Rhythm Zone was released during 2010′s forgettable summer, the crappy time where developers unload their weaker games because they know we have nothing else to buy. No surprise, Rhythm Zone was met with tepid reviews – it just didn’t work that well. Rhythm Zone’s one-up over Guitar Hero and Rock Band was that players could play their own songs instead of the trickle of releases from the small lineup of artists that the bigger titles showcased. Rhythm Zone certainly did allow you to import your own music from your collection, but most players complained that the actual gameplay didn’t match up. While it analyzed songs and made an effort to sync up the tap-along gameplay to the beat of the selected song, Rhythm Zone missed more often than it successfully pulled the trick off.
I learned all of this from the smattering of reviews across the Internet that I’ve read recently. I was asked to give Rhythm Zone a shot by a representative of their company just a few weeks ago and I found it really curious that I was being asked to review a game that came out almost half a year ago. That’s an uncommon request in this business. After my research, I assumed the developers had fixed substantial portions of the game and wanted to get some fresh critics to give it a second look (6 patches released since release!). If it worked, the idea of playing my own music was too awesome to pass up. No longer would I be shackled to the one or two songs featured in Rock Band from my favorite bands!
But, my dreams were quickly shattered. Rhythm Zone still doesn’t work very well, despite the updates. Playing just like the music games I’ve already referenced, but with four notes instead of the customary five, Rhythm Zone is as awkward as a twelve-year-old boy at a middle school dance. On occasion the game will get in the groove of the song, maybe 30% of the time, but for the most part, it just kind of flails around. Notes are rarely in sync with the music and the real challenge becomes one where you try to block out the song so you can focus on hitting the orbs scrolling your way. Really, I did better when I turned my headphones off.
It gets slightly more accurate if you ramp up the difficultly, but I couldn’t conclusively determine if the additional notes that are added on hard and expert difficulties really line up with the music or if more were bound to accidentally line up with the beat. But this is a double-edged sword – with the higher difficultly level, players naturally need something to follow to help deal with the onslaught of notes, and since you can’t rely on the beat of the music to match up, the game seems even more difficult. To do well, you really just have to put yourself in the mindset that you’re playing a twitch game that requires you to quickly respond ala Wario Ware while you happen to be listening to your favorite music. And that’s obviously not too good.
I tried Rhythm Zone with a variety of music from my library and had mixed results. It couldn’t make heads or tails of a complicated Modest Mouse song that I tasked it with, though it did a little better with an Eminem song with a steady beat. Britney Spears fared best, but Rhythm Zone lost its stride about halfway through “If U Seek Amy” and never got it back. The game seems to lack an ability to form patterns, even in songs that have very steady and consistent beats. Notes just seem to be thrown out there haphazardly, never following any discernible trend over the course of the track. The game does include some tracks that actually sync up, but that’s not really the game’s selling point. I also found it odd that you have to download each included song the first time you play it. It’s a fast enough download, but why aren’t they included in the initial install so I can hop right in without having to wait an extra 20 or so seconds?
But what’s really most striking to me is that all of these complaints are in the other reviews. Head over to IGN or GameSpot and I’m saying the same things that their reviewers said six months ago. Sonic Boom, the developers of the game, have had a long time to make some improvements to the game before it fell into my lap and it doesn’t appear that they have. GameSpot’s Kevin VanOrd pointed out in July that there’s no playlist support – there still isn’t. IGN’s Ryan Clements complained that the game didn’t accurately generate notes – it still doesn’t. Sonic Boom seems to have added more songs since Clements’ review, but the game’s tagline is “Game Your Music” – no one is playing this game for the included songs. These are legitimate issues that should be addressed and haven’t been. Rhythm Zone was released as an inconsistent product that didn’t do what it advertised. Rhythm Zone isn’t listening to the music.