Retrospective: Rhythm Heaven Celebrates Ten Years Of Beats

Rhythm-Heaven-RetrospectiveRhythm Tengoku/Heaven/Paradise (delete as region appropriate) celebrates it’s tenth birthday today so rather than contemplate how old we are getting when what feels like a "recent" game officially becomes "retro", let’s look back at the very first game in the series to see exactly what made it so special. To really understand fully how the creators were able to capture such magic from such simple concepts and gameplay we have to travel back even further and look at the first in another series; WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgames!

When you watch a movie or read a book, the first questions are "Who are these characters? Where are we?" but, on picking up a controller you ask "What can I do?" This immediate question is why when we start a new game, the first instinct is to start hitting buttons and see what happens. Recently, this joy of discovery has often been somewhat scuppered by games forcing long tutorials, limiting abilities and freedom in doing so. Soon after we have the basics, the question becomes "What is the game asking me to do with these abilities?"

WarioWare takes these basic questions and squeezes all it can from their bones. Each microgame starts with a short instruction hastily plastered on the screen demanding that you work out not only what you can do but also your success criteria in less than the amount of time it takes to post a funny cat picture on Twitter. To keep things tight, focussed and fun, the controls are restricted to the control pad and a single button. This limitation forced the developers to fully explore what you could do with such simple controls and the result is a masterclass in creativity and playfulness. Simple concepts (like pressing a button at the right time) are elevated to grand heights by bizarre ideas supported by mind bending art. The speed at which the games are thrown at you means that you never quite have enough time to sit back and reflect on what you just saw until you get to a boss or die. When you can eventually catch your breath to ponder why you just picked a guy’s nose, you’ve already sliced a bamboo log as a samurai, weighed turtles and literally jumped a shark. The whole thing comes together to form a strange fever dream.

So where do you go next with the idea? The thrust behind WarioWare was simple games at a fast pace, so how do you expand upon that without adding unnecessary and possibly harmful complexity or simply repeating yourself? Most of the direct WarioWare sequels took the basic concept and applied this to a new control scheme that arrived with new Nintendo consoles. This allowed the company to revive WarioWare multiple times without staleness creeping in while also teaching players what their shiny new systems were capable of.

Introducing Rhythm Tengoku

Rhythm-Heaven-Screenshots

The WarioWare team went on to form another series. Rhythm Tengoku shares much of the same DNA as the original WarioWare, maintaining the same spirit and fundamentals as WarioWare while developing the ideas into something new.

The game presents you with a number of different bizarre minigames set to music. For the vast majority of games, you need only press either A or the control pad. On the rare occasion where you're also asked to press B, the visuals make it immediately apparent. The songs are wonderfully upbeat and catchy but more importantly, designed in such a way that the audio cues make it obvious when you're meant to be doing something. Even without looking at the screen, you know precisely the beats that you need to hit and, because the controls are simple and intuitive, you are never at a loss at how to do so. The challenge lies in getting into the groove and executing it perfectly.

The WarioWare ancestry really hits home on the remix stages. After every five games, the songs are mashed together and rearranged into one new song with the games rapidly changing throughout. One moment you're a man karate chopping light bulbs and then the next measure you are plucking hairs from an onion's chin. The song will be different, but the underlying rhythmic principles and prompts remain. Can you apply your skills to a new setting under the pressure?

It is also in these remix stages that Ko Takeuchi’s visual designs shine. Each game is cute, quirky, memorable and vitally, each is visually distinct. When the game is throwing new versions of familiar games at you in rapid succession, all with completely overhauled graphics, it is still always immediately clear which game it is based upon and your task. It's fast paced and slightly daunting at first, but the familiarity brings with it a confidence that reasures you that you can make it.

Why did it never leave Japan? Timing most likely. It was released for the GBA in 2006 after the launch of the DS. To complicate matters further, some of the songs contain Japanese lyrics with audio clues that Nintendo would have had to rerecord for the western market (as they did with later titles) and for such a quirky little new IP, it's unlikely that enough people would care in 2006 to make it worth Nintendo's while.

Rhythm Tengoku (Game Boy Advance) Longplay

If you've been playing the latest 3DS Rhythm Heaven, or you're in Europe waiting until Autumn for Rhythm Paradise to be released, the original is still essential playing. It’s a masterclass in audio, visual and gameplay design all wrapped together in an accessible fun little package. It's easy enough to fumble around in the menus to play it without knowing Japanese and the games themselves are so intuitive and simple that all you’ll really be missing is some flavour text. However if, like Aerosmith, you don’t want to miss a thing, try the English patch and get into the groove.

Link: Find Rhythm Tengoku on eBay


Last Updated ( 31 July 2016 )  
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