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300 Word Review – Rhythm Tengoku

Rhythm Tengoku is video game design 101.

Most designers make the mistake of thinking that the more they give the player to do, the more actions they can take, the more fulfilling and deeper the game will be. This is the mentality that leads to games like Itagaki’s Ninja Gaiden, which has the moveset of a fighting game injected into a single player action/adventure game. What Nintendo’s R&D1 discovered (or re-discovered) with their left-field masterpiece WarioWare Inc., is that a game built around a single action can be just as compelling.

Like its older brother, Rhythm Tengoku is a collection of mini-games, each dressed up in its own quirky theme. However, Tengoku carries WarioWare‘s central insight, that an entire game can be built around nothing more that a single reflex action, to its logical extreme. In doing so it creates what is basically an interactive textbook for good game design:

Assignment One – Establish an action for the player. In the case of Rhythm Tengoku, pressing a button in time to a piece of music.

Assignment Two – Create varying conditions in which the established action must be performed.

It’s on this second lesson that Rhythm Tengoku excels. The simple action of tapping the ‘A’ button along with a beat is escalated over the course of the game, with the visuals, audio cues, and rhythms becoming more complex with each mini-game.

However, because it never asks its player to do anything more complex than tap a button, its challenges always seem to be right at the cusp of the player’s abilities, lulling them in and out of flow-states with incredible ease.

Should all games be as simple and straight-forward as Rhythm Tengoku? Absolutely not. There is no doubt though that every game designer should understand how and why it works.

4 Comments

  1. Ha! I called WarioWare game design DNA. Same idea.

    I kind of thought the appeal of WarioWare was that each microgame was a feverish race to learn the rules of the game under time constraints. (Like, the challenge in each microgame was basically “what are the rules of this game, and how do I fulfill them?)

    But Rhythm Tengoku is different. The game’s all about execution, not learnin’. And it’s utterly brilliant. To me it’s the offkilter music that makes the difference, along with the surrealism.

    My version came with the original stickers. I’m hoping that Rhythm Tengoku Gold will also have stickers.

    Tuesday, December 2, 2008 at 5:16 am | Permalink
  2. Frank wrote:

    <3 Rhythm Tengoku. One of my favorite games of all time. What style! What personality! The little house in the rain with the lightning. I think that, when I die, that's the place my ghost will haunt.

    Charles, can we bring back the RT header for GDA?

    Wednesday, December 3, 2008 at 2:03 am | Permalink
  3. Charles Joseph wrote:

    Done!

    Friday, December 5, 2008 at 1:47 am | Permalink
  4. Frank wrote:

    Awesome.

    Monday, December 8, 2008 at 6:37 am | Permalink

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