Rhythm Tengoku (Silver) - Fun in Simplicity


I am not a man who has a good sense of rhythm. Sure, I can tap out something with my fingers, but try and get me to follow a beat - nah, I’m out. As a result, I am kind of terrible at rhythm games. I can play through them well enough, but I’ll never be anything more than ‘ok’ at anything more complicated than Final Fantasy Theatrhythm. Despite my total lack of musically rhythmic ability, Rhythm Heaven is probably my favorite ‘tier-2’ Nintendo franchise, having an incredible sense of weirdness mixed with genuinely fantastic rhythm minigames and a spectacular sense of style.

I think most people who know about Rhythm Heaven know about the Wii entry of the game, Rhythm Heaven Fever (or maybe ‘Beat The Rhythm: Rhythm Paradise for us heathen PAL-users), but it’s actually gotten a total of four different releases on four very different platforms; more recently we had a super-compilation title on the 3DS with Rhythm Heaven Megamix, a flick-the-stylus-based entry on the DS with ‘Rhythm Heaven’, but the one very few people actually know about, due to it being landlocked to the Japanese region, is the original GBA entry Rhythm Tengoku. It might not have the visual bells and whistles of the later titles - none of that fancy stylus flicking, or Wiimote shenanigans, but its relative simplicity is forgotten by its abundance sense of charm and its fantastically simple (not-pejoratively) gameplay.

For disclosure, I am playing a fan translated version of the game called Rhythm Tengoku Silver, as the game was, unfortunately, never released outside of Japan. Play the game legally y’all, if you can, but I get it if that just isn’t reasonable. Any references I make to names of the rhythm games reflect the translated names of Silver.

Rhythm Heaven is structured by having the player play through a variety of rhythm, music-based minigames; progress through the game is measured by ‘sets’ of minigames. In each set, you’ll play through five different minigames, requiring you to have to at least score an ‘Ok’ by, y’know, performing what’s expected of you by the name of the goddamn genre. After completing each of the five successive minigames, you’ll be challenged with a Remix that’ll (usually) mix those five minigames together, forcing you to rapidly adapt on the fly to the changing button prompts and whatnot. This is basically the whole game; you’ll unlock further sets of minigames and Remixes, slowly growing in complexity whilst both introducing you to entirely minigames, or spicing up older ones with new aesthetics and harder patterns, with it’s ‘endgame’, so to speak, being based around trying to get Superb scores for extra bonuses.

Across the variety of minigames present in Rhythm Tengoku, the standard of quality is very, very high. This is helped somewhat by how simple most of these minigames are; most of them are just hitting a button press at a certain beat or after a certain phrase/noise is played.
The bit outlier is ‘Quiz’. Players are tasked with replicating the amount of times the Quiz Master hits his buttons. There isn’t any real rhythm to react to, you just have to kind of mentally count how many times he hits his buttons. You don’t even have to finish the whole minigame - just winning two or three rounds will net you an ‘Ok.’ It's honestly a terrible minigame that just feels far too detached from the basic concept of the game, and there are few things as frustrating in this world then playing ‘Quiz’ and being off by only one beat. The only other minigames I’m not huge on are Toss Boys and Rat Race, but it’s less to do with any kind of lack of quality, and more just a personal preference.

But it’s the remixes that are the star of the show. Each one has a specific theme on top of combining the previous set of minigames - in one, you’ll be playing out a dramatic story of a high school delinquent and his lady love, whilst another is a flat out Remix of previous Remixes. The excitement of finding out which minigames are going to appear when, coupled with amazing new arrangements on the music and beats pretty much became my main draw in regards to progressing through the game.
This all culminates in Remix 6, which combines every single minigame into one long Remix, demanding near perfection from you to get a passing grade, let alone anything close to a Superb. None of the specific segments are that difficult or anything, but it’s simply a sheer gauntlet that punishes you perhaps a little too much if you screw up even two or three of the sections. But I digress;

Rhythm Tengoku isn’t a particularly long game; I’m not the best at rhythm games and I finished up Remix 8 after about three or so hours. The meat and replay value of this game lies in, most importantly, just having a good time and grooving with the fantastic beats. Secondly, there are the medals to collect by earning Superbs from each of the songs, and after -that- you’ll occasionally be prompted with the chance to try your hand and Perfect a song which is… just kind of terrifying for someone like me.
Earning Superb medals rewards you with the most tangible bonuses in Tengoku; every couple of medals you earn, you’ll unlock lessons for a couple of musical instruments, weird little rhythm toys, or endless games based off previously played rhythm games, or new ones altogether! Perfects are a bit more for bragging rights - and seriously, if you’re someone like my partner, who has Perfected probably every Rhythm Heaven game… ever, at this point, you deserve it - but you’ll unlock a few songs or fun, but otherwise unimportant bonuses along the way. Like I said, having fun is the most important thing, not only in Tengoku but in the franchise as a whole; don’t burn yourself out trying to get all the Superbs, or god forbid, the Perfects right away. Stretch your playtime across weeks and months and even years, coming back to this special little game whenever you’re feeling up to it. That’s what my plan is… mostly. I’m a tone deaf moron, so I won’t even try and Perfect shite like Bon Dori 2.

On a related note, one of the few, relatively minor problems with Rhythm Heaven is that after you complete Remix 6, basically the ‘credits ending’ of the game, you’ll unlock two more sets of songs, but for the most part these are just harder versions of previous songs you’ve already done, and whilst they change up the visuals or the song a tad, they really aren’t that distinct from the previous editions. Additionally, trying to get Superbs on these difficult songs is doubly frustrating because, for example, I missed a single object in the last version of Karate Man - ONE OBJECT - but that still counted as a OK. What’s the point of the Superb, then? Just make me go for the perfect or don’t, simple as that.
Also, whoever designed Bon-dori 2 is a masochist. I don’t know if I’m genuinely insane, but the first time I tried it last year, it took me dozens of attempts to even scrape an OK. I don’t know if it was my timing, or what, but I just couldn’t satisfy that little twit on the tower. Shove some PAN down your gullet and stop judging me!

And whilst the musical compositions are clearly the focus, it’s clear that Rhythm Tengoku’s team has a real sense of style when it comes to these minigames' visual design. Also, this game is simply weird as all hell, with only the barest of reasoning for what’s actually going on in the minigames. And it just kind of works! You’ll be plucking hairs from a big ugly onion, and you’ll think ‘man, what a fun rhythm game’, and then you’ll be tap dancing with monkeys and you’ll think ‘man, what a bop’. Games just don’t get weird like this these days and I kind of hate that! Even other Nintendo properties don’t fly off the handle like Rhythm Tengoku does, and it makes me sad. Basically, the look of this game might be simple, but it beliles a sense of charm and sheer ridiculousness that is almost worth the price of admission alone.

Looking past the simplistic-yet-attractive visual design of Rhythm Tengoku, obviously nothing is more important in the rhythm game genre then, y’know, the actual bloody music. And of course, this game delivers banger after banger (with the exception of Quiz, see above) that’ll leave your toes tapping and your thumbs slapping to the beat. Even on the games I’m less hot on, like Rat Race, I’ll still be humming along to the theme as a measure of the beat, and that’s to say nothing of the ones I genuinely love. Songs like Samurai Slice or Spaceball dance through my head on a near daily basis, and nothing really compares to the fantastic compositions, some of which are vocal, that make up the eight Remixes of the game. Like other elements of the game, objectively these are much simpler compositions then the subsequent games, but the sheer charm of the Game Boy Advance sound chip, and the team behind Rhythm Heaven pumping out pretty much everything that could of this little system is nothing short of a miracle. What are your favorite songs in the game? Everyone has their picks (even Quiz… for some deranged reasons. I’m not huge on Toss Boys, but my partner swears by them. Different (worse) strokes for (stupider) folks, am I right?

Please don’t cancel me.

Rhythm Tengoku is undoubtedly the simplest entry in the franchise - understandably due to it being the original - but it is no way a lesser experience than its successors. In fact, Rhythm Tengoku is rather easily my favorite entry in the series - nothing else has quite captured the sheer weirdness and simplicity present in this little GBA jewel, both in an audio-visual and control sense. It can be a little light on content, and perhaps ramp up it’s stringent difficulty a little too much in the final minigames, but these are minor issues overall; this is a game you savor for weeks and months, coming back for for a half hour here, another hour here, just to try and perform that little bit better… or just have a simply fantastic time.

Thank you for reading the Game Boy Abyss review of Rhythm Tengoku! I actually placed this last year for the first time, but it was such a fun experience - and a relatively breezy one - that I decided just to run through it again! Honestly, this might be my favorite game I’ve played on the Abyss yet, though I do think we’re still looking for the first illusive ten out of ten game. Who knows when that’ll be?
I sure don’t, because I’m picking games on the fly!
As always, you can find me on twitter @Lemmy7003, or you can email me at cckaiju@gmail.com if you have any questions or requests! Thank you again for reading, and I’ll see you in my next review.