Tokyo Game Centre #08: Rhythm Tengoku

Rhythm Tengoku is a bit of an oddity. When I saw this arcade machine, I assumed it was the original source of the 2006 GBA version. In fact, that’s backwards. Nintendo developed the GBA game first, then Sega recoded it for arcade the following year. I was surprised that it was that way round, and just as surprised that the game’s so recent.

Rhythm Tengoku (“Rhythm Heaven”) is sort of a rhythm action game and sort of a mini game collection. However, it was released way after PaRappa, Beatmania, and DDR took rhythm games mainstream, and way after WarioWare finessed the Bishi Bashi template for mini game collections. So it didn’t exactly ride the momentum of either genre. It doesn’t really do too much that’s new either, so it strangely seems like a bit of an also-ran. That’s not really fair, though, because it’s a very well made game, and it’s not like the mini game genre is oversaturated with quality examples.

In Rhythm Tengoku, you have a series of short stages which can be played with one or two players. Each stage presents an entertainingly everyday scene, and button timings are built on the rhythms of the music for each stage. It’s funny to see all sorts of actions turned into little dances, and as the tempo ramps up, the animations becomes more and more entertaining. The arcade controls are just standard flat buttons, suitable for whacking in time with the music — or clicking calmly, I suppose, if that’s your style.

Neither the GBA version nor this cabinet made it outside Japan, and part of the charm is definitely the Japanese-ness of the game’s everyday aesthetic: you have gardening, bon-odori, baseball, karate, ghosts, moon rabbits, calligraphy, and fireworks, along with a pile of others. It’s polished and fun, and well worth playing if you find one.

Next Monday, to balance this modern, obscure, Japanese-ness, I think we’ll have an old, well-loved classic from the West.

(See all postcards from the game centre here.)




Photographer and writer covering Tokyo arcade life – the videogames, the metropolis and the people