Nintendo never brought Rhythm Tengoku, the superb Game Boy Advance predecessor to Rhythm Heaven, to the U.S. But they did let Sega bring it to Japanese arcades. I played it in Tokyo on Tuesday. McWhertor filmed the action.
Rhythm Tengoku Arcade, which was introduced to Japanese arcades a couple of years ago, appears to include the same roster of musical mini-games as the original GBA edition. I had played through that GBA version a couple of years ago, so I was able to easily get through several sections of the arcade game on just 100 yen.
After I plunked in a coin, the game allowed me to choose one of several groups of mini-games and then try to clear each of the mini-games in my chosen group. I believe that clearing all mini-games in the group would let me play a mix that combines all of them — that's what capped off each group of mini-games on the GBA. But I didn't have time to play through all of the mini-games.
The controls in the arcade edition involve banging on giant versions of the GBA's d-pad and action buttons. Nothing special there. The arcade machine supports two-player, which the GBA one did not. We weren't able to try that mode.
The mini-games in Rhythm Tengoku, like those of the 2009 DS game Rhythm Heaven, are not complex. They are barely more involved than the micro-games in the WarioWare series, a series whose developers also made Tengoku. The Rhythm Tengoku games may even be simpler than the stylus-driven ones of the DS Rhythm Heaven. Most of the Tengoku ones require the player to simply tap a single button to the rhythm of both the game's music and the animations of actions on the screen.
On the video you'll see me try the onion beard-plucking rhythm game and a disco hand-clapping one. After we finished shooting the video, I also played a baseball mini-game, which involves hitting home runs into outer space. As I walked away, our Brian Ashcraft took over, testing the karate-man-punches-rocks one.
The machine was fun, but my experience was no different than it was on the GBA. The controller and graphics were simply bigger, not necessarily better. Maybe the game couldn't be improved by this arcade port, because the GBA release was top-flight, succeeding not with fancy graphics but with simple, stylish looks and a catchy conneciton of player to action via the rhythm of the soundtrack.
The GBA Tengoku is still worth checking out, if you can find it in Japan or through an importer. For the arcade game, come to the Sega arcade in Tokyo's Shibuya district.