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a media journal


Rhythm Heaven

Nintendo SPD

A collection of rhythm mini-games with a WarioWare sense of humor (which makes sense, they’re by the same developers), Rhythm Heaven combines simple mechanics with silly scenarios to convey the joys of being in rhythm with one’s surroundings. The mini-games oscillate between the mundane and the absurd, having the player command a dancing frog, maintain rallies in ping-pong, and woo perspective lizard mates—among many. All the action is set to a specific tempo, and mapped to either the tap, hold, or swipe of the DS touchpad. The simplicity of the controls makes it easier to focus on the consistent themes that hold throughout these vastly different—in terms of narrative context—mini-games, and how the skills exercised and the joy derived might be similar throughout. 

Every mini-game comes down to the same elementals—tap, hold, swipe, making it much easier to see the connections at play. The on-screen action might be showing a blaster shooting aliens, or someone juggling a soccer ball, but the focus always comes back to these basic fundamentals. And these elements are the same, regardless of on-screen content, what’s shared is rhythm. This is further reinforced with remix rounds, a mini-game variant where multiple previously-played mini-games are mashed together, to form a new, often more hectic, music. And yet, these chaotic levels often feel easier, or at least more manageable. Even though the context of a remix round is a hodgepodge of ideas compared to a standard level, a familiarity to these mini-games has been built, almost like muscle memory. See a frog, know that it’s going to be a hip shake or a spin. See a race, know it’s time to tap at the right beat to capture the car in action. 

As the game builds up to each remix round (which comes after four, standard, single concept mini-game levels), training is occurring, keying in the player’s eyes and ears to the action on-screen. So even in the most unpredictable of arrangements, there is a predictability to how the tempo and rhythm will interact with the on-screen chaos. By weaving the mini-games together, the game ties together different action to the same rhythm, linking their shared elements. Then, when the player successfully uses their previous rhythm knowledge to execute a remix round, they further prove the strength of these links. 

Plus, the game specifically designs the mini-games to train users to identify—either consciously or subconsciously—these rhythms at work. The game often throws new variations on the existing mini-games, forcing a special attentiveness to the changes in rhythm. In other areas, the game will change and shift visual cues—altering field-of-vision or obfuscating the correlation of audio and visual—as ways to ween users off relying on the visuals to time taps. No shortcuts here on the way to rhythm heaven.

There’s an instinctive pleasure to being in sync with one’s setting. It’s when things are in flow, and each action is met with proper feedback. It’s the foot taps at a music show or the chorus of hand claps during an applause, but it’s also the walking in stride with fellow commuters and the pen taps to office ambience. It’s in nature, it’s embed in the cities we navigate, it’s how we take every step, it’s what keeps us alive—rhythm is everywhere and everything. Rhythm Heaven, through its simple gameplay and wacky stories, takes us out of our usual flow context just long enough to see the song that ties us together, so we can dive back in with a better appreciation of the rhythm all around us.