caught between the spokes, causing the offscreen eater to choke. So: a success, a failure, and a half success on that segment. Try harder, you’ll get it.

The difference between scoring an OK and a Superb can be rather finicky, though. Some stages are amazingly challenging, while others can be fumbled through on the first try. In some, the difference between OK, Super, and Perfect all seem to hinge on a single point. If you miss the ball twice on Homerun Hitter, for example, you’re running home with an OK at best.

These instances can be frustrating, but they’re rare and don’t spoil the game. Rhythm Heaven Fever has a ton of content, offering frequent chances to score goodies if you can perfect a certain level within three tries. The prizes for these are mercifully unimportant, with more substantial minigames being unlocked via Superb ratings, and provide a great incentive to break from the level that’s currently wearing you down.

Monkey Golf

The biggest mark against Rhythm Heaven Fever is that there’s little reason to revisit stages once you’ve perfected them. Reaching that level of mastery will potentially take you hours on a single bite-sized stage, but there’s no room for advancement once you’ve perfected a level. You can’t score extra points or higher combos. This malaise extends itself to multiplayer. Two people can cooperate or compete on a limited selection of stages, but there’s very little to engage with once they’ve reached that plateau.

Don’t let that dissuade you, though. Rhythm Heaven Fever’s content goes a long way past its meager $30 price tag, and I suspect that most people will never fully complete the game. The wonderfully stripped-down, white-knuckle gameplay could keep you addicted for weeks. Just make sure you’re prepared for Monkey Watch.

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3 Responses to “Wii review: Rhythm Heaven Fever”

  1. Stephanie Says:

    I LOVE this blog! The design is amazing — and is that Crash Bandicoot? Awesome! You’re a *great* writer, so keep it up. What a lucky duck your girlfriend must be! /jealous

  2. Gems of this generation: part 1 | Catstronaut Loves Games Says:

    […] is why Rhythm Heaven Fever is so refreshing: I had a goofy-assed grin on my face for the game’s entire duration, as each […]

  3. Surprise! The Wii U is fantastic. | Catstronaut Loves Games Says:

    […] Galaxy, Rhythm Heaven Fever, Mario Kart Wii, Skyward Sword, Super Smash Bros Brawl — the list goes on. It also has a bunch of […]

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