The beat of my own drum

[[image:jb_090329_rhythmheaven2.gif::right:0]]Last week I was handed a copy of Rhythm Heaven Gold by a friend who had imported it some time ago. While the game comes out stateside next week (simply as Rhythm Heaven), I had heard that playing the Japanese version required little knowledge of the language, so I decided to give it a shot. That advice was absolutely correct, and I’m currently enamored with the game. Created by the WarioWare team, Rhythm Heaven looks and plays much the same as its predecessor, but with less emphasis on lightning-quick challenges, and more emphasis on timing tasks. In fact, the entire game is about these rhythm challenges — the player keeps the beat in three different ways: holding down and releasing the stylus, tapping the screen, or flicking the screen. You may question the longevity of a game with only three possible inputs, but the varied songs and charming graphics keep things fresh. In fact, I found myself initially surprised by how into it I was. More and more, these "casual" games are what I enjoy most. So does that make me a "casual" gamer? Maybe, but not in the sense that the word has taken on recently.

It seems that lately, "casual" games have gotten a bad rap. I guess this is understandable when you look at the majority of Wii games on the shelf and you realize that they’re unplayable messes. But I think people are getting the real meaning of "casual" twisted — did Super Mario Bros. on the NES not have casual appeal? Tetris on the Game Boy? Chu Chu Rocket! on the Dreamcast? Casual games have always been with us; the difference now is that the label is being exploited by developers who either don’t know what they are doing, or are simply looking for a quick buck. We really can’t lay the blame completely on the developers though, since Nintendo — who I’m singling out because they have the defacto "casual" consoles — is letting anyone put a game on their consoles nowaday. Really, does the Nintendo Seal of Quality mean anything anymore? [Actually, all it ever meant was “license fees are paid up and all notable bugs squashed.” Plus, Nintendo stopped using the seal a while back. So it means nothing at all. – Ed.]

Ultimately, I’d like to see more casual games being made (and by "casual" in this sense, I am talking arcadey, fun, pick-up-and-play creations that are actually good) that can appeal to everyone. With great outlets like the Wii and DS, Xbox Live Arcade, and the Playstation Network, the infastructure is there — we just need to see developers realize that developing a game like that is worth their time. Rhythm Heaven is a great start, and with Punch-Out!! following it up soon on Wii, it seems like the future is bright. While I’m not foregoing the hardcore experiences I still love, I find myself being drawn to these "light" experiences more and more these days. Until casual becomes the norm, I guess I’ll just have to continue to play to the beat of my own drum.

8 thoughts on “The beat of my own drum

  1. Good to see you on the front page, Bergasa.

    At the risk of stirring the debate, I consider the “casual” and “hardcore” distinctions to be indicative of gamer behavior as opposed to the games themselves. A person can play Pokemon, Peggle, or Gradius for thirty minutes. They can also play those games for hours on end. The only real difference is the length and perhaps the intensity of play. I would posit that even someone who plays Gears of War 2 for an hour or two a week is playing the game casual and would be considered a casual gamer in that instance.

  2. I’m very excited about Rhythm Heaven and I hope it sells millions of copies. People can find new ways to beat on drums too — rhythm games have lots of room for depth, especially when multiplayer aspects are explored.

    Sidenote: I wish people would just drop the words casual and hardcore. They work great for marketing to idiots, and that’s about it. Play games, have fun, and don’t worry about the labels unless you’re reading marketing copy.

  3. The original GBA version had an even simpler input, considering that it consisted of pressing the A button. Still a great game but rather difficult.

  4. I scored a US copy at the Iwata keynote.

    I figured Rhythm Heaven would be a game for the casual, but my girlfriend (and me) was immediately put off by the difficulty. Or the controls. That’s the problem, it’s difficult to to say whether the difficulty escalates too fast, or if the controls, particularly the flick motion, are too stiff.

    My point, and I took a goofy way getting to it, is can a game be casual if it’s difficult? Or if it has unresponsive controls?

  5. Thanks for the responses guys. I look forward to future posts on GameSpite. :)

    @Chris: Although I disagree about Rhythm Heaven having difficult controls, I understand your point. I do think “casual” games can be difficult as long as people have fun with them. We can use the age-old example of Dragon Quest to prove this– in Japan, everyone plays the DQ games. Those games are hardly easy, but they ARE forgiving. If you get a game over, you don’t lose any progress, you simply start up again at the church. I think as long as people are making progress in what they are playing and having a good time of it, it’s all good.

  6. Noby Noby Boy on PSN is so casual, it’s not even a game! But it’s awesome. I’m glad to see PSN finally delivering on some of this promise. (Flower is another I’ve liked recently – it has more actual game structure, but is also good for just tooling around.)

  7. @ Bergasa: Agreed on your definition of ‘casual’. A ‘casual’ game should have an intiutive design, be playable in small bouts, catch the user’s interest at the get go, and give simple yet motivational incentives to keep playing. Arcade style games are designed with this in mind. Seems to me that some developers just like to use the term ‘casual’ in the place of ‘half-assed’ when they make some games.

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