Rhythm Doctor – A Genuine Masterclass In Music Rhythm Design Laura Kate January 11, 2015 Features, Opinion 3 Rhythm Doctor is a free, single button, browser based music rhythm game that I stumbled onto on Itch.io earlier today. I played the first three levels of the game and found myself amazing beyond belief. This is not just a one button music rhythm game, but quite possibly the greatest example of the genre I have ever experienced. Those first three levels alone are enough to act as a masterclass on making a music rhythm game engaging, exciting and unique. So, let’s break down the game from start to first boss three levels in, and look at just what makes it so great. I highly recomend watching the Youtube videos below before reading each section, as a lot of this will make more sense if you take a look at each of these levels in motion. The Tutorial The tutorial that kicks off Rhythm Doctor is a fairly quiet, simple and uncluttered affair, focusing on setting up the game’s visual design, visual cues and audio cues in a venue clear of distractions. It’s not overly easy, it’s just acessible, clear and uncluttered. It’s a beautiful tutorial, as in around 30 seconds it teaches you the core of this one button experience, sets you up with all the design clues you’ll need going forward and makes allows the player to feel like they have truly nailed the basics of the experience. Not a wasted design element or moment of the players time. The Samurai Rhythm Doctor‘s first proper level takes the skills you were taught in the tutorial, and pumps up the speed significantly so that the player feels like they’ve taken a significant jump in skill in a very short period of time. It’s the same simple 7th beat button press you were taught in the tutorial, but just pushes the speed up nicely. The game lets you do a couple of bars of fast paced music, occasionally throwing in a faster paced bar. Once you’ve had just enough time to get that nailed down and feel confidence, the game ups the ante considerably. Woah, suddenly you’re doing an operation on a samurai flying through space at breakneck speed, with planets whizzing around you in time with the beat. It’s no more challenging in theory, but the choreographed background animations and the way they sync to the beat give this real sense of achievement, challenge and scope to what would normally be a fairly standard visually designed rhythm game level. The Lonely Lovers The second level of Rhythm Doctor comes in the form of a guitar driven, much slower track. Featuring the gentle introduction of skipped notes in the backing track that make keeping your rhythm more difficult, this starts of as a relaxed introduction to a new aspect of the game in an environment that feels calm and welcoming to explore. Oh, and then Rhythm Doctor suddenly manages to add a compelling narrative to the mechanics of a music rhythm game. The character in the first screenshot is a young boy, heartbroken over the loss of his love. Well, just so happens she wants to be treated at the same rhythm hospital as her ex, and her heartbeat runs at a different rhythm. Another doctor comes in to assist you, meaning you do not have to interact with her beat, you only have to focus on your top line, trying to ignore her rhythm going alongside it. It’s a challenge, but one introduced once you have the hang of his skipped beats mechanic. However, as you play through the track, something wonderful happens. Your two tracks slowly sync up. It may not be much, but as the two beats come into sync, something washed over me. The song had used mechanics to tell a story of heartbreak, disjointed attempts to be around each other after a break up, and the joy of patching things up and returning to the same page as someone. It’s a truly beautiful wordless narrative, all told through taps of the space bar. It’s truly wonderful to experience. The Boss While the boss battle at the end of Rhythm Doctor‘s first act may initially seem simple, it used it’s visual and audio cues in such a way that it really pushed me and my ability to focus on rhythm above all else. The level starts much like the levels before it, a standard 8 beats, requiring you to tap on the 7th of the bar. Each successful tap lowers the bosses bar, each miss lowers yours. Where things get interesting is a few bars in, the game starts to mess with you. Beats that had previously moved predictably from left to right begin to visibly and audibly stutter and corrupt, moving back and forth in an unpredictable pattern. You have to stop focusing on the left to right location of the beats and simply focus on the rhythm a bar establishes and force yourself to keep on time for that whole bar, re establishing the beat each new bar. It’s minimal, but it’s enough to throw off the comfortable patter I fell into as a player across the first few levels. I had to return to truly focusing on the rhythm. Then we entered the matrix and everything got a bit weird. We get a short moment of respite, as the game explains that a virus is infecting the level and it’s only going to get worse from her. We get a moment to breath, and we’re brought back into the boss fight’s second act. The music gets faster, audio glitches become more prevalent and at times the entire audio visual setup is replaced with static. I struggled with this level for a while, like many players, before realizing that the key was to catch the rhythm in those moments of clarity, then hold onto it above all else. I found myself rhythmically singing “one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight” aloud over and over, keeping my focus on the rhythm above all else. Things became more and more chaotic, but that solid beat remained and kept me soldiering on blindly to the end of the level. It was handled in such a way that it pushed me to really show an understanding of the core of the experience, while also feeling incredibly rewarding to complete. So, Rhythm Doctor is a really interesting rhythm action game. It’s opening act alone does an unbelievably good job of pacing, narrative, presentation and design execution. It’s an unbelievable solid experience, and it’s free. I really recommend playing it, particularly if you ever intend to design anything in the genre. It’s an amazing game, it really is. Stormbringer The presentation of this game is masterclass and I’m not quoting the headline here, because I came back 3 days later to try and that’s just the word that you come away with / end with when digging around your head looking for a descriptor. That said, I couldn’t really figure out what the game is wanting the player to do. I scored B rank up until the “boss fight” where it became clear that I really didn’t understand the mechanic of the game. Is it always the 7th beat you are trying to hit? Are you supposed to actually count them if so? Because 7 is about the highest number memory tests show people are able to retain in short term memory. I feel like if its goal is to teach people to keep to a beat, like a metronome in music class, then it feels like a good fit for that, even though the way the state of the game is communicated (like a heart monitor) seems like it could be made more clear, perhaps by making it larger/more visible. But it’s clear that you are not simply keeping to the beat by the 3rd stage, so I’m not sure what the game wants, and it doesn’t effectively communicate that (also don’t understand what the second character, the girl in the dress, on stage 2 was about, or doing, and if she only appears if you are under performing.) But everything around the actual game mechanic, the presentation, the writing, the artwork, the music, and the timing is as good as any game out there, like Parappa level presentation. So hats off to the designers, especially if they are not industry old timers from back in the day. Doughnut_Slayer Hey, I saw your comment and thought I might be able to answer some of the questions you asked. In the third stage you actually still are trying to keep to the beat and even though the music and the visual cues start messing with you, you can ace the level by just sticking to the same rhythm. If you focus you’ll be able to hear a constant beat, that just keeps going no matter what other nonsense is going on. So even while the visual heartbeat and the music are stuttering, the beat you have to focus on continues normally. The girl in stage two just appears as part of the stage at a certain point and is not triggered by your performance or anything. Laura described her role in the narrative accurately, but her role in the gameplay is simply to try throwing you off by adding a second beat that doesn’t correspond to your button presses. I hope this answered your questions and you may even return to the game to beat that boss. 😉 Stormbringer Thanks. By paying extra attention to this review I was able to figure most of this out. But my goal was to supplement the information here by showing how the game is really too obtuse for its own good and how that is ultimately a shame because it’s going to turn people away rather than getting them engrossed in what amounts to a trial and error rhythm game, which is a genre that I would’ve thought didn’t/couldn’t exist, because trial-and-error is the antithesis of rhythm. Trial-and-error in general is not good for games, or doctors! I would go back and try to get further but the difficulty ramps up so much so fast I think it will be a waste of sweet, sweet, precious time. Which is probably good, because if you are not hooked by stage 3 it’s probably not for you.