You should see the look on my girlfriend's face. My much better half doesn't typically hold me in particularly high regard, but tonight she is being especially disrespectful. I'm a man, and I shouldn't be made to feel like a video game invalid simply because I need help beating this stupid level.
Let's ignore the fact that, in the past, I may have treated her like a child when she couldn't outrun Shadow Mario or make a tough jump over a bottomless chasm. It's hard for me, imbued with chivalry as I am, to watch a female struggle. Evolution designed me to yank the controller from her hand and beat these problem spots for her.
Really, when you look at it that way, Rhythm Heaven Fever is an affront to nature. How dare this abomination put me in a situation where I need to ask Stephanie for help. It doesn't have to be this way, but this series does something bizarre; it expects players to be good at something beyond hand-eye cordination.
Have you ever heard the phrase "white men can't dance"? Well, I have another one for you: “Jeff Grubb can't tambourine with monkeys.” Allow me to explain.
Rhythm Heaven Fever is the Wii sequel to Rhythm Heaven for the Nintendo DS. It's a series of goofball situations, like a pair of simian pals helping a fella out with his golf swing, set to some very catchy music. Success only comes from precisely tapping the A button, or occasionally the A and B buttons simultaneously, to the correct beat.
Early on, the challenge is realizing that, despite the entertaining nature of the visuals, they won’t provide any reliable cue on when to correctly press the button. Instead, it’s best to set your foot tapping to the most readily apparent percussion instrument while counting “one and two and…” to yourself. The audio is so important that players can perform most songs literally with their eyes closed. Perhaps, for some levels, wearing a blindfold would even be a good idea as the graphics can be a disorienting distraction when viewed against the audio.
The toe-tapping method was working really well for me. Unfortunately, I met the monkey with a tambourine.
The deceptively difficult song, titled simply “Tambourine,” is set up like a game of Simon Says. The rhythmically adroit primate pounds out a beat on his handheld instrument, and the player must repeat the pattern exactly.
I can’t do it. Up until this point, all that the levels required were that I play the part of a slightly intelligent metronome. Some of the easiest levels just had me filling in a missing note in a string. That I can do. I wish all the levels were like that. This? I can’t see how I’ll ever be able to do this.
Stephanie walks into the room. She probably heard me calling the designer of this level a piece of poop. The original Rhythm Heaven is one of her all-time favorites, but she hasn’t had a chance to touch this version yet. She looks over at the Wiimote, “Can I try?”
Of course she beats it on her first try. The damned monkey even gave her the medal for doing the level nearly perfectly.
In a flash, I’m reminded of the last wedding we went to and how her dancing looked so effortless and natural. Meanwhile, I strained to hear the appropriate melody to move my hands to. I’m so bad at dancing that 90 percent of my total mental capacity goes toward deciding what to do with my arms. To keep some semblance of order in my jerkings and twitchings, I relied on an old standby, counting “one and two and…” in my head.
And then it’s obvious. The developers designed a game for people who already have rhythm and are just looking for an outlet. The rest of us can clumsily tap our feet through most of the songs, occasionally having a great time, and feeling like an idiot during other times. The hardest levels will remain the exclusive playground of people who can keep time and chew bubble gum simultaneously.
Which brings me back to that smug face staring at me as I struggle with a watch made out of monkeys (don’t ask). “Just let me do it,” she says with no concern for my feelings. I wish I could tell her that I don’t need her help. But instead, I hand over the controller in silence.