Rhythm Heaven is a DS minigame collection that gets a ton of mileage out of a simple game mechanic. The game is the second entry in the series that started with Rhythm Tengoku on the Game Boy Advance in Japan two years ago. The game's immense popularity spurred an arcade incarnation, a first for a Game Boy game, and the obligatory DS sequel that Nintendo is thankfully releasing in the US.
The core mechanic in the Rhythm Tengoku series is moving to the beat of music. In the GBA game you had to press buttons in time with music. On the DS, the mechanic has been modified to incorporate the touch screen, so you tap and flick your stylus to the beat of music. There isn't much in the way of story, not that there needs to be, but you can expect to be led through the various minigames by a helpful assistant.
The playable demo at Nintendo's media summit featured three minigames: assembly line, chorus, and robot factory. In assembly line you must flick upward on the touch screen to send a bolt through two moving widgets. If you time it properly, the bolt will hit the widgets as they line up. Your cue to flick revolves around five music chords, with the fifth being when you should flick. The tempo changes throughout the minigame, speeding up and slowing down, which keeps you on your toes and forces you to pay close attention to the music. In the chorus minigame, you need to lift the stylus on the touch screen to get the third member of a chorus to sing in time. Your singer's default state in the minigame is to sing. To keep your singer quiet, you simply have to hold your stylus over him or her. Your task is to sing with the other two members of your chorus by lifting your stylus at the right time. Like in the assembly line minigame, the tempo changes, which keeps things interesting. Finally, robot factory focuses on timed tapping and holding the stylus. The goal is to fill robots up with energy as they slide across an assembly line. To do this, you'll have to tap and hold the stylus down on their heads as they fill up with energy and then lift the stylus just as they're topped off. The timing in this game is a little trickier, but it gets easier once you get used to the beat.
The visuals are simple, with an eclectic mix of art styles--think WarioWare. You'll see basic 2D line drawings mixed with simple 3D elements. There's nothing here to tax the DS hardware, but that's fine since Rhythm Heaven is all about gameplay. What the visuals lack in technical bells and whistles is more than made up for in charm. The game's eccentric and goofy style packs a lot of appeal.
Rhythm Heaven's audio is a bouncy and charming collection of tunes that feature great grooves for you to tap along to. The crisp tunes are complemented by funky sound effects that all feed into the game's winning charm. While we haven't heard many of the tunes in the US game, if they're anything like those in the import title, there will be a lot to like in the game.
Based on what we played, Rhythm Heaven is shaping up well on the DS. The game appears to be retaining all the gameplay charm of its Japanese counterpart, although the localization we've seen so far is a little thin on quirky personality. That said, we're anxious to see the game hit the States and are especially pleased to hear there might be some extra content being tossed into the mix. Rhythm Heaven is slated to ship this fall for the DS.