It seems as though rhythm games have really taken off in the past few years, especially on the 3DS. Retail titles have popped up, such as Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy, and more recently the eShop has been receiving musical exclusives such as the wonderfully charming Harmoknight. Now Teyon, a publisher that's no stranger to the 3DS eShop, is marching to the beat with the release of Groove Heaven.
At its core, this game is a platformer with light puzzle elements mixed in. The thing that sets Groove Heaven apart from others in its genre is that all of your actions must be performed in time with a consistent rhythmic beat. Using a series of still comic panels and blocks of text, Groove Heaven tells the story of a Devil Lord living in Hell who falls in love with a Goddess up in Heaven. Apparently Devil Lords aren’t very welcome at the pearly gates, so he decides to send a small devil named Rhymi — your sole playable character — to deliver a rose to the Goddess in his stead. It’s a functional plot that is used loosely to give the gameplay meaning, but it never goes any further than that, and it never explains why Groove Heaven is a rhythm game rather than a more straightforward puzzle platformer.
Your actions are limited to just two buttons — which can be mapped to L and R, Y and A, or two icons on the 3DS’s touchscreen — one to move you forward and the other to turn you around. Attempt either of these maneuvers out of rhythmic time, and you will experience a momentary shock, leaving you open to attack from a passing cat or a bouncing frog. Beyond that, there is no real penalty for not keeping the beat, and you will quickly learn that this is a very forgiving game. As you progress through the stages you will have the chance to pick up music notes that earn you an extra life when five are collected, and roses that serve as collectibles for perfectionists, but have no real in-game value. The gameplay remains simple and consistent throughout.
While some of the later levels provide a bit of a challenge for players insistent on collecting all of the roses and music notes, overall, Groove Heaven is very easy, even for those gamers who may be pitifully bad at rhythm games. Not only is the difficulty low, the game is also very short, containing 30 stages that can easily be completed in under an hour. Beyond the campaign, there is an additional Timed mode that essentially works as an endless version of the story levels. In timed mode, you simply play through a repeating labyrinthine stage, collecting music notes and avoiding enemies until the clock runs out. This mode seems like an easy way to extend the longevity of the title as a whole, but the experience feels tacked on and doesn’t provide enough variety to keep players interested.
All of Groove Heaven’s characters are designed in a cute style that is shown off through the use of large detailed sprites. The 3D effect is also successfully used to give depth to the environments and provide the illusion that you are actually stepping in and out of the foreground. All of the environments are very plain; however, and mostly just reuse the same backgrounds and architecture over and over again. The soundtrack is also a bit disappointing, consisting primarily of three songs that are themed after the environments that you play in. The songs are great for keeping the time necessary to play the game, but it is unfortunate and absurd that a game based on musical rhythm doesn’t provide more diversity in its music.
Groove Heaven is the unfortunate kind of game that has so many great intentions, but falls just short in every aspect. This one may serve to ease younger audiences who are unfamiliar with rhythm games into the genre, but anyone looking for depth, difficulty, or lasting appeal will be sorely disappointed. This one is short, shallow, and frankly too easy to keep anyone interested for long.