Version tested: DS
Possibly the most important thing to tell you about Rhythm Tengoku Gold is that I adore it despite not being brilliant at it. That's a wonderful achievement for any game. Best of all, its being on the DS, and a resolutely one-player, on your own, hidden from embarrassment sort of thing, you don't have to be not-brilliant at it in front of anyone else. You can keep Guitar Hero, Rock Band, and whatever else, because I've got my onion flipping, ghost rock band playing, robot filling, iguana wooing, Easter Island burping, pencil sketch singing festival of gibberish, and I'm delighted with it.
You may remember the original Rhythm Tengoku on the GBA, although don't feel bad if you don't. It was pretty obscure, available only by import from Japan, and defiantly in Japanese. But it was a rare joy. It reached its sliver of Western notoriety thanks to coming from the same team within Nintendo responsible for Wario Ware. And that's a reason to take notice. Like its predecessor, the DS sequel is a collection of mini-games all based around maintaining rhythm in the most absurd circumstances. While the GBA required nothing more than pressing A, the DS version combines tapping on the screen, holding the stylus down, or sweeping the stylus in a quick upward glide. So, still reasonably simple.
Each game consists of two stages: the tutorial, and the challenge. The tutorial teaches you exactly what you're meant to be doing in this game, but of course this is in Japanese, so here we have a period of trial-and-error, attempting to fathom what's needed. There's an English version coming, and part of me wonders if some of the fun will be missing when it's written there for me straight away. And then another, more intelligent part of me slaps the first part and points out how frustrating it is, as you yell bemused at the screen, "I DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU WANT FROM ME!"
Get what it's asking of you correct twice in a row, and you'll move onto the next lesson, until you're ready for the challenge proper. This is all about application, where things are inevitably faster and more involved, and the game throws in new twists based on what you've learned. Do okay, and you'll progress. Do well and you'll feel proud and progress. Do poorly and you'll have to try again.
As you complete a challenge, the next in the ladder appears. Complete all four in a ladder, and you unlock the "Remix", which is a lunatic combination of the previous four set to a new tune. Complete this, and the next ladder opens up. All fairly streamlined and obvious. But that's all that's obvious here.
This time the DS is held in the sideways book form. The logic for this appears to be that you need extra room to swoosh upward. It's arguable, and it certainly works neatly to have what you're mimicking to be alongside the touch screen, rather than above it. But for those with irrational phobia of the rotated DS, well, you've been warned.
So about these mini-games... well, they're often magical. They're magical because there's no way in a million years you'd guess what combination of things would appear. You click on a new level with the emblem of a microphone. Maybe something to do with singing? Close. It's clapping a monkey in rhythm with a crowd of other monkeys at a pop concert. A man wearing a gardening hat? It's almost gardening. It's plucking onions from the ground and then lobbing them into your backpack, while flinging gophers out the way. A picture of some storks wearing hats? Clearly they're in the army, under the wrathful glare of a drill sergeant duck.