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Published August 3, 2007

Rock Band and Guitar Hero – thanks to the help of these two series, music games have reached a level of mass market appeal that not even Master Chief or Solid Snake could achieve. And yet, for all of the ingenious multiplayer modes and plastic instruments, the two rock giants still rely on the same “scrolling-notes” game mechanics popularized by Bemani games (arguably derivative of PaRappa the Rapper). Though this presentation is obviously well suited for peripheral-based games, I think the more exciting developments in the genre are coming from the oddball hybrids that eschew this formula. Look at Rez for example, or the recently released Patapon. These games manage to combine music creation with rail-shooter and strategy elements respectively, creating completely entrancing experiences that don’t require expensive add-ons (unless you want to spring for an optional Trance Vibrator). But if you’re trying to trace the evolution of these less conventional music titles, you’ll want to be sure to remember Rhythm Tengoku, a little Japanese gem released by Nintendo a couple of years ago.

funky onion

the source of much confusion on our podcast

OK, so you may be wondering why a two year old GBA game still matters? First off, the fact that it was created by the WarioWare team should immediately raise some eyebrows. Those guys have been slaving away on that popular series for years, and while the structure is feeling a little rote by now, a few minutes with the Wii’s Smooth Moves will reveal that they still have plenty of creativity to spare. Believe me, that madness is amplified here to a ridiculous degree. You’ll be pulling hairs from pug-nosed onions, tap dancing with monkeys, and transforming children into foxes – and always to a beat. Which brings me to the more critical point: all of these activities are done without any kind of unifying follow-the-bouncing-ball visual aid. These are just intuitive activities.* When you see the tweezers hover over the aforementioned onion’s curly whiskers, you just know to press A. WarioWare succeeded because of its simplicity, and Rhythm Tengoku follows suit. Even when the game throws in a bunch of mini-games in one grand medley, you’ll never lose your bearings.

Considering that this game came out in the twilight days of the GBA, it obviously doesn’t stack up visually when compared to something like Elite Beat Agents, but then again, it doesn’t need to. The visuals are just a simple as the controls, with charming character designs across all of the mini-games. The style is more unified than the team’s previous efforts, with cartoony animals and disproportioned human participants populating the majority of the games. Sound design is bit more crucial when it comes to this genre, so Nintendo wisely outsourced the music to Japanese music studio J.P. Room. While I’d love to see what these people could have done with the DS’ or PSP’s sound chip, the results here are still pretty catchy. Think somewhere along this lines of a Capcom-era NES game and you’ll be on the right track.

Rap Battle

PaRappa’s distant cousin?

Importing games is always a pricey endeavor, and then you have to factor in the game’s release date and short length. It’ll last you longer than a WarioWare game, especially with high scores and medals to earn, but you’re still looking at just three to four hours of fresh play. Even so, I’d urge anyone to pay the extra bucks to experience Rhythm Tengoku. There’s a certain infectious quality to the game that at least in my experience stayed with me long after I shutdown my DS. All of the sudden, I found myself sweeping my apartment to a beat, pedaling my bike to a beat, even folding my clothes to a beat. If you want to bring a similar rhythm into your life, this is your best bet.


Overall: 4 Stars

*This is a word that tends to pop up too often these days, but it really does apply here. (Japanese) tutorials allow you to quickly become accustomed to each mini-game’s objective, but these are usually unnecessary. As a gamer, I found I had the innate sense of when to crush a baseball, punch a rock, or abuse a ghost that I’m pretty sure all of our readers possess as well.

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