'Rhythm Heaven' is simple yet charming

Mini-games might be boring, but unlocking the reward is worth it.
'Rhythm Heaven' has toe-tapping music, deceptively challenging games and a whole lot of cute. Courtesy of Nintendo

The joy of playing "Rhythm Heaven" can't really be expressed in words. You probably won't understand what the big deal is until you see and play the real thing.

It is, ostensibly, just a collection of mini-games that ask players to tap the touch screen in time with the beat. Simple enough.

But "Rhythm Heaven" has an effortless charm to it. The premises for the mini-games are pretty absurd, but you can't help but smile anyway. Some make more sense than others, the others including swing-dancing frogs, singing Moai statues and juggling a soccer ball in outer space.

The scenarios for the mini-games might be appealing, but visual quality is not the game's biggest strength to say the least. You'll only find three kinds of objects on the screen: flat 3-D models (the rarest), loosely hand-drawn sprites and jaggy blocks that were probably drawn with the line tools in Microsoft Paint. In a weird roundabout way, the simplistic and poorly drawn graphics actually add to the charm.

"Rhythm Heaven" tries to make a lot out of a little. After seeing everything there is to see, it's apparent this game was crafted by a handful of people in a relatively short amount of time. Each mini-game repeats the same basic touch-screen mechanics: tapping, holding, releasing, dragging and flicking. It even starts throwing slightly more challenging versions of the same mini-games at you once you've burned through the original 30. This is a full-priced Nintendo DS game, though. So where's the beef?

Once you reach a "Remix," you'll finally understand what makes the game so amazing. A "Remix" is a collection of several mini-games constantly transitioning between one another, and they provide the ultimate test of muscle memory. Quickly applying a new set of rhythms and audio cues to your brain in a split second is quite a challenge. After pulling one off, all of those simple and mundane mini-games you've been slogging through get put into context. The "Remixes" are the real meat of "Rhythm Heaven." Everything else is just training.

Underneath its childishly simple exterior, "Rhythm Heaven" can actually be brutally difficult at times. Miss a cue just once, and you'll receive a "Just OK" grade. To earn medals (which help unlock extra content), you'll need a "Superb" or better. Alert and focused players shouldn't have trouble, but don't be surprised when, even if you think you nailed that last game flawlessly, a "Just OK" smacks you in the face.

The extra content includes a handful of endless mini-games and simple musical toys to mess around with. The technical guitar lessons are the most challenging. These are based around a mini-game that combines flicking to play guitar riffs, holding to mute the strings and (gasp) pressing the R button to bend the strings for a different tone. It's actually pretty neat and will eat up a lot of your time after you've played the core mini-games to death.

Most people will probably master "Rhythm Heaven" and suck its content dry within a week, but every minute spent with the touch screen is one of pure glee. Even the most cynical and hardened human beings will feel compelled to tap their feet to the rhythm of the music.

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