Not being blessed with a particularly well developed sense of rhythm, it's not often you'll find me venturing out onto the dance floor at any party, club or family wedding. About the best you can hope for is the occasional rigid little shuffle as I try desperately not to make a complete ass of myself.
So you might think that a game based entirely on getting into the groove and keeping a beat would be a total non-starter for this rhythmically challenged stiff. Ah, but let me introduce you to my new Japanese dancing partner, Rizumu Tengoku Gôrudo (literally translated Rhythm Heaven Gold).
Things started a little hesitantly between the two of us. I had danced previously with its older sibling, Rizumu Tengoku on the GBA, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. But the language barrier still posed something of a problem. We had trouble understanding each other, and my early attempts at matching its rhythm were stilted and clumsy. I just didn't understand what it wanted of me.
But then everything clicked, I began picking up on its visual and aural cues and we danced a merry dance for hours. I was soon put at ease by its quirky appearance and sense of humour, and the fact that it didn't take itself too seriously; which is just as well, because it made me work like a dog to perfect some of its trickier routines.
Rhythm Heaven Gold, to revert to its anglicised name (and some semblance of a coherent review) has you holding the DS at a 90 degree angle, as if you were holding a book - players of Brain Training and Hotel Dusk will feel right at home here. You're then presented with a series of bizarre, seemingly hand-drawn vignettes played out to a catchy tune which you have to tap, hold and flick the stylus along to.
After completing four of these tasks you'll be presented with a Remix stage, which is effectively a medley of the scenarios you've encountered in the preceding levels, each slightly re-jigged and set to a new tune. Clear this stage to unlock the next set of tasks, and so on.
It's the variety and sheer unpredictability of these scenarios that really drives you on through Rhythm Heaven Gold, even when you find yourself impossibly stumped. We won't spoil too many of the treats in store, but a few early highlights include guiding a soldier-stork through a military routine as a stern-looking duck quacks orders at you, or keeping a bizarre gremlin choir singing and roaring in time with the conductor.
Those who played the previous game on the GBA may find the new touchscreen controls a little hit and miss compared to the digital certainty afforded by good old-fashioned buttons. On a number of occasions we slipped up not because our timing was off (honest) but because we seemingly hadn't flicked the stylus assertively enough. It's not enough to ruin the game by any means, and for the majority who haven't played the original it probably won't even figure as an issue. It does, though, introduce a niggling problem, so we feel it should be mentioned.
It's not as fresh or quirky as the premise used to seem, but some of that may be down to how unique the original was upon its release. People fresh to the series will find this to be outrageously and refreshingly original, and there are still more neat ideas here than in a whole host of me-too number-puzzle releases.
Of course, the main stumbling block for many will be the Japanese text. Is it a headache to navigate if you're not versed in kanji and katakana characters? No, not really. You can navigate to the level-select menu with a self-explanatory flick and two presses of the stylus. The main sticking point is with the level descriptions themselves, and we can tell you for certain that you will have no idea what you're doing as you start the majority of scenarios.
But to us, that's part of Rhythm Heaven Gold's charm. Figuring out what on earth you're supposed to do with a pair of lusty lizards or a trio of simian J-pop fans is all part of the appeal, and it takes on an unwitting puzzle-game dimension as a result.
For those who are still unsure over importing the game, we can confirm that a western release is on the cards. But as with the not-entirely dissimilar Elite Beat Agents (the English version of the Japanese game Ouendan!), this could well be turned into an entirely different game once the localization team has gotten their mitts on it. Far better to take a punt on this wonderful piece of software and then wait to see if the English version warrants a purchase too.
So if you're looking for something a little light and left-field, give Rhythm Heaven Gold a try. Like being dragged up onto the dance floor at your sister's wedding, your first nervous steps will give way to an inordinate level of fun, and the desire to keep on going well into the wee hours.
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