When Rhythm Heaven was first launched, it opened up a Pandora's box of musical minigame mania that tipped the weirdness scale with its goofy rhythm challenges and cartoony antics. Tapping out complex rhythms while harvesting beets in the garden or juggling scientific beakers filled with dangerous substances offered some refreshingly oddball ways to get your groove on, and for the series' console debut, Rhythm Heaven Fever brings even more creative craziness to the table. It's easily as bizarre as its portable predecessors, and it's just as challenging. But the ever-rotating array of charming activities keeps the sometimes frustrating difficulty curve at bay long enough for the addictive gameplay and infectious tunes to take hold.
Offering up an all-new mix of button-tapping, laugh-inducing minigames, Fever deviates little from Rhythm Heaven's basic formula. Each of the 50-plus unlockable activities has its own little musical ditty and unique art style that set it apart from the rest, making every game a different experience. Seeing what wackiness will be thrown at you next is a big part of Fever's humorous appeal, but the endearing presentation is more than mere window dressing, and the onscreen action in every silly scene matches up perfectly with the beat of the music. You press buttons in specific rhythmic patterns along to the audio and visual cues laid down by the game's vibrant characters. Whether you're screwing in robot heads on an assembly line, using a samurai sword to cleave ghosts spewing from a haunted house, or flexing your manly lucha libre muscles for a horde of paparazzi, the clever connection between each unusual setting andits special twist on the rhythm gameplay is simply delightful. All of the music tracks are a distinct, catchy mix of mostly instrumental Japanese pop, rock, 8-bit, and hip-hop grooves that really complement the quirky presentation.
Fever's ultrasimple two-button control scheme seems a little too basic at first because each minigame only uses the A button alone or the A and B buttons together. But as stages quickly get harder and you're expected to memorize more complicated multipart rhythm patterns and faster beats, the simplicity in controls is welcome. They give a tighter, quicker reaction time than when you used the stylus to tap or flick in the original Rhythm Heaven. While the snappy rhythm gameplay is accessible and easy to pick up, mastering it is a different story.
Nailing precise timing in the tougher challenges takes some practice, especially during the frenzied remix stages that mash up snippets of previous levels into one zany tune. Your performance is scored for accuracy after every stage, and missing too many beat prompts forces you to replay the level again and again until you hit the satisfactory score benchmark. It's not always clear where the line between pass and fail is drawn, and even experienced music-minded folks may struggle a bit from the mid-stages onward. Thankfully, every minigame starts off with its own call-and-response tutorial to give you a chance to learn the rules and try out the core rhythms before throwing you into the fray.
Playing through and unlocking all of the minigames doesn't have to be a pressure-cooker ordeal. You can get by with just a passing rating and still have a lot of fun. But going back to hone your skills and striving for the highest score ranking earns you medals for unlocking extra goodies. Endless-play minigames, musical toys, and a virtual cafe for listening to the in-game music tracks are among a standard array of extras to open up. Unlockable multiplayer stages are the only notable new addition here. Going back and forth with rhythms on the same screen with a second player is a great way to share the wacky experience. However, there's only a limited selection of two-player minigames on tap, and they're essentially tweaked repeats of stages from the main game. They're fun but fleeting. It would have been great to see the multiplayer aspect fleshed out with stand-alone original stages and different kinds of challenge modes.
More than just a loose collection of oddball music minigames soaked in Japanese-tinged strangeness, Rhythm Heaven Fever is a thoughtful, cohesive package that's well suited for the Wii. It's a reminder of how inspired and fun the rhythm genre can still be when you step outside of the pine box into which the Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises hammered a few too many nails. Fever has its shortcomings, but it makes up for its minor flaws with originality, quirkiness, and addictive gameplay. Moments of laughter at the insane onscreen antics and involuntary humming along to the diverse tunes are pleasant side effects of this wild musical minigame ride.