Version tested: DS
It's easy to forget in these days of plastic Les Pauls, colour-coded drum kits, flashing dance mats and wireless microphones, but the very first music game had little to do with pretending to be a rock star. Instead, you tapped buttons in time with some Sesame Street hip-hop, in order to make an awesome, beanie-wearing dog rap his paper-thin heart out. And, if you performed well enough, you'd get the girl who, in this case, happened to be a sunflower. It was imaginative, leftfield, cute, weird and beautiful: everything that videogames should aspire to be. And yet, PaRappa the Rapper's wildly creative approach to interactive music has almost no legacy in contemporary videogames.
Rhythm Paradise is a game that appropriates the spirit of PaRappa, if not his format or musical style. Here you'll find yourself shaking the guiro-shaped tail of a female lizard in time with the roll of a rumba in order to attract a mate. You'll assume the role of a Russian military stork, triumphantly flicking your beak into the air on the command of your feathery captain. You'll croon a stream of a capella notes in a young male voice trio, echo the lines of a J-Pop star as a besotted fanboy monkey, and stomp the ground as a hook-backed farmer harvesting turnips.
What you won't be doing is pretending you're Kurt Cobain, Slash or Lars Ulrich. At least, you can pretend you're Kurt Cobain, Slash or Lars Ulrich, but only in the unlikely scenario that they've secured a job in a factory assembling kickass robots in time to the clunk of machinery, or as fighter pilots shooting down spaceships with hot lasers to a chiptune drumbeat.
It'd be lazy to describe Rhythm Paradise as a musical WarioWare, but it'd also be exactly true. The 40 mini-games (50, if you include the remixes) are longer than those the developer created for WarioWare, but each one takes a similar approach, squeezing gameplay challenges from the unlikeliest of everyday situations. The physical interactions in each mini-game are constant: you either tap or hold the stylus down on the screen or, alternatively, slide or flick it in an upwards motion. This limited palette of interactions is spun out into a hundred different creative applications, the actions always mimicking the on-screen visuals.
For example, in the farmer's mini-game, you tap the stylus in time with the beat to stomp the ground and cause vegetables to fly up from the soil. Then, on the immediate offbeat, you must flick the stylus upwards to knock each turnip into the basket on his back. The placement of the turnips in the ground acts as a sort of abstracted set of notes on a musical stave, the challenge then shifting from the on beat to the off beat and back again to build up the level.
Of course, in WarioWare the visuals were the primary signifier to the player; very often you'd have to time inputs based on what was happening on-screen. But in Rhythm Paradise, the visual cues are secondary to the audio cues. Success and failure in the game is very much based on timing, but it's a timing measured in beats, bars and phrases, rather than through reacting to on-screen prompts. For that reason, the visuals, however delightful they may be, can be a barrier to success.