Back in February when Rhythm Heaven Fever was released it was a bit of an anomaly for the Wii. It was a game with very simple controls, bright colorful graphics, and an exceptionally catchy soundtrack, but it had nothing to do with motion. By stepping away from the console's signature gameplay mechanic, the development team had the ability to focus on growing the series from its portable predecessors to a larger screen, without being pigeonholed by forcing some kind of waggle integration. With the game on store shelves for almost two months now, we had the chance to reflect on the game and dig a little deeper into its development, and how to preserver over the more challenging mini-games with the franchise's Sound Director, Mr. Masami Yone. Read on to find out his thoughts on the game, its inescapable music, and why Mario might never make an appearance in a Rhythm Heaven game.
Multiplayer: Can you describe the development process for the mini games? Does the music come first or does the gameplay?
Mr. Masami Yone: It goes both ways. When the game comes first, the first thing we do is figure out a rhythm that matches well with the rules we’ve developed for a character’s movements, and then we create music to match the rhythm. When the music comes first, sometimes it inspires us to come up with interesting game situations, and we’re able to build patterns that unfold in a musically pleasant way.
Tsunku wrote most of the songs, and the Nintendo team created the games. Depending on whether the music or game was created first, it was often the case that the development team’s or Tsunku’s image for the finished product was betrayed. I mean that in a good way. That process helped to stimulate everyone as we developed the game.
How did development have to adjust for going from the small screens of the GBA and DS to the big screen of the Wii?
Because this game is meant to be played on a big screen, we decided to place a lot of importance on the graphics and sound. We wanted to make this game something that draws the attention of the people around the TV who aren’t playing the game themselves, so we designed the graphics to make players feel good when they succeed and to be amusing even when they fail. We wanted to make the music and sound effects stick with people so that they’d start humming the music without thinking about it. We also included details that are difficult for the person who’s playing to notice but that are easy for other people around them to see. I think that one way for people to enjoy the game is to gather around the TV and look for those small details.
Was there ever any consideration given to bringing some of the classic games from Rhythm Tengoku or Rhythm Heaven to Fever?
No. We did include classic games as bonus games, but because we believe that the musical impact of the game is important, we knew from the very beginning that we wanted to use mostly new songs. If we used songs from the old Rhythm Heaven, because there are already rules and images that are strongly associated with those songs, I think the content of the games would end up being too similar.
How do you work on a game like this for so long and not have the music take over your brain?
My brain has been taken over. Wherever I am, I’m always thinking of ways to make the game better, because I believe that there are hints that I can use in every part of my daily life. Even when I’m in the bath or using the toilet, I’m thinking of Rhythm Heaven.
Do you think any of the games lost their magic in the Japanese-English translation?
Not particularly. Our mission has never been to merely convert the Japanese version into an English version. Instead, we strived to create a unique version that takes advantage of phrases and nuances that are unique to the English language. The English version is popular among the development team, and some people even have the English version echoing in their heads as they work.
If you could craft a mini game for Mario and his friends what would that be like?
It’s fun to imagine a game in which Mario and his friends jump and stomp to the rhythm. However, I’m not sure Mario would be comfortable with Rhythm Heaven’s style.
Creating a second player experience was approached differently in Rhythm Heaven Fever than in most games, in that it actually encouraged players to watch more than participate. Why do you think a game like this can be approached in such a manner, and still have it work?
I think it’s more fun for the people playing when the people around them are having fun too. Because the rules for Rhythm Heaven are very simple, the people watching the game can all imagine how to succeed as they watch. It’s easy to watch this game and think that you could play it too or that you could maybe even do it better than the person playing. I think this process occurs readily and is what makes the game’s approach work.
Do you have any advice for players that might get stuck on a certain game? What's the best way to persevere over a particularly challenging game, no matter which one it is?
Effort and fighting spirit. I’m half joking. It’s important to try to more fully enjoy the sounds of the game. That’s because in this game, getting into the rhythm is a winning strategy in and of itself. Also, there are distracting visual elements in the game, so sometimes it can be surprisingly effective to play with your eyes closed. You can ask the barista to show you examples, and sometimes you can skip to the next game, but I’d like for players to get the sense of accomplishment that comes from beating the levels through their own effort.
Is there a particular algorithm for achieving success in each of the games? In other words, how does that game know if you beat it, and what grade to give you?
The game determines internally if you are perfect, close, off the rhythm, or if you missed a beat entirely, and the character reactions and sound effects change accordingly, so I think it’s a good idea to use them as clues while you’re playing. Also, some people naturally play ahead or behind the rhythm. If you can be aware of your tendency, it might help you not just in Rhythm Heaven, but also in your daily life.
In what ways can fans look forward to the series evolving from here?
If we create another Rhythm Heaven game, I want to focus on maintaining the game’s identity while making it appealing and fun for more people. I would also like to try making new types of music games if the opportunity to do so presents itself.