The normal levels in the Rhythm Heaven series are good, but it's the Remix Stages that make the games great.
The Rhythm Heaven games are essentially musical mini-game collections. But unlike most music games, you aren't playing music per se. Rather you are pushing buttons in time with the beat based on the aural cues in the game's sound track — hence why it's called "Rhythm Heaven" and not "Music Heaven."
Take, for example, this level (titled "Built to Scale") from the DS version of the game where you launch a peg into the hole in the middle of two rolling blocks at the moment they line up. The piano line is your cue and it is played in different rhythms or speeds. When the scale hits its fifth note, you launch.
But as fun as each mini-game is, you'd likely forget each one as you move on to the next if it weren't for the excellently designed "Remix Stages." Every fifth stage (in all the games except the latest one, Rhythm Heaven: The Best +) acts as a boss stage of sorts. It combines the past four stages into a single song — meaning you need to not only remember the cues for the past four levels but also switch between them in an instant.
Unsurprisingly, each is a huge spike in difficulty by its very nature, and this means you often need to go back and practice a bit on the recent levels. In other words, the game gives you a good reason to replay its various levels.
The Remix Stages also occasionally set themselves apart by adding in a catchy vocal line (though some normal stages also have vocal lines).
Then, after you beat the more recent games in the series, there are additional levels (more difficult versions of earlier ones) and even a few new remixes. These Remix Stages take not just from the four previous stages but from the entire game. And as these tend to be the best songs in the game, it gives you even more reason to master the old levels so as to conquer the final few remixes.
The Remix Stages in Rhythm Heaven are examples of excellent game design. They serve as true tests of skill, promote replayability, and deliver many of the games' best musical moments.
Unfortunately the newest game, Rhythm Heaven: The Best + stumbles a bit when it comes to the Remix Stages. Perhaps as a result of having far more songs than the previous games in the series, Remix stages are much rarer. In fact, it takes 31 stages to reach your first remix level. Then, you get a remix stage every fifth song as usual until you beat the seventh remix. At that point, you once again enter a remix drought for another 13 stages before the last 15 stages — which return to the normal remix pattern.
So while it's annoying that the brilliant Rhythm Heaven pacing is disrupted in The Best +, that doesn't mean the Remixes themselves are any less excellent than usual. Now if you'll excuse me, the "bee remix" is calling to me and I need to feed my musical addiction.
Rhythm Heaven: The Best + was released for the Nintendo 3DS in Japan on June 11, 2015. There is currently no information on an international release.
Kotaku East is your slice of Asian internet culture, bringing you the latest talking points from Japan, Korea, China and beyond. Tune in every morning from 4am to 8am.