It’s without a doubt that Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution have helped define the music game genre. The foundations behind these two games are simple: hit the buttons in time to what is happening on screen and become a rockstar/dance wizard. In stark contrast, the Rhythm Paradise series is more about what it feels like to hear music. Beat the Beat: Rhythm Paradise is no different of course, and carries this fascinating take on the rhythm genre to the Wii platform, and an audience who may be tired of the latest ‘wave your Wii remote around’ party dance title.
First, a little bit of background on the previous titles. The first game, Rhythm Tengoku, was a Game Boy Advance title released exclusively in Japan and used a simple directional pad and A&B button control scheme. The Nintendo DS sequel, Rhythm Paradise (Rhythm Heaven to Americans) stepped it up a notch with some very interesting and innovative mini-games that took advantage of the DS’s touch controls. It’s not surprising then, that when Nintendo announced the next game would be a Wii title, that everyone was expecting something utilising motion controls. Fortunately, Nintendo did not go down that path and utilised the simple A&B button scheme once more for Beat the Beat. While the end result isn’t as creative as it might have been had they implemented motion controls, at least we are treated to a highly polished game that is easy to pick up. (After all, we all know how motion games tend to turn out…)
None of the Rhythm Paradise titles have story modes per se; instead, the games are broken down into mini-games, each featuring a quirky and often fantastical scenario involving a cast of surprisingly endearing characters (some from the previous games also make cameo appearances!). In Beat the Beat’s case, you can expect to see dancing shrimp, impossibly tall tap dancers and a dog and a cat playing airborne badminton. Unfortunately, this installment seems a little short on originality – some of the mini-games are re-skins of those in the previous titles, such as ‘Homerun Hitter’, although it is interesting to see how others like ‘Built to Scale’ and ‘Karate Man’ have evolved. The song for each scenario differs, and with it, so does the gameplay. For example, ‘Shrimp Shuffle’ sees you pressing A to hop along in time with your fellow shrimp, whereas in ‘Ringside’, you must listen to the interviewer’s questions and perform the right button input to answer her question with the correct response. Some mini-games use the simple control scheme more imaginatively than others, such as ‘Screwbot Factory’, in which pressing A&B together causes you to ‘clamp’ and screw a robot’s head down, or ‘Packing Pests’, where pressing A swats bugs away while A&B allows you to catch candy. These mini-games are unlocked one by one and completing the first four of each column will unlock a ‘Remix’ of everything you’ve learnt from that column.
It may sound simple, but Beat the Beat will kick your ass, because the game places an emphasis on hearing rather than seeing. We humans are visual creatures and most rhythm games have trained us to use our eyes, but Beat the Beat’s ingenious audio design means that it can be played solely through audio cues. The visuals are more a means of providing feedback to the player and making them feel good about themselves or drawing attention to their screw-ups, with some being more obvious than others. Ironically, despite how wonderful the game looks and how much effort was put into designing them, it almost seems that the game punishes you for relying on sight too much, such as during ‘Air Rally’ and ‘Fork Lifter’. Thankfully, the game allows you to practice before you thrust yourself into the real thing, but it doesn’t pull any punches either. In most cases, just a few slip-ups can mean the difference between getting a Superb ranking, a Just OK or a failure, although I like the fact that the game tells you where you went wrong if you just missed out on passing. So what’s the best strategy for doing well? Practice, practice, practice The songs are so catchy that they are bound to get stuck in your head and eventually, you’ll know what comes next during a mini-game.
As far as replayability goes, Beat the Beat is an absolute beast of a game. Firstly, upon completing the core set of games, more challenging versions of some of them are gradually unlocked, as well as some absolutely insane remixes incorporating everything you know. Secondly, getting a Superb ranking for the first time gets you a medal and collecting these unlocks the Endless games, Rhythm Toys and a few mini-games from Rhythm Tengoku. Unfortunately, as with the core offering, I didn’t find the Endless games and Rhythm Toys as interesting as those from the previous titles. Thirdly, you will occasionally have the chance to get a Perfect ranking on a mini-game, which unlocks snippets of text or songs. Thirdly, some of the mini-games in Beat the Beat can be played with two players, although if you were expecting some fresh content you’ll be disappointed. Instead, these are a couple that adapt well to a multiplayer format, such as ‘Fork Lift’, ‘Ringside’ and ‘Tambourine’. Rather than being competitive, the game measures how ‘in-sync’ you are with the other player. Also worth noting is that the European version of the game has a Japanese language option. It’s clear from listening to the Japanese audio option that the English dub is a vast improvement over the one that what was featured in the English version of Rhythm Paradise for Nintendo DS. I did find the English adaptation of ‘Love Rap’ to be very tricky however; having gotten used to the Japanese version of that mini-game, it doesn’t sound as though they carried over the more subtle audio cues. I’m also a little disappointed that they gave the charming Engrish of ‘Cheer Readers’ a complete overhaul to – gasp! – make sense.
The Wii will surely be remembered for some great titles, and Beat the Beat: Rhythm Paradise is definitely one of them. The design as a whole, while not as innovative as its predecessors, makes good use of the Wii’s control scheme and builds on the solid foundations of the previous games in the series. If you love the rhythm game genre, get this game. If you love Nintendo, get this game. Hell, if you love games, get this game.