Navigating a game in Japanese is never exactly an easy task for the uninitiated, but upon first glance Rhythm Tengoku might appear more daunting than most. You switch it on, perhaps whilst bored on a plane to France or, more likely, because someone's stolen the newspaper from the bog, and there's a nice friendly blue title screen and some lovely silly music. Then a robot samurai appears and spouts all sorts of nonsense, of which, thanks to my extensive training in Japanese (consisting entirely of Taiko Drum Master and DDR), the only words I could understand were DANCE, DRUM and something that looked disconcertingly like INADEQUATE. Following this brief monologue, the robot samurai subjects you to a sort of rhythm test - pressing A in time to a beat with varying degrees of complexity - which highlights your musical inadequacy with Kawashima-esque chilling bluntness. But not to worry. By the time you've worked your way through all 50-ish of Rhythm Tengoku's ingenious and gently insane mini-games, matters will be much improved.
It must be understood that Rhythm Tengoku belongs more in the WarioWare family than the psychedelic, high-energy, possibly stimulant-fuelled world of rhythm-action. It is much simpler and nowhere near as challenging as most modern music games, but its appeal is altogether more universal. Its rhythm-based mini-games work in a ladder system - complete the five little challenges in each ladder and you unlock a remix, which is a combination of all of them with a new musical twist. Completing remixes unlocks new ladders of games, which offer either new, more difficult twists on earlier mini-games or new rhythm concepts. None of them require anything more than timed button-presses from the player, and all of them, from the clap-along singing to bunny-marching to the extra-terrestrial baseball, are wonderfully bonkers.
We're not talking boring, hackneyed, wow-look-how-Japanese-this-is bonkers, either. Rhythm Tengoku has a genuinely stimulating take on the surreal. Musically the mini-games are extremely simple - keep the beat, basically, or repeat rhythm sequences that never get too complicated - but visually they are much more engaging. Dancing with monkeys, plucking hairs from giant onion-faces, marching to the commands of one of the strange globe-faced bunny creatures that occasionally popped up in WarioWare - coupled with their irresistibly simple, not un-cheesy tunes, they all bring a smile to the face. The remixes are a different challenge altogether, combining the previous five games into one quick, mixed-up sequence that requires quick reactions and adaptability, but even these feel fresh throughout; often they will apply a stylistic redesign as well as a musical one, applying a seventies theme to match a disco tune or putting gleeful leaping rabbits or falling penguins against soulful sunsets for a ballad. The way that Tengoku matches visuals to music is genuinely inspired - the musical challenges themselves are tame compared to those offered by most games under the rhythm-action banner, but the visual feedback and delightful bizarreness of the whole thing is what will keep you playing.