Simple and playable for any stretch of time, Rhythm Heaven almost demands to be imported.
In 2003, Nintendo released WarioWare on an unsuspecting public. The game's frantic pace and variety had never been seen before. The series has appeared on three Nintendo platforms in less than three years, and is due to hit the Wii soon as well. Given the popularity of the franchise, it's a bit surprising that the WarioWare team's newest game, Rhythm Heaven, while structurally and mechanically similar to WarioWare, doesn't bare its name.
Rhythm Heaven is a collection of mini-games all based around, well, rhythm. Each of the 46 mini-games in this collection is based around performing actions (from marching in time to hiding a troupe of mice from a hungry cat) in time to a varied and fun collection of music. Games are a bit longer than the five second variety seen in WarioWare, but most still take no more than one or two minutes.
Rhythm Heaven's collection is organized in a grid, and the games are loosely ordered from easiest to hardest. Each column is headed by a 'Remix' where the games change every ten seconds or so. These remixes are the closest thing Rhythm Heaven has to boss fights, offering the game's ultimate challenge. Even those who have become experts at other rhythm games will find that this game is brutal in its evaluations. While other rhythm games have a large window of opportunity surrounding each beat, allowing players to fudge their timing, Rhythm Heaven is strict and unforgiving to those without near-perfect rhythm.
But there's no need to worry if you don't have such a keen sense of rhythm. The game allows players to hone their skills in mini-games outside of the main set, and will offer a beat by beat evaluation, telling you if you're too fast or too slow.
As you play through the various remixes you'll unlock other new mini-games. These games are different in that they are more freestyle affairs, allowing you to jam to the beat with various instruments.
The variety of mini-games available in Rhythm Heaven is astounding, from games involving simple, well understood concepts, such as baseball, to more abstract games that almost defy explanation. In one remix alone you’ll guide a bouncing rabbit over breaching humpback whales, cast magic to protect plants from anthropomorphic weeds, perform a dance routine in space, and jump on a trampoline. The game overwhelms you with variety, and oozes that particular Japanese charm seen in titles like Loco Roco and Ouendan.
Using the GBA for a rhythm game seems a bit odd. The GBA isn't known for its incredible achievements in sound, but Rhythm Heaven shows what the little handheld is capable of. The majority of the soundtrack sounds great and fits the action. There are even a few fully recorded Japanese pop and rock songs sprinkled throughout the mix. While these songs aren't CD quality they are an incredible showcase of what the GBA is capable of.
The graphics have a simplistic and charming art style that's far from boring. It won't wow anyone with its graphical prowess, but given the game's other merits and the music-based nature of its gameplay, this is hardly a fault.
This game is unlikely to be released in the United States at the moment, given Nintendo of America's push for the DS. Importing may be the only way to go. While the game text is completely in Japanese, the mini-games are simple enough that they can be enjoyed with no knowledge of the language, and players should have no trouble figuring out the menus with five to ten minutes of exploration.
Rhythm Heaven is the perfect portable game; playable in short increments or long sessions, intuitive, and fun. If there has ever been a game to import, this is it.