[[image:jb_090329_rhythmheaven2.gif::right:0]]Last week I was handed a copy of Rhythm Heaven Gold by a friend who had imported it some time ago. While the game comes out stateside next week (simply as Rhythm Heaven), I had heard that playing the Japanese version required little knowledge of the language, so I decided to give it a shot. That advice was absolutely correct, and I’m currently enamored with the game. Created by the WarioWare team, Rhythm Heaven looks and plays much the same as its predecessor, but with less emphasis on lightning-quick challenges, and more emphasis on timing tasks. In fact, the entire game is about these rhythm challenges — the player keeps the beat in three different ways: holding down and releasing the stylus, tapping the screen, or flicking the screen. You may question the longevity of a game with only three possible inputs, but the varied songs and charming graphics keep things fresh. In fact, I found myself initially surprised by how into it I was. More and more, these "casual" games are what I enjoy most. So does that make me a "casual" gamer? Maybe, but not in the sense that the word has taken on recently.
It seems that lately, "casual" games have gotten a bad rap. I guess this is understandable when you look at the majority of Wii games on the shelf and you realize that they’re unplayable messes. But I think people are getting the real meaning of "casual" twisted — did Super Mario Bros. on the NES not have casual appeal? Tetris on the Game Boy? Chu Chu Rocket! on the Dreamcast? Casual games have always been with us; the difference now is that the label is being exploited by developers who either don’t know what they are doing, or are simply looking for a quick buck. We really can’t lay the blame completely on the developers though, since Nintendo — who I’m singling out because they have the defacto "casual" consoles — is letting anyone put a game on their consoles nowaday. Really, does the Nintendo Seal of Quality mean anything anymore? [Actually, all it ever meant was "license fees are paid up and all notable bugs squashed." Plus, Nintendo stopped using the seal a while back. So it means nothing at all. - Ed.]
Ultimately, I’d like to see more casual games being made (and by "casual" in this sense, I am talking arcadey, fun, pick-up-and-play creations that are actually good) that can appeal to everyone. With great outlets like the Wii and DS, Xbox Live Arcade, and the Playstation Network, the infastructure is there — we just need to see developers realize that developing a game like that is worth their time. Rhythm Heaven is a great start, and with Punch-Out!! following it up soon on Wii, it seems like the future is bright. While I’m not foregoing the hardcore experiences I still love, I find myself being drawn to these "light" experiences more and more these days. Until casual becomes the norm, I guess I’ll just have to continue to play to the beat of my own drum.