Wow Rhythm Fighter makes my brain hurt. It’s the controls: it’s like learning to type on a different language keyboard. There’s an easy option but it puts you at a disadvantage overall and you can feel the game frown at you for choosing it.
I’m getting ahead of myself. Rhythm Fighter is a side-scrolling beat-’em-up where you have to do everything in time to bopping music. And it looks like a cartoon. And you fight giant vegetables. And you only get one life. Got it?
OK, the controls. They don’t sound difficult but let me tell you: they do not feel natural.
You can turn left and right, and move, roll and attack, but you can’t do this freely. You have to do it within the window of a beat. So if there’s an enemy on the other side of you, you have to turn to face them, then attack, then turn back the way you’re facing and then move on – each button-press as in time to the music as you can manage. Hit it perfectly and you’ll get a damage bonus, hit it OK and the result will be OK, but mess it up and your flow will be interrupted.
However, you can rid the awkward turnaround move if you opt for the advanced control scheme, and you should. It’s here where the finger-tying comes in. In this mode, you have two sets of movement keys – one for facing left and one for facing right.
You know the keys with the raised bumpy bits on? They’re J and F on my keyboard. The Rhythm Fighter keys are anchored there, which is useful because you can feel them. Incidentally, I didn’t realise these raised bits were to help you type until recently. I’m such an idiot. Then again, I did teach myself my mangled way of typing by playing MMOs so…
Anyway! On the left side, you use F, D and S to move, roll and attack, and then E and R above them for special abilities. Meanwhile on the right side, you use J, K and L with I and O for special abilities, oh and U to interact with things. Got that? No of course not.
But here are some enemies! Quick roll behind them! Don’t miss the beat! Aaaaah! It’s like riding a bike with the handlebars turned around.
But with a bit of practice you’ll get the gist of it and eventually your mind will match your fingers, leaving you freer to concentrate on things like the beat and power-ups and attack patterns and even bosses, which I’m struggling with.
It’s all so charmingly awkward. It’s the kind of game I can’t wait to make someone else play so I can chuckle at their bewilderment before dazzling them with skills of my own. It’s a bit Getting Over it with Bennett Foddy, a bit Surgeon Simulator. It’s striking. It’s fun.