Super Beat Sports (Switch) Review – Multiplayer Rhythm Sports Heaven

Super Beat Sports (Switch) Review - Multiplayer Rhythm Sports Heaven

The developers behind Guitar Hero and its sequel, as well as all the Rock Band titles, Harmonix is back, and this time its brought us a cute family friendly rhythm game exclusively to the Nintendo Switch. Thankfully, unlike the developer’s last few titles, I think this Super Beat Sports is great!

The premise is simple, and so is the gameplay, but that isn’t a bad thing at all. Music obsessed aliens come to earth after seeing sports broadcasts and befriend/challenge players to five different musical sports-themed mini-games in Super Beat Sports.

Super Beat Sports (Switch) Review - Multiplayer Rhythm Sports Heaven 4
Super Beat Sports (Switch) – gameplay image via Harmonix

Whacky Bat has players switching between lanes and smacking balls back at aliens as they toss them out to the beat. The normal difficulty has three lanes while the pro difficulty has five. Playing with two players means only hitting balls back at aliens that match the assigned colours of each player, as well as a mechanic where one player stands atop the others head to properly hit balls back at a floating alien. Whacky Bat has the most songs to complete of any of the minigames in the collection at 27, all of which were composed specifically for this game. While you won’t find any licensed tracks here, I’m more than okay with that as the songs are catchy, and the ‘singing’ of the aliens is cute, almost like one of the Minions from Despicable Me.

Super Beat Sports (Switch) Review - Multiplayer Rhythm Sports Heaven 1
Super Beat Sports (Switch) – gameplay image via Harmonix

Net Ball is essentially volleyball that can be played with an AI partner or another player. Instead of moving between lanes and repeating after the aliens like in Whacky Bat, here you’re ‘playing’ the next note in the song while standing in place. It is a little less involved than Whacky Bat, but just as entertaining. Net Ball has a selection of 15 songs, all of which are exclusive to the mode.

Super Beat Sports (Switch) Review - Multiplayer Rhythm Sports Heaven
Super Beat Sports (Switch) – gameplay image via Harmonix

Gobble Golf is perhaps the simplest mini-game of the bunch, and also the worst. Aliens are positioned across three different platforms—left, middle, right—and will open their mouths to the beat at which point you’ve got to golf swing a ball in. Instead of this being done on the fly, the game first plays out an entire measure of music and shows you when aliens will open their mouths, then repeats so you can hit balls in. This happens nine times across nine rounds per song. While the intro of each round can be skipped, it never feels challenging at all since you’re provided with multiple attempts per round. Where the other mini-games feel a bit more skill based requiring you to listen to the beat, Gobble Golf just feels like connecting the dots or following the breadcrumbs as you’re told to. Thankfully Gobble Golf has the fewest songs available at 12.

Super Beat Sports (Switch) Review - Multiplayer Rhythm Sports Heaven 7
Super Beat Sports (Switch) – gameplay image via Harmonix

Buddy Ball can be played solo or with up to four players as one of the two multiplayer competitive modes. Players stand in a line and take turns hitting the ball in order while aiming at one of three aliens on the screen. Miss a swing and you lose one of three lives, and losing all three lives means you’re eliminated from the game. Last player standing wins. Buddy Ball is pretty simple but requires a lot more reflexes and strategy than any other mode in Super Beat Sports. Not only do you have to decide which aliens to aim for, which impacts the movement of the ball to the next person in line, but it could also spawn or activate power-ups such as switching the rotation direction or hazards such as a bomb that will cost any player that hits it a life. It’s a shame there are only four songs available, but things get so frantic that I doubt many players will be thinking about the music at all.

Super Beat Sports (Switch) Review - Multiplayer Rhythm Sports Heaven 3
Super Beat Sports (Switch) – gameplay image via Harmonix

The final mini-game in the collection that also features competitive play for up to four players is Rhythm Racket, basically a musical combination of Pong and the lesser known Warlords. Players have a net they must defend from a ball being bounced across an arena in a top-down view. The ball can be bunted to slow it down, swung at to speed it in the direction you’re aiming, or tossed up in the air and served to speed it off smashing through blocks. Hit it through the other players’ nets until their lives are depleted and you win. Rhythm Racket doesn’t put nearly as much emphasis on the music as other modes, only requiring timed presses for serves, and to blast it out of aliens mouths that scatter the arena which is controlled by whoever the last to serve the ball was. The arena changes after any player loses a life, which constantly switches up strategies and keeps the game fresh, even if there are only three songs available for this mode; as I’ve said, not so important here. Rhythm Racket is pretty fun, frantic, and has a bit of a learning curve in comparison to any of the other mini-games—which is why the game forces you to play a tutorial for it the first time you start the mode—but I could see this being the hit mode at parties between competitive friends.

As a veteran player of the genre myself, I preferred each mini-games pro modes as the normal difficulty was a bit too easy for me; though I wouldn’t call any of this game challenging. Unlike some of Harmonix’s previous titles, Super Beat Sports gives a lot of leeway when it comes to timing button presses to the beat with any press that would connect with the ball being perfect, and swings that would miss but are close being early or late. That said, those looking to perfect every song and mini-game will still be in for a challenge, just don’t expect something like the notoriously hard ‘Through the Fire and the Flames’ on expert difficulty as found in Guitar Hero.

Players like myself that enjoy goals to work towards in games fret not, as there are a ton of unlockable costumes and equipment that can be used to customize your character. You’ll find normal sports equipment like bats, clubs, and rackets as well as some more jokey items like lawn gnomes. While none of these impact the gameplay, the sound of your equipment hitting balls changes based on your equipment. Unlocked from the start is the ability to change your character’s skin color, which should practically be standard at this point but isn’t in most games.

Super Beat Sports (Switch) Review - Multiplayer Rhythm Sports Heaven 2
Super Beat Sports (Switch) – gameplay image via Harmonix

As far as other little features go, the game can be played with any variety of controllers including single Joy-Cons and Pro Controllers. There isn’t online or leaderboards, but Super Beat Sports offers local wireless play, which I was not able to test for this review. Like most games, the HD rumble here wasn’t anything fancy or really even noticeable. The game works great in both handheld and docked modes with no visual hiccups in either, though I’m not sure cramming four people around a 6.2-inch screen will ever be a viable option.

The cherry on top of Super Beat Sports is its adorable cartoon-like style that reminds me of shows like Gumball and Steven Universe. All the characters are colorful and huggable, but especially the aliens. 2017 has turned out to be the cutest year in gaming and, frankly, I hope the trend never stops.

For $15 Super Beat Sports offers a wealth of content, as well as some great couch co-op and competitive gameplay. While it doesn’t reinvent the rhythm genre, it at least tries and succeeds to do something at least a little different with it. Great solo, great with friends, easily recommendable even without popular licensed tracks.

A retail version of the game reviewed was provided by the publisher. You can find additional information about CGMagazine’s ethics and review policies and procedures here.

Liked this article and want to read more like it? Check out more of Jed Whitaker’s reviews, such as Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinity, Spelunker Party!, and Golf Story!

Want to see more videos? Subscribe to our YouTube channel and check out the First 15: Super Mario Odyssey,  The Evil Within 2, and Cuphead!

Don’t forget to tune in every Friday the Pixels & Ink Podcast to hear the latest news, previews, and in-depth game discussions!

Never miss when new CGM articles go out by following us on Twitter and Facebook!

CGMagazine is Canada’s premiere comics and gaming magazine. Subscribe today to get the best of CGM delivered right to your door! Never miss when a new issue goes live by subscribing to our newsletter! Signing up gives you exclusive entry into our contest pool. Sign up once, you’ll have a chance to win! Sign up today!

Metronomicon: Slay the Dance Floor (PS4) Review – I Wanna Dance (With Somebody)

Metronomicon: Slay the Dance Floor (PS4) Review - I Wanna Dance (With Somebody)

What if I were to tell you that there was a game that mashes up rhythm dance games like Dance Dance Revolution with a classic active-time-battle RPG? Well, if this was a few years ago, you’d look at me and reply with, “Say whaaaaat?” (because that’s what all the cool kids were saying in 2010, you see.) But, since it is indeed 2017, and there have been a couple of games that have tried this—such as Before the Echo and Sequence—it’s not so much of a surprise at this point. And although those games are great in their own right, the game that basically brought this wacky fusion to a whole new level was The Metronomicon. Having met with rave (see what I did there?) reviews on Steam and a decent score on Metacritic, The Metronomicon showed the world that yes, two diametrically opposed genres can absolutely join together in a perfect marriage of high-energy-party-meets-grind-heavy-min-max-fantasy-RPG. With the introduction of a slew of new features in The Metronomicon: Slay the Dance Floor, that experience is only taken to the next level.

Metronomicon: Slay the Dance Floor (PS4) Review - I Wanna Dance (With Somebody)
The Metronomicon: Slay the Dance Floor (gameplay images via Akupara Games)

The Metronomicon: Slay the Dance Floor introduces a bunch of new features to the base game: new, unlockable characters that follow a basic job system, new and improved challenges, and best of all, a local multiplayer mode, perfect for your next all-night dance party. The hub still contains the Arena for some intense challenges, unlockable special features such as the school (a very useful tool to improve your team) and of course, the DJ, because sometimes you just want to kick back and listen to the ear-worm-inducing soundtrack without all the hassle of actually playing the game. The sound track features the likes of DJ Cutman, Mega Ran, and exclusive tracks from Shiny Toy Guns and Viking Guitar. Now, I can’t speak too much about the DJ station other than it plays the songs you’ve unlocked quite well because I much preferred playing the game to listening to the music and twiddling my thumbs.

If you’ve played the original version, The Metronomicon, you won’t notice much of a change in the story mode. It’s graduation day for a rag-tag group of “rhythmic combat arts” masters. Each one falls into your basic RPG/high school archetype: Wade, the muscle head jock-warrior, Gwen, the straight-laced, by-the-books paladin, Clark the play-boy healer (yes, it’s an odd choice, but it makes sense if you really think about it), and finally Violet, the punk rock art student mage. Yes, they are very two-dimensional, and yes, they don’t really grow much beyond the basic stereotypes, but let’s be real: the whole game is one giant party. We’re not on this wild journey for depth of character; we’re here to dance!

Anyway, our club-kid heroes are tasked with saving the world from equally adept dancing monsters ranging from furry, legwarmer-wearing raver lizards to sparkle witches and hipster octopuses (yes, the plural form of “octopus” is “octopuses”). Players will lead their #squadgoals mascots through various disco forests, Burning Man-esque canyons, party-cruise pirate ships, and finally, the greatest venue of all: the Moon. Through appropriately tone-matching, colourful, flo-glow, cartoony landscapes, with a total of eight characters to unlock, The Metronomicon leads players through a relatively basic “Be the hero; save the world!” story. Again, this is not really a knock on the game, just don’t expect an existential breakthrough once you’ve completed the story. Do expect some cute references to club culture and nods to people you have definitely had a not-so-sober conversation with at 3 a.m. at some point in your life.

Metronomicon: Slay the Dance Floor (PS4) Review - I Wanna Dance (With Somebody) 6
The Metronomicon: Slay the Dance Floor (gameplay images via Akupara Games)

It’s pretty clear that the story and characters are simply the garnish to this dish. The meat of The Metronomicon: Slay the Dance Floor really comes from the gameplay. Players select four members of their party to engage in dance-magic battles against the hoards of monsters that attack them throughout the duration of each song. Like Dance Dance Revolution, you select a track from a list of songs that make up each chapter of the story. Throughout the song, monsters dance in from the right and deliver devastating attacks and debuffs that change the way your arrows come down the screen (change their colour, make them spin, make them appear at the last second) against your characters. If you take too long to defeat each one, they’ll call in their buddies to help them out. At random a point in the song, a Boss monster will appear who will give you a special bonus if you manage to beat it by the end of the song. In order to attack, players must beat-match the onslaught of arrows that travel down the path above each character for a series of streaks that initiate various attacks, buff and debuffs, spells, and healing techniques.

As every character in The Metronomicon: Slay the Dance Floor has a specific set of abilities, you have to carefully select your party, their abilities, and hone your strategy as you switch through characters on the fly while you wait for each character’s ability to cool down. This sounds really complicated, but honestly, the learning curve is pretty shallow. With a little bit of practice, it didn’t take me (or the people I made sit down and play with me my friends) long to become pretty adept at swapping through the party and completing combos in order to reach the desired tier for casting a spell or an attack.

Metronomicon: Slay the Dance Floor (PS4) Review - I Wanna Dance (With Somebody) 8
The Metronomicon: Slay the Dance Floor (gameplay images via Akupara Games)

The hardest part was keeping track of everything going on on the screen. Now, a lot has improved with Slay the Dance Floor since I saw an early build of The Metronomicon back at PAX East in 2014, but there was still a lot to take in. The party’s health bar takes up the left edge of the screen, while the enemy’s health bar, which changes with each enemy to show their ruling element—crucial info for unleashing critical hits—takes up the right of the screen. The top of the screen shows the tiers of magic each character has hit, along with what their attacks are, the timer, beat-streak count, and special attack meter. Oh, and there are arrows flying everywhere and everyone is dancing on-screen at all times. Also, every once in a while a random party-goer will pop up and dance across the screen. By the end of my first song, I felt like I usually do the morning after a night at the club. I mean, you get used to it, but it’s really disorienting at first.

With the addition of local co-op multiplayer in The Metronomicon: Slay the Dance Floor, a lot of those issues are alleviated as you can divide and conquer the screen with one other player. The multiplayer aspect is definitely where Slay the Dance Floor shines. It’s just a lot more fun to split the party between me and my mom a partner, talk strategy, and groan and throw controllers after trying to complete a song for the tenth time (which, of course, felt ooooh so good once we beat it). As a side note: I’m really happy to see that the local co-op game is coming back. I definitely count The Metronomicon: Slay the Dance Floor among games like Broforce and Overcooked as a top notch co-op game.

Metronomicon: Slay the Dance Floor (PS4) Review - I Wanna Dance (With Somebody) 3
The Metronomicon: Slay the Dance Floor (gameplay images via Akupara Games)

The Metronomicon: Slay the Dance Floor also added an Endless Mode, which throws you and a party of your choice into an endless succession of songs and the resulting monster battles as a reward for beating the Story Mode. And by reward, I mean punishment. And by punishment, I mean I cannot tell you what happens past the first song because I could barely finish one. It’s a great incentive to go through the other challenges and side-quests in the game to grind your characters’ levels and abilities and find stat-boosting gear, which is great, because we all know that’s the best part of an RPG. If it’s not your favourite part, first, you’re wrong, and second, you can still have fun going back to the main screen and playing through songs you’ve already unlocked. It’s just nice to see that there is a lot of replayability to this game through the means of greater challenges.

If you’re looking to unlock your inner D&D dance machine, look no further than The Metronomicon: Slay the Dance Floor. If you’re feeling really ambitious, you can whip out your old DDR dance mats or Rockband 4 guitars. You know, really get immersed in the whole party style. Just be prepared for some humbling gameplay and to come away singing the songs for days on end.

Hatsune Miku Project Diva X (PS4) Review

Hatsune Miku Project Diva X (PS4) Review

Even in the most lackluster gaming years, Hatsune Miku’s always managed to perk me up. From 2013 to now, the localized entries in Sega’s rhythm series have uniformly impressed me. They’re loaded with content, from great tracklists to fun unlockables, coupled with the classic addiction of trying to top your own scores. In a gaming landscape devoid of mainstream rhythm titles, these are some of the last bastions of the ailing genre. Yet with Hatsune Miku Project Diva X, the series practically destroys the structure it’s built upon.

Read moreHatsune Miku Project Diva X (PS4) Review

Guitar Hero Live (PS4) Review

Guitar Hero Live (PS4) Review

Guitar Hero has fallen on some hard times. It’s really a shame to see, honestly. I remember when it first broke onto the scene with Guitar Hero 2; at the time, Guitar Hero hadn’t fully captivated the audience and remained more of a cult game until Guitar Hero 2 launched it to phenomenon status. We got way too into it—I think it’s safe to say everyone did—completing the game repeatedly on increasing difficulties until we were playing Through the Fire and Flames on expert for fun.

While Guitar Hero created the genre, there’s no denying that Rock Band perfected it, making it far more inclusive and a much better ‘party game’ to play with a group of friends. Since Rock Band’s release, it’s seemed like Guitar Hero has consistently tried to change their formula in an attempt to one-up Rock Band. Rock Band has a full kit? We’ll do the same, only our drums will have cymbals and our guitar will have some pointless slider thing. And while Rock Band consistently turned out hits with gameplay that Guitar Hero created, polished to perfection, Guitar Hero oversaturated its own market in an attempt to stay relevant; remember DJ Hero? One of their games was even called Band Hero.

guitarheroliveinsert1I find it odd that with the big push to reinvigorate the franchise, where Rock Band 4 refined an already perfect formula, Guitar Hero Live tries again to reinvent the wheel rather than polish the perfected wheel they brought to the market, and this makes Guitar Hero Live a significantly lesser experience.

Guitar Hero Live is certainly an interesting experiment. Visually, it’s the best looking game out of the Guitar Hero/Rock Band franchises, and this is largely due to the game’s ‘live’ visuals. I have to give credit where it is due: the amount of effort that must have gone into filming each of the different tours, the audience participation, their reactions to your performance, it’s really incredible. The way it’s shot in first-person does add that fun, immersive feel to it. Although I will say it is very odd how your bandmates react so negatively to you playing poorly. I found myself thinking, “Hey guys, come on, we’re on the same team here!” I would say it’s the most immersive version of Guitar Hero, up until you remember you’re playing on a plastic guitar and using magic to amp up the crowd.

The set list is enormous, containing well over a hundred songs on disc with more being added on the Guitar Hero TV section. I found it very odd that many of these songs were from previous versions of Guitar Hero. I know this may seem like a minor complaint; however, it just seemed lazy to me. Given how many great songs are out there, there was really no reason to rehash songs from previous games. Preference is a big factor in whether or not you’ll enjoy this set list (I honestly only found 3 or 4 songs that I was excited to play and a lot of other songs I thought “Ew, why?”). However, given its size, there’s definitely something to please everybody.

guitarheroliveinsert2The GHTV section was an interesting take on the online multiplayer mode for the game. Having mostly negative experiences playing Rock Band online, it was interesting to see a free-flowing game mode that included multiplayer elements like a leaderboard, a levelling system, and unlockable items to assist your score. GHTV allows players to choose a ‘channel’ and play along to music videos within that genre. It’s basically Spotify that you can play along to. While players have no control over what songs will be within their channels, they can pay to unlock songs they like to play them as many times as they want.

For all that Guitar Hero makes up in look, content, and style, the whole experience falls apart, for me, in its most important aspect: the guitar. Guitar Hero Live has a redesigned guitar controller that axes the five-button neck in favour for a three-button neck that splits the buttons in half. Notes no longer come in the variety of colors, but rather in white and black that symbolize the top or bottom of button. The only difference between the two are black notes face down and white face up, and often it’s easy to confuse the two when you instinctively press the button where the notes are lined.

I found this to be extremely frustrating, as the buttons are so close together that when the game starts combining top and bottom notes, it became very easy to lose track of my finger placement. Not only that, but because the size of the neck on screen remains the same, often I found myself stretching my fingers off the buttons, reaching for buttons that were no long there. While this could stem from my familiarization to the old controllers, it really felt deceptive to me, since you’re not looking at the guitar, you’re looking at the screen, and in the heat of the moment, seeing those notes stretched far apart, you instinctively reach further than you have to.

guitarheroliveinsert3I couldn’t see how newcomers to the franchise would find this more enjoyable; it feels like a system that’s far more complex than the traditional five-button neck. The fact that they’re so close together in their top/bottom forms makes it incredibly hectic to switch between them when the game starts combining the two. Even after I had become more accustomed to it and switched over to hard mode, I found that while I was still able to complete the songs, the layout of the buttons made songs more a test of attrition than a genuinely fun experience.

I’ve heard a lot of people say that this is a better system and it’s more analogous to playing a real guitar, but I’m not loading up Guitar Hero to play real guitar. I’m loading it up for some fun, rockstar escapism and, in this regard, the Rock Band guitars provide for a much more fun experience.

One of the other big problems about this guitar—and it’s also a big problem of Guitar Hero Live—is its complete axing of backwards compatibility. Because the system is entirely different, previous generation Guitar Hero peripherals are no longer compatible with Guitar Hero Live. However, that doesn’t explain why Guitar Hero Live doesn’t allow you to import any DLC songs from previous Guitar Hero games. While they have announced consistent updates to the GHTV platform, the fact that you’ll still have to buy songs from the network—songs you may have already had—is a real detriment to the whole experience.

Guitar Hero Live has a lot of good qualities to it. It’s extremely polished and extremely functional. If it wasn’t for some questionable design choices with the game’s most important element, it could have been a flawless experience. However, for all the things that make Guitar Hero good, its guitar really holds it back from being great.

What You Need to Know About Guitar Hero Live

What You Need to Know About Guitar Hero Live

You can almost tell that someone over at Activison was in a planning meeting, looking at sales charts and seeing that the best-selling games were in first person perspective, so why not make the next Guitar Hero in the same point of view?

So yes, that’s what we’ve got. Not only is there an official announcement to counter Rock Band 4’s earlier official announcement, this new game entitled Guitar Hero Live not only ditches the numbers, it actually DIFFERENTIATES itself from Rock Band rather than just being a Harmonix knock-off.

Here are the most important things you need to take away from the Guitar Hero Live reveal:

  1. You WILL need to buy a new plastic guitar. The new play mechanic uses a six button design, a row of three buttons, with three MORE buttons on top of that. This is designed to more closely simulate fretting.
  2. This Guitar Hero game is actually guitar only. No more drums and microphones, it’s back to basics.
  3. The game doesn’t let you create your own band or choose from real time cartoon-y avatars. It’s actually using full motion, live action video, playing at different venues. When you rock, the crowd cheers and sings along. When you suck… they actually say so. Loudly.  And your band mates will give you serious WTF expressions.
  4. This is all done “Go Pro” style from the point of view of the guitarist, meaning you’ll see your band mates, take to the stage, and, when you’re not paying attention to the note highway, see everything in the background as if you were actually on stage, performing for a crowd.
  5. Instead of just buying new songs, you’ll also be buying music videos. So when you’re playing a Weezer song you bought as DLC, the original Weezer video will be playing in the background.

In a lot of ways, I’m in favour of all these changes, though we’ll have to see how they actually play out in practice. When Guitar Hero simply started following in the footsteps of Rock Band, it hurt both franchises. Now, with Ubisoft’s Rocksmith as a guitar instructor, Rock Band doing the band thing, and Guitar Hero focusing on being a “Rock Guitarist simulator,” there’s enough variety in the rhythm genre that more people will find something that tickles their specific need. Of course, they’ll also need a decent setlist of songs, but since Activision has absurd amounts money to spend on licensing, I don’t think it’ll be a problem of finance, so much as hoping their acquisitions people actually have good taste, and don’t just resort to Top 40 pop songs.

It’s coming to all the major consoles (yes, that means you as well, Wii U), so if you’re the sort that feels there’s a distinct lack of new plastic instruments in your life and you were looking for an excuse to add to the pile, here it is, ladies and gentlemen. Now with trailer, too!

What’s a Rhythm Game in 2015?

What’s a Rhythm Game in 2015?

While playing through Game Freak’s HarmoKnight, tapping the 3DS’ buttons to jump over pits and wallop enemies in time to the poppy soundtrack, I began to wonder when the last time was that I played a rhythm game. Since the genre’s explosion into popularity during the years of Guitar Hero and Rock Band, it’s gone into a bit of a decline. Developers and publishers appear to have moved on, perhaps thinking that there just isn’t much left to rhythm games after even the most widely enjoyed, commercially viable series have closed up shop. Is there a way to revive the genre in the widely changed videogame landscape of 2015?

Rock Band
Rock Band

Even though the genre has largely vanished from the modern mainstream, it’s easy to see how well attention to rhythm can be applied to videogame mechanics. The type of timing-based button-pressing that defines the genre has found a new home in action titles like the Batman: Arkham series, Sleeping Dogs, and Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. These games all couch their melee combat systems in rhythm: the player has to read enemy attacks and counter them by timing their dodges, blocks, and responding hits appropriately. These definitely aren’t rhythm games—there are too many other gameplay elements involved in these titles to be that reductive—but they still owe a large debt to the genre. While seeing this kind of influence worked into other types of games so successfully is wonderful, it’s also disheartening to think that rhythm may be relegated to little more than a design element in another title.

Still, as HarmoKnight shows, there remains a good amount of potential in a straightforward rhythm game—as long as it’s presented properly. At its heart, HarmoKnight isn’t much of a departure from the titles it draws inspiration from. The player manages every situation—whether attacking a giant boss monster or jumping past crumbling platforms—by timing their button presses in accordance with the tempo of the soundtrack. The main character may be able to attack, dodge, and leap over obstacles, but since he always runs on a set path, the mechanics boil down to nothing more than hitting the right button at the right time. Fundamentally, it’s the same type of game as Guitar Hero, PaRappa the Rapper, or Rhythm Heaven, only set apart by its presentation.

PaRappa the Rapper,
PaRappa the Rapper,

Though HarmoKnight’s story is yet another retelling of the standard heroic quest and its setting draws from the same variations on ice, water, and fire videogame “worlds” we’ve seen a million times before, the fact that any plot and defined setting exists at all helps make it stand out. The player is given reason to continue moving through the levels beyond the gameplay systems being fun to interact with. There’s a narrative arc to follow and characters to recruit along the way. Sure, the game would be much more interesting if the story and cast weren’t tired archetypes, but their very presence is enough to bulk up the solid foundation of working through increasingly challenging rhythm challenges. All of it makes me think that what audiences have likely tired of isn’t the rhythm genre, but the bare-bones nature of its most popular recent games.

Despite the fun of working through Guitar Hero’s set-lists or Rhythm Heaven’s ever-harder mini-games, there was never much attention given to anything that wasn’t the core gameplay experience. (The “career mode” of a game like Guitar Hero is a good start, but lacks depth.) If a bit of time was spent bulking up the systems surrounding the main game mechanics—if the example established by HarmoKnight was used as a springboard—it seems like there could be more life left in the genre. Consider a series of levels, wrapped up in a decent narrative framework; a cast of multiple playable characters with unique abilities; hidden secrets and challenge modes—toss in some RPG-style skill upgrading and stat-changing equipment and there doesn’t seem to be any reason a rhythm game based on the framework established by HarmoKnight’s couldn’t work well. Though I haven’t played it myself, a similar approach was taken by Square Enix with its Theatrhythm Final Fantasy series, which has been met with a fairly enthusiastic reception not just based on the nostalgic appeal of its soundtrack, but also because its gameplay incorporates elements from role-playing and side-scrolling action games. Why couldn’t these titles be used as the starting point for mainstream releases with even more robust feature sets and stories?

Rhythm Heaven
Rhythm Heaven

It’s likely that the genre is only in a temporary recession following the oversaturation it experienced in past years. Hopefully this is the case since, as even handheld releases like HarmoKnight and Theatrhythmm Final Fantasy show, there are still plenty of interesting ways for the rhythm game to evolve in coming years.