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Rhythm Heaven preview: For your ears only


The Wii Rhythm Heaven game was, without a doubt, one of the most delightful experiences I've had in the last week, in exactly the ways I knew it would be as soon as I saw the first screenshots. It turns out there is a formula for Rhythm Heaven games, and as long as the Rhythm Heaven team makes a Rhythm Heaven game using that Rhythm Heaven formula, the result will be something wonderful.

Rhythm Heaven.

Gallery: Rhythm Heaven Wii (E3 2011) | 10 Photos

The demo at Nintendo's E3 booth consisted of three minigames, all with super-sharp, cartoony visuals and the familiar style of Tsunku-produced, bouncy j-pop from the series. And, get this, waggle haters: they're controlled only with the A button. The first minigame had me lowering a fork to skewer peas as they were flicked at me to the beat, sometimes two in rapid succession between (rhythmic) bites. Miss the timing a bit and the pea ends up between the tines, and the offscreen gourmand coughs as he chokes a little.

The second minigame involves the samurai from the DS's "Samurai Slice" and the GBA's "Samurai," slicing ghosts as they jump out of a cave. Again, they come out mostly one at a time, occasionally tossing two out on the off-beats to keep it fresh (and difficult). Three or four times, a swarm of green-eyed ghosts came out and attacked me. I wasn't able to figure out the rhythm of this attack, which might be attributable to the fact that I mistakenly believed myself to be too cool for the tutorial.

The third minigame involved the ping-pong playing duo from previous Rhythm Heaven games, challenging each other to a series of ping-pong rallies between two fast-moving airplanes. You have to return the volley every other beat, with an extra beat between volleys when your opponent lobs the ball (accompanied by a vocal cue).

These are all exactly the kind of minigames we've seen in the musical WarioWare-like collections before. However, the Wii version does do one new thing that is perfect for the series, and underlines what the gameplay has been about since the very beginning. In the middle of the ping-pong and samurai levels, objects begin obscuring your view. The samurai game tells a story in woodblock-style comic panels. The ping-pong game has your opponent move far into the distance, and then the screen fills with clouds.

The point isn't to annoy you, though I guess it could do that. This is the game's way of teaching you that Rhythm Heaven minigames can be played entirely using audio cues. You could turn the video off and still play it just fine -- like a Wii U game, except with nothing instead of a tiny screen. The DS game basically left this discovery up to the player, but the Wii game reinforces the lesson. In fact, when it starts trying to obscure stuff, it's actually easier if you stop paying attention to the screen.

That screen-covering gimmick, then, was more helpful than frustrating. What does frustrate me, however, is the release date. It's TBA, which is not "now."

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