Rhythm based games bring a different feel to them that I can’t help but enjoy, at least most of the time. Feeling the need to bounce my head or tap my toe to the music never wavers as I play along. Yet, none of these games I can recall playing involved fighting it out with enemies to save the world. I also don’t recall feeling so addicted to the game I couldn’t put it down, outside of the Guitar Hero craze. That is until I began playing Rhythm Fighter for the Nintendo Switch. While the game feels far from perfect, it created an itch that I couldn’t help but scratch. I also found myself saying to my wife, “I’ll stop playing after this one run,” which turned into several more.
Rhythm Fighter is a rhythm based, roguelike, action game developed by Echo Games and published by Coconut Island Games. It released for the Nintendo Switch on January 14. While the game previously released for Steam in May 2020, console players finally got a chance to see what the groove and the fuzz is all about.
If you play games for the story, you might want to look away here because Rhythm Fighter is pretty light on one. The game takes place on planet Beatara inhabited by walking, talking animals living a peaceful life in harmony with vegetables. One day, the big baddie Commander Chaos uses an energy beam to turn all of the vegetables evil and begin attacking and wrecking havoc all over the world. To help save the planet, a mysterious man named Mr. Disco appears and gives one of the creatures a mystical power known as Beat Energy. This energy gives the player the ability to fight back. We then set out to rid the planet of the evil vegetables and reclaim a peaceful time for Beatara.
As you can see, the story doesn’t make much sense and it all unfolds in the first minute of the game. It never really goes back to the story following this comic book showing. I personally would have loved to see where the story goes and get dialogue between the fighter and the stage’s boss. Like who is Mr. Disco and Commander Chaos? Where did they come from exactly? Why are the plants hell bent on beating up the animals? All-in-all though, it doesn’t have to. Rhythm Fighter plays and excels off its addicting gameplay and progression system that you’ll rarely think about the story again, or at least that’s how it was for me.
The best part of Rhythm Fighter centers around the gameplay. Developer Echo Games forces the player to use the music to control the fighter. To move, roll, and attack, players must stay in beat with the game’s music. The game helps players know when to input their action by using a highlighted rectangle at the feet of the fighter. Two lines spread away from the fighter and hitting the action button once it reaches the edge gives the player a perfect rating. Continuously doing so while fighting boosts the players attack power by putting them in fever mode.
While simple in concept, this can actually be a little difficult to do when you first start playing. I constantly found myself only getting “ok” and had to take time when the enemies weren’t around to regain my feel for the beat. This also means taking unnecessary damage or outright whiffing attacks as you play. The feel for the beat can also change depending on the monitor the player uses or in handheld mode. To remedy this, the developers included a delay correction in the settings. I personally couldn’t figure out how to best utilize this for my own setup, but it’s a nice feature for those that may have a more significant delay.
Tackling the Maze
For those new to the genre, rouglike games means players will experience random level paths, bosses, and items each time they play. Rhythm Fighter utilizes this by placing each level’s boss in a different area on the map. You can see where they are located by pressing the plus button on the controller, but how to get to them is hidden. So you will journey along various paths in an effort to go toe-to-toe with the level’s boss. The game entices you to search every nook and cranny to get more gold or items to strengthen you on your run, but don’t be fooled. Each level challenges the player to find and defeat the boss in a set time. If you do, a secret path opens up giving the player a chance for powerful weapons and skills to make future battles easier. I’d recommend doing this before scouting the map or else you may regret it.
Speed running the bosses isn’t the only way to uncover the secrets of the levels. Some item drops will reveal a riddle that players can solve to unlock an additional secret area. For example, this may include finding a path that requires you to jump three times and attack three times. The riddles are typically pretty straightforward, but some will require additional thought. I urge you to never pick up these riddles though. Despite it looking like you will carry the riddle to read later, it actually disappears. I cannot count the number of times I kicked myself clicking away to the game’s beat and accidentally grabbed the riddle before reading it. These paths are not necessary to claim victory, but they sure can help.
Echo Games gives you two different control styles for your fighter. You can use standard mode which uses the left controls to determine which way your fighter faces and the right controls to do the actions. You also have advanced mode which uses the left buttons to move and attack to the left and the right buttons to move and attack right. When you make the decision, the game makes you confirm it and says you can change this in the settings at anytime. However as of this writing, you can’t. I began my play in standard mode and soon found I wanted to test out advanced after I kept messing up my moves. Yet when you go into settings to change it, the option cannot be found. I spent a great deal of time looking in random menus to make sure I didn’t overlook it and I didn’t. I’m not sure if this was caused due to porting the game from PC, but I hope the developers remedy the problem in an update.
While items and level progression start over after each playthrough, players can impact each progressive run. Players collect beats in each playthrough that get brought back to the main level. It is there where players spend them on various things for a better chance at winning in a future run. These can be spent on passive skills like the ability to revive after a death, items to bring along on the next playthrough, or increasing the stats of fighters. The game features six fighters ranging from a DJ bunny to a secret agent dog. To unlock them, players will need to accomplish achievements and collect trophies. Claiming the trophies unlocks other perks too like access to some features in the main screen as well as additional beats to spend.
Each of the unlocked fighters brings a different playstyle and can be leveled up five times. Leveling up impacts starting health and damage. While at first I didn’t think this would be needed, I found it a necessity. The later stages bring enemies with more health and can derail a run completely. So at first, you need to balance upgrading the fighters and taking advantage of the passive skills with the beats. The more you play though, you eventually will have more than enough beats to claim everything. That doesn’t mean the game becomes easy. As of this review, I’ve yet to beat the final stage’s boss. This may turn some players away, but this level of challenge continues to bring me back.
Being a rhythm based game, it wouldn’t be captivating without the right music to fight to. Let me assure you, this game has it. Each song may feel the same, but I appreciated the little changes to match the stage’s setting. For example, the desert stage feels like something you’d find out of an Egyptian movie as you battle against the cactus boss. Compare that to the Chineselike stage and you hear additional instruments like the gupin and xiao added. This attention to detail sets each setting apart and shows the developers knew it wouldn’t do to copy each track over. The music also adjusts depending on what the player is doing. Boss battles will see either a change in music or a sped up version, so the player must keep their eyes to the battle and ears to the music. I applaud the effort given to the music and felt myself either humming or bouncing my head to the beat long after I stopped playing.
I didn’t expect to enjoy Rhythm Fighter as much as I did. Despite a growing backlog of AAA titles, I find myself wanting to keep returning to the game knowing this time I could beat the boss. While the game is far from perfect, Rhythm Fighter features an addicting gameplay and progression system that sees you saying “just one more run.” With great art style, wacky characters and addicting music, this is a Nintendo Switch title you don’t want to miss.