After the DS version of Nintendo's simplistic, addictive rhythm-action game introduced a tapping/sliding mechanic that wasn't entirely successful, we wondered where the Rhythm Heaven series would go next.
Having started out as a WarioWare spin-off, it seemed as though it might follow WarioWare's career trajectory of increasing complexity and diminishing returns. Surprisingly, the opposite has happened on Wii.
The control system has been pared down significantly, and the minigames are played almost entirely using the A button. Sometimes you have to press A and B together, but when you compare it to the GBA original, which used two buttons and four D-pad directions, it's much simpler. (This user-friendliness is reflected in the game's Japanese name: 'Everybody's Rhythm Tengoku'.)
The amount of variety the designers have managed to wring out of this basic formula is incredible, although you'll recognise a few bits and pieces from the previous two games. The bizarre sense of humour is in full effect, the art style is memorably surreal and the soundtrack is as excellent as ever.
It's an easy game to learn. If you can tap your foot in time with some music, you can ace the majority of Rhythm Heaven's minigames, and if you can simultaneously snap your fingers on the off beats then you've got what it takes to master the rest of them.
Take the karate man minigame, for example, as pictured on the left. For the most part it's the same as it was on GBA, so you hear the swoosh of somebody throwing something and you press the button on the corresponding beat to punch the flowerpots and rocks that hurtle towards you.
Like the majority of Rhythm Heaven minigames, it's impossible to play by looking at the screen. It's not designed like that, as by the time you see the flowerpot, it's already flown past your man. However, as with every single game on the disc you can actually play it entirely by ear.
In a few of them it's easier if you don't look, in fact, and on one - a dancing prawn game with a syncopated 1-2-3, 3-2-1 beat - we found we could only complete it if we looked away from the screen. Watching the visuals messes that one right up for us, every single time.
Back to the karate man then. He has a new piece of rock music, of course, and a new move in which he does a frantic attack that ends with an uppercut. Hold A and B to start the move, then release the buttons on the beat to finish.
That's all there is to it, but because of the hold-release move it's a bit trickier to master than its GBA counterpart. If you're anything like us you'll probably get on really well with some parts of Rhythm Heaven while struggling with others - we finished the karate man game on his first go but he couldn't manage the monkeyslapping wrist-watch one at all. For me, Kittsy, it was the other way around.
The new two-player mode is a welcome addition. You play simultaneously, with the spotlight moving occasionally from one player to the other to indicate a spot of solo rhythm action. In the monkey tambourine game (illustrated over on the left) player one sometimes gets half a bar of beats to play and player two follows with the rest.
The two-player versions of the tracks are all really well done. Unfortunately there's only eight of them. That's a poor return, considering there are 28 minigames2 on the main menu (plus a bunch of remixes and some alternate versions that unlock after you've got through the seventh set of themed challenges).
Like the DS instalment, Rhythm Heaven for Wii has four games per set - the GBA original had five. That means less variety in the showpiece end-of-set remixes, but Nintendo have at least gone to the trouble of completely redoing the graphics for these bits.