Rhythm Heaven

The rhythm game genre wasn’t always all about dancing and playing plastic faux instruments. At the genre’s beginnings, games like PaRappa the Rapper and Space Channel 5 were the Broadway musicals of the gaming world, telling simple, sweeping stories with the aid of catchy songs; evocative “set design” and basic, call-and-response, button-tapping gameplay. Rhythm games like Dance Dance Revolution, Guitar Hero and Rock Band have turned this quirky niche into a mainstream obsession. As much as I love those games, though, there’s a part of me that’s been longing recently for more of the absurdist rhythm-game musicals of a decade ago.

Well, Rhythm Heaven certainly satisfies that need, cramming 50 tiny variations on the classic form into its tiny silicon wafer. Nintendo’s take on the genre is so old-school that it actually throws out the kind of minimal stories that held PaRappa and SC5 together, opting instead for dozens of disconnected micro-stories — each just as absurd as those of a rapping dog or a dancing space reporter. In one, military cranes (like the bird, not the heavy machinery) train for an unseen war. In another, Easter Island’s moai statues sing love songs to each other in gibberish. Dumpling-eating monks, dolphin-riding synchronized swimmers, robotic ping-pong players, ninja dogs, gopher-destroying beet farmers, lovesick chemists, race-car photographers, karate masters and soccer stars all feature in their own mini-dramas. They each stick around barely long enough to establish themselves as characters through some crude graphics and extremely expressive animation.

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