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Sep 15 //
Rhythm Tengoku (Game Boy Advance)Developer: Nintendo SPD Group No. 1Released: August 03, 2006Current value: $65-100
Fan translation: NopeFor fans of: Elite Beat Agents, WarioWare series, Rhythm Heaven
Given the wide claims of OCD-ridden children and the growing popularity of rhythm games during the early '00s, it wouldn't surprise me if Rhythm Tengoku was made in response.
Like Gitaroo Man and Elite Beat Agents, Nintendo's charming rhythm game collection is memorable for its music as much as it is for its strange sense of humor. Even when the game gets difficult -- grunting starts to mask the sounds of your tapping feet, head nodding turns into aggressive headbutting -- it's hard to get angry at the charming world of Rhythm Tengoku. However, it's very easy to be upset with Nintendo for keeping it from those outside Japan.
After implementing innovative vocal technology in Wario Land 4's soundtrack and redefining mini-game collections with the WarioWare series, Rhythm Tengoku was the next logical step for Nintendo. It was an ambitious project with a bubblegum pop producer and one of Nintendo's most innovative development teams. Well, maybe not completely logical, but thank God it happened!
Unfortunately, Nintendo decided to forgo a Western release due to the arrival of the Nintendo DS. Like Mother 3, Rhythm Tengoku is one of the greatest games for the GBA, one that I and the rest of the Internet soon discovered through emulation and imported copies.
Like WarioWare, Rhythm Tengoku is a series of mini-games with controls that don't get more complicated than pressing a button or two in time to the music. Unlike WarioWare, the visuals are some of the most striking of the GBA's catalog, and the mini-games are more varied and developed -- as they should be, since you'll be spending minutes (not seconds) with each one.
The game contains eight "stages," each containing five levels/songs and a sixth remix level that sets a combination of all the previous level actions to a new tune. Given the format of the game, which varies from song to song (and level to level), I thought that it'd be best to give my thoughts on my top five favorite levels. Make no mistake, I could easily list ten. Even if those ten included entries from Tengoku's two sequels, the majority of the list would still be dedicated to the original.
5. Night Walk
Night Walk is one of the few levels in the game that doesn't open with a tutorial because of the simple fact that you don't need one. It's as reductive as the game gets -- press the A button in time with the beat. Your reward? You get to watch your 8-bit avatar skip from box to box, as stars twinkle and scroll behind him.
Although my love for this level has waned since the first time I played it, it remains a memorable one due to the music and tension it draws out in the player. Given the relentless rhythm of the song and the seemingly endless sprawl of the stage, Night Walk's challenge has more to do with fatigue than timing. I often find myself becoming self-aware of what I'm doing and suddenly freaking out, wondering if I'll be able to persevere to the end.
It's also the only stage to have distinctly retro graphics that refrain from pushing the power of the GBA yet still manage to charm and create a unique atmosphere as well as any other level in the game. The recently released Japanese sequel Minna no Rhythm Tengoku even has a direct tribute to Night Walk at the end of the game!
4. Air Batter
Here is another "hit the A button in time with the music" level that I love. Maybe I'm just simple in my tastes, but the reason this one sticks out has more to do with presentation. It's rudimentary in concept, but Air Batter is one of the few levels in the game that messes with your perception. It's also the first and best stage that does so.
Like Night Walk, the player is tasked with pressing the button in time to the beat, although this one is more consistent in its melody and rhythm. Your avatar is a baseball player trapped in a green room floating in space. Your visual cues are baseballs that are launched from a pot and return to the infinite when struck.
The mind game is in the stage's inexplicably zooming in and out, to the point where the ball is no longer visible. Succeeding based on the visual cues is no longer an option, leading to inevitable failure on your first attempt (most of the time). To add to the stage's manic quality, your character's head becomes a giant tomato or a bunny after each extreme close-up.
3. Hopping Road
In addition to having wacky character-based games, Ryhthm Tengoku is filled with wonderful abstract gems like Hopping Road. Here, you bounce small balls from one platform to the next, one controlled by the D-pad and the other by the A button.
The balls bounce along to a shifting tempo that makes the timing hard to predict until they are right in front of your controlled platforms -- I develop an uneasy sensation every time they get near. Soon enough, the level throws multiple balls at you, each with their own rhythm which quickly ramps up the challenge.
For a game that is so much about the audio-visual response, Hopping Road is surprisingly fun despite its simplicity.
2. Bon Odori
There are many categories the mini-games of Rhythm Tengoku can be filed under. For example, Bon Odori is a "clapping" game, where you clap to a song as your three partners jump up with glee or give you dismissive glances (depending on your performance).
As I mentioned above, the music is what sets Rhythm Heaven apart, and Bon Odori is a shining example of this. It's one of the few songs with full vocals, which are compressed though not enough to sound grating. The track itself is a traditional Japanese song, but it's so giddy and warm that it always puts me in the right mood.
1. Toss Boys
I'm a fan of tossing stuff, be it salad, balls, or salad balls(?). If you knew this, you may have suspected that Toss Boys would be my favorite mini-game on tap in Rhythm Tengoku. After all, what could be more fun than tossing some balls with adorable children?
By the time you reach the fifth tier of levels, you begin to feel like you've seen all the game has to offer. This isn't far from the truth, given that the levels remaining after the fifth tier are remixed, harder versions of previous ones. Toss Boys, however, is one of the most original and jovial entries in the game, tapping directly into my love of 16-bit volleyball games.
With three characters mapped to the buttons and D-pad, Toss Boys has you keeping the ball in play as you toss to the beat. The beat will frequently speed up and throw your characters into full-on volley panic mode, keeping you on your toes. It's a simple idea that's well executed with just the right amount of feedback and presentation to make a mini-game that is memorable beyond its soundtrack.
The post-GBA years
Rhythm Tengoku's legacy has carried on, with a DS sequel reaching Western gamers in 2009 and another one for Wii on the way. However, the original remains the best for many reasons. The music and stages of the series' debut are unmatched in quality, whereas I struggle to find a memorable tune or a stage that didn't make me want to pull my hair out the DS game -- jury's still out on the Wii game. Even in their best moments, they can't capture the magic and surprise of the GBA debut -- to be fair, I haven't played all of the recent Wii sequel.
It's unfortunate that many will never be able to play this lost gem due to Nintendo's lack of faith in consumers. There was also an arcade port by Sega, but that didn't reach the States either.
Have played Rhythm Tengoku?
Do you want to dropkick me for saying the sequels are inferior?
Do you enjoy tossing balls as much as I do?
Leave a comment below!
[Where we're going, we don't need roads.]
[It Came from Japan! is a series where I seek out and review the weirdest, most original and enjoyable titles that never left the Land of the Rising Sun.]
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Of the twenty free games current 3DS owners are getting in exchange for having bought the system at full price, ten are NES titles, and the rest are Game Boy Advance games. Nintendo hasn't said what each individual "Ambassado...
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Apr 14 //
Chad Concelmo The Set-Up
It took a long time, but the Fire Emblem series finally made it to North American store shelves on the Game Boy Advance in 2003, more than ten years (and six iterations!) after the original game hit the original NES in Japan in 1990.
But the wait was worth it.
As someone who was a little overwhelmed by grid-based strategy games, I shied away from playing Fire Emblem when it was released on the Game Boy Advance. But once I did it completely changed my life. I feel instantly in love, still ranking the series as one of my favorite of all time.
At the start of the game, you play as Lyn, one of three main characters that appears in Fire Emblem.
Lyn is a brave, green-haired girl that lives on the Sacaen Plains with her tribe, the Lorca. Right before the beginning of the game, Lyn’s parents are murdered, along with the entire rest of her tribe.
Devastated and alone, Lyn finds an injured tactician lying on the ground near her home. Wanting to avenge the death of her entire family, Lyn accompanies the tactician to train her sword skills and learn more about who killed her tribe.
This is the very start of Fire Emblem and opens the game’s first chapter.
For anyone unfamiliar with the series, Fire Emblem is a turn-based tactical role-playing game with gameplay taking place entirely on a grid (just like Final Fantasy Tactics, Advance Wars, or other games of similar type).
After moving all your characters along this grid, the enemy takes a similar turn, moving all of its characters.
This back and forth continues until one side accomplishes its goal. Either you complete the mission at hand, or the enemy prevents you from finishing this goal, usually by killing everyone in your party.
Over the course of many incredible chapters, Fire Emblem follows Lyn as she meets dozens of different characters, each one playable and possessing skills completely unique to him or her.
For example, archers are weaker than warriors, but can attack from farther away on the grid (as opposed to on the space directly next to your enemy). Magic-users possess a similar long-range skill.
While simple enough to be appealing to non-tactical role-playing fans (like I used to be!), once the game opens up it becomes a refreshingly complex and satisfyingly deep RPG.
As more and more characters are acquired in the game (some completely optional!) they are seamlessly woven into the story. And like any good tale starring a large cast, some of these characters start to become favorites. As a player, you find yourself selecting certain characters to do battle more often than others, partly because they are strong, but mainly because, well, you start to care for them.
As Lyn and friends embark on a journey that starts personal but becomes of world-saving importance, they are faced with many hard battles with increasingly tough foes.
And like in any role-playing game, one wrong move or an extra challenging foe can end in one of your characters dying.
Usually this wouldn’t be such a big deal. Just use some kind of potion or spell to bring your character back to life, try again, and move on.
But Fire Emblem isn’t like any other game.
Once one of your characters die, this week’s Memory Card moment occurs: Death is final.
You can already tell by the name of this week’s Memory Card, but when one of your characters dies in Fire Emblem, it is over. No second chances.
Once they die they are gone for good.
As Lyn and her friends journey through the game, each move they make is of utmost importance.
The party takes extra precaution as they continue their quest to save the precious world around them.
They make sure not to leap into battle unprepared.
Their battle is a real life struggle between life and death.
In one instance, for example, a young female Pegasus Knight named Florina is called into battle. She rides a mighty winged beast and is very skilled with a lance.
What makes Florina so useful is her speed and ability to travel long distances on each turn.
By flying on her Pegasus, she is able to travel across all types of terrain and spring surprise attacks on the most unlikely of foes.
In addition to her skill on the battlefield, Florina is also one of the game’s most sweet and innocent characters. A Pegasus Knight-in-training, Florina is the youngest of three, highly honored sisters, both of them Pegasus Knights as well.
Florina is shy and quiet, but never hesitates to help out her friends in need.
In fact, she is so loyal and brave, that Hector, one of the game’s main characters, falls in love with her. By fighting along his side throughout the game, it is even possible to see Florina and Hector get married in one of the game’s alternate endings.
As the story progresses and the party’s journey grows more difficult, it is a wonder to watch Florina grow into a strong young woman.
Her journey (along with the journeys of all the other characters) is a treat to behold.
But this journey comes to an immediate close if Florina dies in battle.
One miscalculated move by you, the player, and Florina dies. Maybe an arrow pierces her heart. Maybe a hidden catapult takes down her precious Pegasus.
Whatever the reason, if Florina dies, she says her final words and leaves the world forever.
Her story comes to an abrupt close.
Florina is gone.
While shocking and unexpected, this very real and very tragic portrayal of death has the chance of happening with every single character you meet in Fire Emblem. If you grow connected to a lot of different characters (which is highly likely thanks to the game’s solid writing!), the moments of loss and bitter farewells happen very often.
With each death, one more character from Lyn’s party (your party) is gone forever.
You can watch what happens when a character dies in Fire Emblem right here:
There have been many games that handle character death in a very similar way -- the aforementioned Final Fantasy Tactics is a good example, as well as the more recent (and absolutely stellar) Valkyria Chronicles for the PlayStation 3.
In those games -- both tactical RPGs as well -- when your characters die in battle, they are gone for good as well (although it is a little more complicated and flexible due to some revised rules and alternate options).
And while Final Fantasy Tactics was released before Fire Emblem for the Game Boy Advance, Fire Emblem was the first game I personally played with this devastating, yet utterly engrossing use of permanent death.
My initial reaction to it was admittedly mixed.
At first, I wasn’t a fan of this tactic, as I am a completionist at heart and would curse the screen every time one of my characters would die. Not only would I be angry that I made a dumb move and would now have to say goodbye to a character that I have been leveling up for several chapters, I started to realize that it was becoming more than that: To my surprise, I was actually starting to miss the characters and were sad and sorry to see them go.
I … actually felt a little bad about seeing them die.
And then it hit me: This gameplay mechanic was not bad. It was brilliant.
In Fire Emblem (well, the early games at least) you can only save between chapters. Because of this, if a character dies in battle, you technically can reset the game and restart the chapter, making sure to not kill your character along the way.
While this is a pretty major loophole, when you are two hours deep into a chapter, resetting the game is not really an easy (or realistic) option.
But, you know what? I would still do it. In fact, I did it multiple times.
I would be at the very end of a long, involved chapter, start to rush through my gameplay, make a dumb move and accidentally kill off one of my characters.
If it was a character I liked (which, for me, WAS ALL OF THEM!) I would stop, stare at the power button, and think to myself: “Okay, Chad, you have played this chapter for almost two hours. You are about to finish it and save. Do you really want to reset because of one, random, completely fictional character that only exists in a videogame?”
I wouldn’t even have to think about my answer for a second. I would flip off the power switch, reload the game, and try again.
Why? Why the heck would I lose hours of gameplay for something like this?
The answer was simple: I felt guilty.
I felt bad that one of these characters had to die because of a stupid move I made. Yes, of course I knew the character wasn’t real and my decision to continue on without him/her would not mean anything in the long run (with so many characters, I could have easily found a suitable replacement in battle).
But I didn’t care about being practical.
When my characters died in Fire Emblem, I wanted them back. Simple as that. It was my first honest, genuine thought and I would act on this, resetting the game and giving the chapter another try.
I didn’t say it wasn’t absolutely insane, but it is how the game made me feel (and still does!).
Because of this, Fire Emblem will always go down as one of my most cherished game memories of all time. Losing a character forever -- and the unexpected feelings of remorse that elicits -- is something I will never forget.
The Memory Card Save Files
Season 1.01: The return of Baby Metroid (Super Metroid).02: Palom and Porom's noble sacrifice (Final Fantasy IV).03: The encounter with Psycho Mantis (Metal Gear Solid).04: The heir of Daventry (King's Quest III: To Heir is Human).05: Pey'j is captured (Beyond Good & Evil) .06: The Opera House (Final Fantasy VI).07: Attack of the zombie dog! (Resident Evil).08: A twist on a classic (Metroid: Zero Mission).09: A Christmas gift (Elite Beat Agents).10: To the moon, Mario! (Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island).11: The Solitary Island (Final Fantasy VI).12: Wander's brave friend (Shadow of the Colossus).13: The submerged letter (StarTropics).14: The legend of Tetra (The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker).15: Snake pulls the trigger (Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater).16: Riding under the missiles (Contra III: The Alien Wars).17: Hover bike madness! (Battletoads).18: Syldra's final cry (Final Fantasy V).19: Death by ...grappling beam? (Super Metroid).20: The message in the glass (BioShock)
Season 2.21: Crono's final act (Chrono Trigger).22: Ganon's tower (The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time).23: It was all a dream? (Super Mario Bros. 2).24: The assimilation of Kerrigan (StarCraft).25: A McCloud family reunion (Star Fox 64).26: The return of Rydia (Final Fantasy IV) .27: The battle with the Hydra (God of War).28: Fight for Marian's love! (Double Dragon).29: The Hunter attacks (Half-Life 2: Episode 2).30: The Phantom Train (Final Fantasy VI).31: The end of The End (Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater).32: In Tentacle We Trust (Day of the Tentacle).33: Peach dances with TEC (Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door).34: Learning to wall jump (Super Metroid).35: A leap of faith (Ico).36: The Master Sword (The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past).37: Thinking outside the DS (Hotel Dusk: Room 215).38: Running outside the castle (Super Mario 64).39: Del Lago! (Resident Evil 4).40: In memoriam (Lost Odyssey)
Season 3.41: The tadpole prince (Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars) .42: Pyramid Head! (Silent Hill 2).43: Waiting for Shadow (Final Fantasy VI).44: Solid vs. Liquid (Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots).45: The birth of the cutscene (Ninja Gaiden).46: Insult swordfighting (The Secret of Monkey Island).47: A castle stuck in time (The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker) .48: 'That's the magic flute!' (The Wizard).49: Saving Santa (Secret of Mana).50: A shocking loss (Half-Life 2: Episode Two).51: The flying cow (Earthworm Jim).52: Blind the Thief (The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past) .53: The nuclear blast (Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare) .54: Microwaving the hamster (Maniac Mansion).55: The fate of Lucca's mother (Chrono Trigger).56: A fiery demise? (Portal) .57: Jade's moment of silence (Beyond Good & Evil) .58: The Great Mighty Poo (Conker's Bad Fur Day).59: With knowledge comes nudity (Leisure Suit Larry III).60: Flint's rage (Mother 3)
Season 4.61: The dream of the Wind Fish (The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening).62: Leaving Midgar (Final Fantasy VII).63: Auf Wiedersehen! (Bionic Commando) .64: Death and The Sorrow (Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater).65: A glimpse into the future (Space Quest: The Sarien Encounter).66: Taloon the merchant (Dragon Quest IV).67: Scaling the waterfall (Contra) .68: Anton's love story (Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box).69: TKO! BJ! LOL! (Ring King).70: Giant robot fish! (Mega Man 2).71: The rotating room (Super Castlevania IV).72: The collapsing building (Uncharted 2: Among Thieves).73: Death by funnel (Phantasmagoria).74: Crono's trial (Chrono Trigger).75: The blind fighting the blind (God of War II).76: Brotherly love (Mother 3).77: Prince Froggy (Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island).78: The statue of a hero (Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride).79: Inside the worm (Gears of War 2).80: The return to Shadow Moses (Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots)
Season 5.81: A prayer for Ness (EarthBound).82: Yuna's empty embrace (Final Fantasy X).83: Blast Processing! (Sonic the Hedgehog).84: A royal assist (The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker).85: You have chosen ... wisely (Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis)
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