Nintendo’s ability to perennially turn out bizarre collections of mini-games is oddly reassuring. Even when the company falters with the big ideas, there’s always going to be another game like Warioware, which proved that microscopic game concepts work just fine so long as they’re only onscreen for a few seconds. The latest is Rhythm Heaven (Rhythm Tengoku Gold in Japan), which melds cute, quirky little games with the evergreen appeal of rhythm-based gameplay.
The concept is appealingly basic: Hold the DS like a book and tap, flick, and drag the stylus to control characters and keep them on beat. The actions are varied—you’ll pull radishes, fill robots with fuel, and play ping-pong—but the interaction is always minimal and based on timing rather than complex movements. Headphones are a must, as speedy rhythms require precision, and missing just a couple of taps will force a replay of the current stage.
Part of the appeal of previous games in this vein was a crude hand-drawn aesthetic. That isn’t so much in evidence this time. While a couple of stages stand out (the trio of wavering, slightly monstrous choirboys became a primary marketing image for a reason), there’s a lot more polish to these miniatures. That actually rubs off some of the charm. Conducting a chorus of clapping monkeys would be more appealing if they were drawn in a looser style, though that wouldn’t make keeping the beat any easier.
Beyond the game: This is the sequel to the Game Boy Advance title Rhythm Tengoku, a weirder collection of mini-games that never saw release outside Japan.
Worth playing for: The remix rounds, which mash up several game stages into fast-paced experiments in sensory overload.
Frustration sets in when: You lose the beat, even when you’re positive the stylus was flicked and dropped on time.
Final judgment: It’s the cutest drum machine on the market.