Rhythm Fighter is a 2D rhythm-based roguelike developed by Echo Games and published by Coconut Island Games. In a world where countless animal species live in peace, an evil force has turned all vegetables sentient and only a few heroes, with the help of Dr. Disco can save the day.
At least, I think that was the plot. Right from the moment you boot up Rhythm Fighter the cutscenes and text boxes start flashing by far too quickly to read or comprehend completely. Fortunately, the game drops you straight into a demo to help acclimate you to the non-intuitive controls. The game adds a rhythm element to what would otherwise be a fairly standard beat ’em up. If you move or attack on-beat with the music playing, or the pulsing metronome beneath your feet or at the bottom of the screen, you rack of more damage. Missing your beat too often results in stalling out.
It’s easy to stay on beat when only faced with one enemy or so at a time. But as soon as different enemies with ranged or moving attacks come into play and you get surrounded, staying on beat becomes very difficult. It’s not unfairly difficult. If you can learn the enemy’s patterns, dodge around them to line them up in a tactical order, and keep calm and stay on beat, you can win fights unscathed. It’s just very difficult.
By default, the standard controls require you to press left or right to face the direction you want to move or attack and a single trigger to move or roll and the A, B, X, and Y buttons to attack. You can also use the so-called advanced controls, which I slightly preferred, where instead of turning to the left or right you use buttons on either side of the Switch controller to do mirrored actions in either direction.
Neither control scheme really felt intuitive. Having to turn around with the standard controls meant feeling like I was missing a beat for no reason to do so. But using the mirroring advanced controls had me constantly confused about which button was to move and which was to attack. The movement is tied to the triggers, which is totally counter-intuitive to my expectation that a trigger would attack and the A button would be to move. Maybe this is my own lack of coordination simply making the game harder, but you cannot remap the controls on the Switch, so I am left unable to determine if I would be more skilled with different controls that fit my intuition.
Despite the steep learning curve of Rhythm Fighter, it’s a neat remix of a tried and true formula. Death is inevitable as you begin with a single character, weak stats, and hope you find enough strong items, health drops, and powerups to fight through waves of enemies and hazards. Your objective is to clear the game’s increasingly difficult five randomly ordered stages, but until you unlock more characters and upgrade them, you won’t be getting too far at once. All of the game’s elements are typical fare for a roguelike.
I particularly appreciate the progression system. It’s tied to in-game achievements, which include tasks like clearing levels, killing a certain number of each enemy type, and other mostly simple tasks with a few grinds thrown in. I appreciate it because they’re mostly simple tasks that you can accomplish just by playing enough. So you’ll always have the opportunity to progress even if you don’t fair all that well. The other type of progression comes from collecting certain currency and spending it to upgrade your characters. You also collect this naturally, but you collect more the better you do, so it adds a more complicated and challenging layer to progression as well.
Another complaint I have to lodge is that all of the music sounds basically the same. Fortunately, it’s a solid beat that keeps you engaged and doesn’t get too complicated that it throws off your rhythm but isn’t so simple as to kept boring too quickly. I do wish though that it would mix up both sonically and in tempo. It’s stuck at a perpetual 130 BPM: not too fast but not too slow. There are certain enemies that force you to mash the attack button or go up against a separate rhythm to deflect projectiles. These help break things up in combat while also giving you some needed respite from the other enemies around you. But changes to the tempo for different rooms would help keep things fresh as you go along.
The art direction for Rhythm Fighter is strong. It’s a simple art style, but quite visually appealing. Its simple tyle fits the world and has endearing characters. I’m not a huge fan of making food the enemy, it gives me “vegetables are icky” vibes and I love veggies too much for that. But the playable characters are all endearing and make you want to keep playing to unlock more of them. Each character also comes with unique stats, powers, and buffs to encourage you to try them all. The stages are very stereotypical depictions of various world cultures. But they are enjoyable enough to look at at least.
While I have been rather harsh on many aspects of Rhythm Fighter, overall, I enjoy the game thoroughly and recommend it to enjoyers of rhythm games and roguelikes alike. It’s a creative blending of the game types that isn’t overly complicated in its mechanics despite a steep learning curve for its controls.
Rhythm Fighter is available now on Nintendo Switch, PC, and Mac.
While I have been rather harsh on a many aspects of Rhythm Fighter, overall, I enjoy the game thoroughly and recommend it to enjoyers of rhythm games and roguelikes alike. It’s a creative blending of the game types that isn’t overly complicated in its mechanics despite a steep learning curve for its controls.