Rhythm Heaven games are the kind whose sole purpose is to make you smile. You might even say that it's a lot like a not-terrifying clown at a kid's party, actually: colourful and light, uncomplicated and wacky yet determined in its mission to entertain the masses.
With Rhythm Heaven Fever marking the series' home console debut, Rhythm Heaven pours out of the comically tiny hardware it usually performs on and takes centre stage on the big screen. Instead of taking advantage of its new venue, however, Fever is content with performing the same old act.
Is that such a terrible thing, though? After all, the series has never tried to be anything more than a funhouse of miniature musical vignettes and it's an act that has worked wonders on the Game Boy Advance and DS. It largely works well here, too, especially if this is your first experience with the series or just want to jam along to some monkeys teaching golf. So, no, it's not a terrible thing that Rhythm Heaven is out there being Rhythm Heaven — but you can't help but wonder just how much more it could have been on the big screen.
Following the same structure as the DS and GBA games, Fever unravels its lunacy through songs that have you tap along to the beat while bizarre, often hilarious events unfold on the screen. Sometimes you tap one button, other times two, or maybe you alternate between them — mechanically it's pretty straightforward, cheerfully disregarding potential motion controls altogether to keep your tools as simple as possible. Considering its simplicity, it's amazing how much variety Nintendo squeezes out thanks to clever use of very catchy music. Early on the game is content to let you try to just follow the beat, with later songs switching up the tempo, going off-beat or juggling between rhythms. It can get hectic quickly, and relying on visual cues will only get you so far; to encourage paying attention to the music and sometimes just to seemingly mess with your head, your vision can get obstructed or the camera will pan around just enough to throw you off if you're not careful. The art style has also been streamlined to be more uniform throughout than past Rhythm Heavens; it's playful and pretty, although it does feel like it takes away from the madhouse charm that the portable games had going for them.
For the most part the songs are catchy, well-crafted and hold up for repeat plays, and the sheer diversity of music and absurd situations should let anyone find a particular dozen or so that stand out. They are mostly new, although some will be familiar to those who played through the earlier games. Conquering one song opens up another in a stack of five, and at the end of each stack is a remix stage that blends together elements of songs in the stack.
The set-up continues to work remarkably well for diving in and out of stages, and is not one in need of radical rethinking. You want to interview a wrestler? Click from the menu, you're there. High five some monkeys on a clock? Bam, a menu click away. Do well enough and you might even get a medal for your efforts that unlocks assorted toys and endless games. Do better still with a Perfect rating and you can unlock music for the jukebox or backstory. Yes, most of the songs have a backstory. With over 50 stages and remixes, there is an awful lot of game here to keep you busy — it's quite the bargain for its reduced price of $30.
It's appropriate that the cost of Fever is the same as a DS title, as for all intents and purposes it's a portable game on a stationary screen. There isn't anything conceptually different from the portable entries apart from two-player games, which are less co-operative or competitive than they are parallel solo experiences, and the presentation is simple almost to a fault: Why can't we make playlists of our favourite songs and play through them that way? Why can't we choose to disable tutorials on repeat play? Why no adjustment for HDTV lag? Why do we have to quit a stage in order to restart instead of just having the option in the Pause menu? Seemingly minor complaints, yes, but they add up over time — especially not being able to adjust for HDTV lag, which can make following certain rhythms trickier than it should be.
Rhythm Heaven Fever doesn't do much new with the series apart from a lacklustre multiplayer mode, or really capitalise much at all on now being on a home console, but the amount of whimsy and joy burned onto the disc still make for a remarkably fun game. With loads of content, Rhythm Heaven Fever will keep you cheerily jamming away for a good long while.