Real talk: I can’t convince anyone in my life to play Rhythm Heaven Fever. Everyone I show the game to groans with disgust. “You just hit one button,” they grumble. “Why would I want to play a game clearly meant for a baby?” they ask. I don’t know. Are these people not seeing what I’m seeing? Are they not witnessing the monkey on-screen playing tambourine or the dog in an airplane playing badminton? It’s simple fun. A nice relaxing break from life. An easy way to transport your being into an oasis of insanity.
In all honesty, I was worried that my friends’ lackluster appreciation of Rhythm Heaven Fever was a reflection of me and my purpose in life. So, this review is kind of a way to prove myself and to convince myself that I’m not wasting my time. It is a cathartic essay deciphering what makes Rhythm Heaven Fever so attractive to me.
Rhythm Heaven Fever is one of those “minute to learn, lifetime to master” type of games. It’s a package comprised of 50 mini-games that require you to hit A, B, or A+B in time to a beat. It requires a keen ear and a clever sense of timing, which are two things I don’t possess.
Stages begin simple enough. One of the first levels has a monkey tossing golf balls which, if the button is hit correctly, results in a golf swing and a hole-in-one on a faraway island. Things begin with a 1-2 hit! 1-2 hit! But every so often a mandrill will chuck a ball on the offbeat.
The sounds of success are rewarding and when the button is mistimed a sour noise spoils the song. Combine that with a a look of disapproval from your monkey caddy and you’ll never want to make a mistake again. Stage specific cues are cute, adorable, hilarious and they help you know where you stand. It’s a wonderful way to give feedback without relying on meters or a traditional user interface. Unfortunately, the end of the level ranking can be a bit arbitrary. If a level is failed it will allude to a portion that went poorly (i.e. “You screwed the tall robot’s heads on too tight”). Completing a level culminates with an “Eh…good enough…” or “Those robots look great!” The inner workings are hard to understand which can be frustrating after repeated failures.
What sells this game is its quirkiness. Playing Rhythm Heaven Fever is like stepping into an alternative reality where things that make sense are illegal. Probably a lot like how Charlie felt when he first stepped into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. It’s wild, mostly because it comes from the creators of the WarioWare, but it also personifies the kind of fun and excitement that only video games can provide. Instead of delivering a musical experience akin to Rock Band, it dresses up rhythm games in situations that shouldn’t exist. For instance, as robots slide along a conveyor belt, they stop at stations to have their heads screwed on. Pressing down the “A” button begins the screwing process which, if done properly, adds an extra layer of sound to the song.
Yet, for being so abstract and wacky, the concept never seems alien or daunting. I suppose that stems from the fact that there’s a rhythm everywhere that we’re bopping along to on a daily basis. But, the more you accept its rules and requirements for success, the more fun you’ll have. It’s not trying to be art or innovate the industry. It’s a video game for the sake of being a video game.
And for that it succeeds. The games are fun, it’s quick and easy to jump into and out of games. There’s plenty to choose from and there’s an incentive to go back to games and perfect them. It’s challenging and, despite being so cut and dry in its assessment of success, the difficulty ramps up in a predictable level.
In addition to the 50 Rhythm Games, there’s a few bonus toys that test rhythm recognition. Unfortunately, opening up the bonus games require you to get a “superb ranking” on a number of the regular games, a not-so-easy task for someone of my tone-deafness. But, the few I played were interesting. One consisted of winding a car up to a rhythm then letting go, launching it along a track, in an attempt to have it come to a stop at a very exact spot. Another is a detective game that requires a keen eye to look find and report something odd in one of the games. I couldn’t figure it out, but this game is so bizarre that the only thing out of place would be something normal by society standards. These handful of “rhythm toys” work as a cute distractions.
Sure you’re just hitting the “A” button most of the time, but it never seems like it. Sometimes when you hit “A” you’re slicing a demon in half. Other times you’re stopping a pig from rotating in an office chair or dancing in sync with fellow crabs. It’s uncomplicated and focused on exploring silly situation which makes this game feel more than just a rhythm simulator. It’s a conduit for fun, laughter, and an excitement. The game is meant to appeal to the inner child in us who isn’t so concerned with killing NPCs or eradicating evil from the world, but wants to enjoy the simplicity and fun of life.
So, while my friends remain unable to separate themselves from the demands of the real world to enjoy Rhythm Heaven Fever, I hope that you can. This game doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a game that will fill your muscles with pure concentrated joy. An addicting dosage that only stops flowing when the battery in your Wii remote dies. It’s a shame there’s no demo on the Wii, but at only $30 it’s something I can safely recommend to anyone who doesn’t mind exploring a strange world.
Rhythm Heaven Fever was released on February 13th, 2012 for the Wii.