Rhythm Fighter is a bit of a hybrid of a few genres. Part 2D side-scrolling beat ‘em up, part roguelike, and lastly, maybe most surprisingly, part rhythm game. It’s certainly a bold mix of genres that go together better than expected, aiming for an engaging gameplay experience as you battle your way to the final boss: Commander Chaos.
Rhythm Fighter’s plot is pretty high concept but largely irrelevant. The story is merely a vehicle for the main draw of the game, the gameplay. The story, quite simply, is that the vegetables of the world have taken over in an uprising, in what can only be described as every 6 year old’s darkest nightmares coming true. It’s all angry carrots and rage-fueled aubergines. After this, you will never look at a swede the same again.
Initially, you only start with one character, DJ Daxx, but as you progress through the game and complete different challenges you unlock the rest of the cast. The new characters can be found and unlocked in the hub area. This is also where you upgrade any characters and keep an eye on your progress.
The hub area is where you return after each failed run. Like most roguelikes, once you die you return to the beginning, losing any items you had. Then you set yourself up to go again on your quest to beat veggies once and for all. Each of the new characters has its own stats and abilities, on top of anything you pick up along your travels, allowing for a good amount of variation. There are plenty of things you can use as a weapon, ranging from the more traditional things like swords and guns, while also featuring some more abstract choices like a big fish.
Unfortunately, something that really holds Rhythm Fighter back is just how messy and busy the screen is whilst you are playing the game. Naturally, it’s quite loud due to the style of game it is, but there is just a lot happening, all at once, on the screen. The hud is very large and not nice to look at, the actual game itself is very busy and chaotic, and the screen edges flash blue in time with the music. All of this makes looking at the screen jarring and, at times, overwhelming. This is a very good example of less is more; it needs stripping back and simplifying in order to improve upon the experience. It’s certainly not the end of the world, merely an issue of quality but it is a shame.
What makes Rhythm Fighters unique and really stand out, when compared to other games in the genre, is the rhythm. As you move across the screen there is a constant beat playing and your goal is to move in time with the music. Attacking an enemy will always deal damage, but if you are in time with the music you can deal maximum damage on your opponents. Successfully timing your hits is incredibly satisfying, as it’s not easy to pull off, but it’s necessary in order to progress through the game. Being good at the game relies on a lot more than just mashing the attack button and hoping for the best. You are heavily rewarded for staying in line with the music and it is the difference between this game being a rewarding challenge and a painful slog. It’s only now that I have really realised just how poor my rhythm is, as I essentially dad-danced my way through this game.
Rhythm Fighter is an interesting take on the genre, attempting something that feels unique, especially from a gameplay perspective. However it doesn’t quite stick the landing. There is plenty to do, things to unlock, and a good amount of variety on your runs, yet for some reason Rhythm FIghter never feels as engaging as other games in the genre. All too quickly it grows repetitive, showing that there is a fine line between an addictive gameplay loop and a monotonous one.