Critical Play: Competitive Analysis (Julia Rose)

My team is making a party game for P1, focused on short WarioWare-style “microgames” to create a fun and chaotic atmosphere. Thus, for my critical play, I’ve chosen to analyze Rhythm Heaven (for the Nintendo DS) and Rhythm Heaven Fever (for the Nintendo Wii), published by Nintendo and produced by Tsunku. Each of its levels features a simple rhythm-based game, where you respond to a cue in a certain way, and even though the game is singleplayer, this style of game is quite similar to the aesthetic we’re aiming for with our microgames. Its target audience seems to be aimed towards children, with its bright colors and strong outlines reminiscent of other animated media, but its skill ceiling makes the game enjoyable for people of all ages. The characters in the game also are usually in a cartoony style, which would also appeal to children.

Rhythm Heaven Fever (2012) | Wii Game | Nintendo Life

There are other games in this franchise, including installments for Gameboy and 3DS, but for the sake of time, I’ve focused my efforts on these two games.

Some Formal Elements:

These games are both singleplayer. In Rhythm Heaven (DS), the main procedure is learning the input of a “flick,” which leverages the DS’s screen to make inputs more varied, in addition to the standard tap and hold inputs one would expect from a touchscreen game. Rhythm Heaven Fever uses both the A and B buttons in various configurations (individual or simultaneous/tap or hold). The objective is to earn a “passing” ranking on each level in order to unlock the next one, until the player has unlocked all the levels. There can also be a self-imposed objective of getting “superb” or “perfect” ranks of large numbers of levels. Various outcomes are either failing a level, passing a level, getting a “superb” medal, or even an elusive “perfect” rank (only during limited windows of time for single levels).

Main Types of Fun: 

  • Challenge: There is a “superb” ranking above the “passing” ranking, and achieving this on levels can be extremely satisfying. Even further, there are limited-time offers to get an elusive “perfect” ranking on a game, which can only appear on levels the player has already gotten a “superb” ranking on, and there are a limited number of attempts to perfectly accomplish that level, adding to the challenge and payoff of getting this elusive rank on any significant number of levels.
  • Submission: Because each level is quite short, as well as putting the player into a (skippable) tutorial for most levels, this game can easily be enjoyed in short bursts, and I can assume it would be easy to pick up again even after not having played for a while.

Commentary & Feedback:

I personally enjoyed Rhythm Heaven [Fever] much more than I initially expected. I’ve played many other rhythm games, and at first, I wasn’t sure how the visual style geared towards children and the fact that there weren’t any songs I personally knew before starting would impact my enjoyment (when I choose other rhythm games to play, I usually gravitate towards ones that include many songs that I know already). However, the minigames ended up being surprisingly challenging when put into the context of the songs that stitched the basic mechanics together in more complicated sequences. I also wasn’t sure if it would get difficult to keep track of the many different types of microgames, especially when playing the “Remixes” that combine the rhythm microgames of multiple previous levels. On that note (no pun intended), one element of visual design I would like to bring special attention to is the use of both visual and audio cues to inform different inputs in each microgame. These cues ended up being extremely good mental reminders, and I never found myself unsure of what to do when both seeing and hearing the various elements that informed a specific microgame. There would be clever transitions between games, where the player’s last input in one game would actually end up being the first required input in the next game, and these helped smooth out the experience — in my playtime, I never felt these transitions were too sudden or awkward.

Given that these games are both singleplayer games, there is no need to handle abuse that would occur between players. However, as someone who’s played many rhythm games that are brutally punishing in their difficulty, managing intrapersonal abuse is also an important factor to consider when designing games in the genre. In this, Rhythm Heaven [Fever] succeeds spectacularly: when introducing a new microgame, there is a short tutorial segment with a simpler backing track that allows the player to get used to the unique visual cues of that game, as well as a hint popup that shows each beat individually and what input the game expects on each beat, if the game can tell that the player is not quite understanding the visual cue. Going even further, the game allows the player to completely skip certain microgames if they are having too much trouble and fail multiple times in a row (the player must get a “passing” rank on the game to unlock the next level). However, I only found out about this feature when I played Rhythm Heaven Fever, where they pointed out the separate “location” to visit in order to talk to the character who would allow the player to skip that game. I felt this was also a few too many steps, especially for an already frustrated player — why not give the player the option to do this without having to click on multiple buttons far away from the levels?

Overall, I had a fantastic time playing Rhythm Heaven, especially in relation to how I can use some of its principles and design elements to inform design decisions for my team’s P1 submission!

About the author

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.