Here’s something I don’t say very often, I like music games. Despite the rhythm genre imploding following the umpteenth release of Guitar Hero, the genre isn’t dead. Then again new release are few and far between and most of those are almost exclusively coming from Japan. However I do still on occasion get out a version Guitar Hero On Tour for the DS, of which I have all three versions of, a guitar game that instead of a guitar uses a four (not the standard five) buttoned add-on that uses the GBA port.
In addition to my strange attachment to the portable versions of Guitar Hero I also thoroughly enjoy Elite Beat Agents which is a more typical rhythm game as it relies on different interactions based on the music rather than just pressing a different coloured button to match what is on the screen. Although unlike the original Japanese version, Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan with its J-Pop soundtrack, Elite Beat Agents features a diverse Western based soundtrack with covers ranging from David Bowie’s Let’s Dance, Jamiroquai’s Canned Heat to the Village People’s Y.M.C.A. It’s a shame that it didn’t receive a sequel like its Japanese counterpart due to lower than expected sales in the West, as it is still a unique entry in the genre.
However the game that I am to talk (complain) about is Rhythm Heaven Fever (or as it is for some bizarre reason called Beat the Beat: Rhythm Paradise by Nintendo of Europe) for the Wii. Rhythm Heaven [ for once for the sake of this article/argument I’m using the US title] doesn’t actually have any songs but instead a series of beats that kind of resemble music. Each stage has its own scenario and therefore a reason to press A or A+B in time to an action.
However despite the wonderfully simplistic yet expressive designs, Rhythm Heaven is a game where sometimes you will actually do better by not looking at the screen! That’s right a videogame without the video (well there is also Johann Sebastian Joust but that’s kind of different). Admittedly most of the time you can play perfectly fine by paying attention to the screen, and one stage where you screw heads onto robots actually does require you to look at the screen (unless I’m missing something). Oh yes, I forgot to mention that in typical Japanese style the game is what you might call odd.
The reason why generally what takes place on the screen isn’t crucial to finishing a stage is that, as the European name suggests it’s all about the beat. When you first start the game it goes on about how simple the controls are and how ‘anyone can play it’. Well straight away when the game demonstrates the basic premise of the game I knew that was nonsense (you can replace this with your own expletive) as I struggled to pass the how to play stage!
However I wasn’t going to let this tar my entire perception of the game, as I still hadn’t played the first stage. To my surprise (relief) I knew what to do and could follow the beat, I was enjoying myself. This largely remained throughout the remainder of the first series of stages.
Unfortunately this success did not carry into the second series of stages, so much so that I began to question my own ability to hear. Could I even keep time? I’ve never been one to claim to keep a musical note, for one I’m not really sure what that actually means, and is why I never took up playing an instrument, I mean I tried, but who hasn’t. I also might not be the greatest at videogames, but I am competent at a wide range of games. So be unable to proceed so early on in a game that supposedly anyone can play is disconcerting.
Ultimately the game was prophetic in helping me understand quite how tone death I am. This is because I recently made the decision to learn mandarin (technically for work) and whilst I was aware that tone is a core aspect of the language I was still not prepared for quite how crucial this is. One word can have four different meanings and this is separated just the vocal tone. I expect most non-mandarin speakers will struggle with this, but I found it particularly difficult. I found myself having to rely on the written version of the words as when using the Roman alphabet the words and their meaning are identified by punctuation above them to dictate how to pronounce the word.
As I found myself having to rely not on how the word sound but by a symbol above the written word I immediately found myself recalling my experience with Rhythm Heaven, as it also is meant to be progressed through via audio cues yet I find myself wanting/needing to depend on the visual cues.
Just yesterday during the Japanese Nintendo Direct a new entry in the Rhythm Heaven series was announced for the 3DS. I would like to give it ago when it eventually arrives in the West. But despite all of the positive reactions generated in response, I feel my efforts will be in vein. Hopefully Nintendo SPD (the division responsible for the series) can make a true WarioWare sequel, as in many ways both series’ share the same theme, just via a different approach, and one I can actually succeed at.