Parallax View

Casual Game: Rhythm Heaven

Parallax View

Sounds like the name of a bad 80s movie, right? This theory actually belongs to Slavoj Zizek and is mentioned in Ian Bogost’s How to do things with Videogames. According to Zizek, “The common definition of parallax is: the apparent displacement of an object (the shift of its position against a background), caused by a change in observational position that provides a new line of sight.” Zizek goes on to establish a philosophical twist on the term, but that does not apply to video games as much as it does to life.

Bogost uses the term, parallax view, to describe the experience of playing Rhythm Heaven. According to Bogost, the term represents, “a shifting perspective between two points without synthesis.” This is true, because as mentioned in an earlier post, Rhythm Heaven allows the player to experience music simultaneously as actor (characters) and instrument (DS stick). This game makes music operational through distorted abstractions with bizarre characters and strange character movements that align to a specific rhythm in a song. The character and the song may not necessarily go together, but the player must connect the character’s actions and the rhythm in order to successfully complete a level. Sometimes the distortion becomes too much and it’s easier to close your eyes and tap along to the rhythm instead.

Strangely, it isn’t always easier to play the game without the visuals. Although some can play the game without looking at the visuals, the visuals do help in cueing the player when a beat is about to drop or change.  For example, Karate Joe is typically seen hitting pots like the one below.

However, when that pot changes into a barrel, the player knows to expect a change in rhythm and prepare his or her wrist to flick the screen differently. Without this visual cue, it’s almost impossible to know what’s coming up. The visuals and the music sometimes work against each other since the player must pay attention to both simultaneously, which can be confusing! The overlap of senses – sight and sound – can sometimes be overstimulating since there is no synthesis between the two. The player must focus on both the character and the music in order to survive.

http://www.lacan.com/zizparallax.htm

A Parallax View by Slavoj Zizek

 

It’s all in the wrist!

Casual Game: Rhythm Heaven

It’s all in the wrist!

This game can be categorised under the genre rhythm action, which Ian Bogost mentions in How to do things with Videogames (Bogost32). When playing Rhythm Heaven, “you see, feel, and hear the musical patterns in a song that otherwise go unnoticed, blending into the overall flow and feel of its melody, harmonies, and rhythm,” (33). According to Bogost, “the game bears much similarity to Dance Dance Revolution or Rock Band. But Rhythm Heaven does away with the natural mappings between instruments and their rhythms, replacing the visuals and player interactions with arbitrary, often absurd fictional skins,” (34-35).

True to Bogost’s words, each level of Rhythm Heaven has it’s own story. Each level (minus the mega mixes) are completely independent from each other. Here are all of the levels laid out chronologically:

As you can see, none are the same! Each level posses a new character, a new rhythm, and a new song. Unlike Guitar HeroRhythm Heaven’s songs do not directly correlate with the characters or performance. In fact, all of the characters were imagined in order to fit the music and have little to with the actual performance of music. They each have their own plot line and their own tactics of expressing music. One level may have two scientists in love throwing flasks at each other, while another level takes the player into outer space where he or she must shoot down enemy ships in time to the music. Unlike Guitar Hero, this game allows the player to act “simultaneously as actor and as instrument,” (35). Really, it’s all in the wrist! You must know how to flick the wrist in time to the music. You must then connect that to the actions of the characters on the screen. If you figure out how to put the two together, you can conquer every level!

Another part of the game that makes it stand out is how it punishes the player for messing up. The game makes it clear when you fail to align to a specific rhythm, because it makes a distinct sound and the character that you’re playing exhibits a negative reaction.

For example, in “Lockstep” the character is noticeably out of sync with everyone else when you mess up. The character is hit by the other characters and the player hears a loud smacking sound.

Other characters make funny faces of exasperation or cringe when the player messes up. This is notable, because every level and every character’s reaction is unique.

 

The Pressure to be Perfect

Casual Game: Rhythm Heaven

The Pressure to be Perfect

Three strikes and you’re out!

Rhythm Heaven has a series of mini games where the player must match the movement of the character to whatever rhythm is in the background. Every so often, the player has a chance to go for a “Perfect” and win a medal. Winning these medals allows the player to unlock special levels and features within the game.

The little pink “P” with “Go for a Perfect!” hanging on the top left of the screen is as stressful as it is exciting. If you mess up once, then you automatically lose the session. If you mess up three times, then you lose the chance to win a perfect for that level. One you lose the chance to win a perfect for a level, you must wait until the next opportunity comes up, however, waiting feels like an eternity!

When playing for a perfect, you must put your undivided attention to the game. One little slip up, even the tiniest variation in the flick of the DS control stick, could cost you the perfect. Honestly, it’s more about pride than anything else.

I’ve never been so intensely focused on a game. It’s strange, because there is no tangible real-life outcome, there are no real-life prizes, there is only me and my pride. Still, as a perfectionist, these opportunities would simultaneously thrill me and fill me with dread! I had to get a perfect and I tried ever cheat I could just to get one, but it never worked out. You can’t turn off the game and restart a level to save up on chances, because the game automatically saves when you start a level. Trust me, I tried.

I ended up completing a bunch of perfects, but it cost a ton of time and energy. In my opinion, it was totally worth it. Seeing the “Superb!” at the end made me feel like a beast.