Rhythm Heaven Megamix 3DS Review: Back to the Refrain

Rhythm Heaven Megamix 3DS Review: Back to the Refrain

Nintendo's latest installment of their rhythm game franchise hits all the notes it should, but returning players may crave more new tunes.

Over the past decade, there's been no Nintendo franchise as joyful or surprising as Rhythm Heaven. Built from the DNA of WarioWare: Mega Microgame$!, this rhythm game series blends toy-like, one-button interactions with some amazingly catchy tunes and often hilarious visuals.

At its heart, Rhythm Heaven resembles music game pioneers like Parappa the Rapper, in which you're tasked with repeating a phrase to the beat. Nintendo does things a bit differently, though, by choosing to substitute visual metaphors for the standard on-screen button prompts you'd find in something like Rock Band. Instead of trying to approximate playing an actual instrument, Rhythm Heaven instead teaches basic musical concepts (like time signatures and downbeats) by creating zany scenarios, like a midair badminton game between two furry pilots, or a chorus line of germs swimming around in a petri dish. After some basic training at the beginning of each level, Rhythm Heaven expects you to fully grasp what it's trying to teach within the context of the cartoony scenario playing out on your screen.

Thankfully, the almost shocking immediacy of Rhythm Heaven hasn't changed a lick with Megamix. Speaking as someone who's followed the series from its Game Boy Advance beginnings, this latest sequel feels like a further refinement of the Wii installment, Rhythm Heaven Fever. And its developers definitely have a knack for figuring out what works; Megamix could have easily used the touchscreen-based interface of 2009's Rhythm Heaven Gold, which unfortunately interfered with the debut's refreshing simplicity. In an incredibly smart move, the 3DS touchscreen only functions to tell you how far your inputs are straying from what Megamix considers "perfect," which is an incredibly helpful feature.

Even though I still feel Rhythm Heaven Fever is one of the Wii's finest games, Megamix adds some quality-of-life features that felt like glaring omissions in the previous title. It may sound like a small touch, but the fact that you can now restart a level and immediately jump back into it makes for a huge improvement: Previously, you'd have to exit out, choose it again, skip the intro, and then skip the training. Megamix also places far less of a focus on perfection, which always felt at odds with Rhythm Heaven's carefree spirit. While you're certainly rewarded for playing a stage perfectly, you now earn currency to buy unlockables just by playing well, and hitting a certain note perfectly in every stage will also net you a prize. Above all, Megamix is far less ruthless about perfection, making this the most welcoming game in the series to newcomers.

Megamix also starts off incredibly easy in a manner that may throw off Rhythm Heaven veterans. While it's not communicated from the outset, the first 24 stages exist as a sort of "easy mode," in which the songs are roughly half as long as your typical Rhythm Heaven track, require only the most basic input, and offer no supercharged remix at the end to put everything you've learned to the test. It's particularly telling that some of the later stages in this first chunk of Megamix actually exist as very early selections in the past three Rhythm Heavens. After a fakeout ending, remixes make their return, and the stages introduced feel much more like your standard Rhythm Heaven levels in terms of challenge—probably because they're almost entirely borrowed from the series' past.

And this is where recommending Rhythm Heaven Megamix becomes a slightly tricky proposition. I can't possibly overlook the convenience of having so many great Rhythm Heaven levels in one place, but after I finished the easier first half, I found myself blazing through the back end simply because I'd played so many of these levels countless times over the past decade. That said, the 3DS makeover some of them have received—especially the levels from Rhythm Heaven GBA—make for a definite improvement, most noticeably in terms of sound quality. If you've never touched a game from the series before, Rhythm Heaven Megamix stands as the best possible option, without a doubt. But, if you find yourself in the extremely small group that's played the past three games, you may find yourself wanting more.

Even though its status as a greatest hits package comes as a slight disappointment, it's impossible to ignore just how much Rhythm Heaven feels like a gleeful celebration of music. Megamix doesn't have a cynical bone in its body, and even if I've seen so many of them before, each level remains an absolute treat for the eyes and ears, full of bizarre characters and absolute absurdities with a distinctly Japanese sense of humor. Realistically speaking, Nintendo doesn't exactly have the resources to whip up an entirely new Rhythm Heaven game, as they did in their more fruitful days; frankly, it's a miracle Megamix exists, let alone that we have a localized version. And while more new content would have been appreciated, buying Rhythm Heaven Megamix is a nice way to tell Nintendo, "Hey, please keep doing this!" For our sake, let's hope they do.

Interface
The clean, cartoony graphics of Rhythm Heaven haven't changed, and still look great.

Lasting appeal
Megamix features a ton of levels and unlockables, and plenty of replay value for those looking to rank a perfect on every song.

Sound
Your head will be hopelessly infested with ear worms after only a few hours with Megamix.

Visuals
The clean, cartoony graphics of Rhythm Heaven haven't changed, and still look great.

While Rhythm Heaven veterans might find themselves wishing for more new content, Megamix still manages to work its gleeful charms in the series' heartwarmingly absurdist fashion. And if you've never tried the series before, Megamix amounts to the most refined and approachable entry to date.

4.5/5

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