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'Rhythm Heaven Fever': better than 'Guitar Hero'

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I guess I'm having trouble deciding what to say about 'Rhythm Heaven Fever.' It's a great name! Definitely. If I made a game I wouldn't hesitate to put any of those three words in the title. I'm taking a break from 'screenwriting' (sitting in the dark listening to 70s Japanese smoke-rock and thinking about Michelangelo Antonioni) to write this review, and it is hitting me that 'Fever' might be a pretty good name for a movie about a lonely guy that works in a mill. 'Rhythm' is also, maybe, not terrible.

Segue: 'Rhythm Heaven Fever,' though, is decidedly not cinematic. It is all game and no blockbuster. It's simple. It's a rhythm game - like 'Rock Band,' yeah - in which many of the songs can be completed with one button and none of them require more than two. You never have to do anything other than either press A or press A and B at the same time. With a Wii Remote, pressing A and B at the same time is a lot like squeezing your controller, which is not a coincidence. 'Rhythm Heaven Fever' is not concerned with videogame controllers so much as distinct inputs: There are no As and Bs; there is The Button, and The Controller. In this song, press The Button to shake your tambourine, and squeeze The Controller to smack it; squeeze to catch an incoming piece of candy, press to swat away an incoming spidermonster.

Each of the game's songs gives you some bizarre context like this. One song has you controlling a samurai in a haunted house, pressing A to slice at every incoming ghost. The ghosts come according to the rhythm of the song, and are announced both graphically and with an audio cue. The gist is that whatever the wacky song concept is, you should be able to complete it with your eyes closed after a couple tries.

But you would never do that, because the stages are universally entertaining. The very first has you swinging a golf club to hit balls tossed by a monkey to the beat of a breezy, sunshiny little piece of music, and as it starts to pick up, this crazy baboon thing standing behind the monkey just starts pumping both his fists into the air on every beat. It's pretty great. Some stages are less great, but there aren't any real disappointments. It's hard to say why so many of them are so compelling, but hey, if you're not hooked at the fist-pumping baboon, then you probably will be when the airplane-flying dog screams 'BA-BUM BUM BAH!' as he rockets his badminton birdie at you.

It's bright, colorful and fun, and the feedback you get is nice. It's the thrill of nailing the guitar solo in 'Rock Band,' excised from that bramble patch of licenses and plastic, polished, and handed to you whole. The popular rhythm game is a marathon of pan-flashes, revolving around pretending to play instruments - or, worse, pretending to dance - to songs that you already know. But on a scale from Bon Jovi to 'Super Mario Bros.,' the truth of videogame rhythm is definitely closer to the latter, and 'Rhythm Heaven Fever' knows it. It wouldn't take Bon Jovi even if it could. Give it two buttons and, as one of these marketing bullet points on the website literally says, ''Rhythm Heaven Fever' teaches players to feel the beat in their soul.'

3 stars (out of 4)

Ben Hornsby has the rhythm.

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