We’ve seen plenty of side-scrolling 2D brawlers, plenty of roguelites, and plenty of rhythm games, but we don’t often see the three genres blended into one kooky amalgamation. Well, that’s exactly what you get in Rhythm Fighter, the rhythm-roguelite-brawler from the team at Echo Games that sees players embarking on an adventure to smash up some mischievous monster-vegetables to the beat of a great soundtrack.
Rhythm Fighter’s tale sees the vicious Commander Chaos corrupt your home planet with his deadly Dark Beat Energy, which bizarrely turns all the vegetables of the world into malicious villains who cause havoc and try to beat the player up. What a bastard, right… I mean, how are you supposed to get your five-a-day if the vegetables you’re trying to eat want to beat you up?!
Fortunately, the heroic Dr. Disco swoops in to save the day by giving some of the planet’s cutesy animals some unique powers through the use of Light Beam Energy. This gives them a fighting chance to smash the villainous vegetables to smithereens and take down the EVIL Commander Chaos for good. If they fail? It’s a roguelite – you dust yourself off, improve your capabilities, and try again.
Rhythm Fighter’s gameplay loop revolves around beating up enemies to the beat of the music, with the player dashing through an array of 2D environments as they hit out attacks, use their abilities, and roll out of the way of incoming danger. One of the first things the game tells players to do is ‘turn up the jams’, which is probably the most important thing of all – especially since following the music is pivotal to your success. If you hit attacks perfectly in time with the beat, you’ll dish out more damage or take advantage of some of the special abilities that your gear brings with them. Miss the beat? You’ll still do damage… just not as much.
As a heads up, the game gives visuals indicators of the beat of the music too, so if you’re a little note-deaf like ME, you’ll still be able to follow the music and take advantage of it. Some people are just bad at rhythm games, ok…
Combat is simple enough, with the player utilising both melee and ranged weapons to take out enemies that are approaching them. It’s almost tile-based in a way, with the player able to hit enemies as long as they’re within reach of their weapons, but also having to move between spots if an enemy is sending a ranged attack of their own there. You’ll often see the area of effect of some attacks too, giving players the opportunity to roll out of the way. Here’s some advice: get used to rolling fast, because a well-timed roll can be the difference between success and failure in some of Rhythm Fighter’s more tougher areas.
You’ll unlock new weapons and abilities throughout each level, meaning you’ll always have a new trick up your sleeve. As mentioned, there are both melee and ranged weapons to use (that each have unique bonuses of their own), whilst the abilities can be game changers too. It might be a case of dishing out a powerful area of effect attack, unleashing a dash that can take out multiple foes, or even a boost that’ll protect you if you manage to move to the beat perfectly – there’s plenty to play with and they can get you out of some tricky spots.
You’ll head through five different environments on your way to beating up Commander Chaos, with each made up of multiple areas where you choose the path you want to take to progress. Levels are randomly generated so you’ll never have the same layout twice, though icons representing each different area do give you an idea of what’s ahead of you: it could be an area full of enemies, an area full of TOUGH enemies, a treasure chest, a shop, a wishing fountain (to spend cash to get a lucky item), or even a ‘plasma sphere’ to get a random (but powerful) weapon – either way, there’s plenty of variety to be found as you progress.
There is one consistency between the levels: they all end on a boss fight that will really push your skills to their limit. Everything you’ve learnt about both offensive and defensive manoeuvres is put to the test in these encounters, with their mish-mash of capabilities forcing you to hit as many attacks as you can whilst also making sure you stay out of reach of any incoming danger. I never really found the main levels of Rhythm Fighter all that difficult to get through thanks to the simplicity of the game, but the boss encounters always put me in my place and were the most common cause of my demise.
Given that Rhythm Fighter is a rougelite, you can probably expect to die A LOT. Whilst this means that your run comes to an end and you’ll have to start from the first level again the next time around, it also gives you a chance to unlock new characters, items, and upgrades at the main hub. There are special achievements to complete in the game that’ll unlock trophies, with those trophies then spent on a host of unlockables that’ll give you the upper hand on subsequent runs, whether it’s with a new character who suits your playstyle better, upgrades to increases your stats, or simply items to use on your next run. It ensures there’s a satisfying loop in place where failure doesn’t mean the end – it just means you’ll have a better chance of success the next time around.
Speaking of characters, Rhythm Fighter’s heroes are a quirky bunch that each have their own advantages and special abilities that are unique to them. Whilst the starting hero DJ Daxx is super cool and does more damage as he hits the beats perfectly, I found characters such as Spice Lee (who becomes stronger as he eats more) or Lookout Lynx (who gets stronger as he takes more damage) more interesting to play as. Want to know my favourite? It has to be Agent Jackal, if only because he reminds me of Big Boss from the Metal Gear Solid series…
Overall, Rhythm Fighter makes for a fun and unique experience, though it does have a few flaws here and there. For one, it can get a little repetitive, with the earlier levels of the game proving a bit too easy to get through even without any upgrades. Having to go through them time and time again as I struggled through the later levels did get a bit boring, especially since the core gameplay mechanics are pretty simple in design. Add to that some daunting difficulty spikes in the later levels that’ll see you die a lot and it can make for some frustrating moments where you’ll do a lot of the same things over and over before you get the chance to progress that bit further.
Annoyingly, the text speed moved a little fast for my liking too, making it difficult to follow the game’s narrative sequences. Of course, Rhythm Fighter isn’t exactly focusing on the story or trying to offer a narrative masterclass, but it would have been nice if the text stayed on the screen a little longer for players to read.
Besides those issues it’s hard to complain too much, with the game delivering in most areas of its design – especially with the soundtrack, which is banging and fits the anarchic vibe of the experience perfectly. It’s DEFINITELY one of those games that you’ll want to listen to through your headphones with as loud of a volume as possible, if only to totally engross yourself in Rhythm Fighter’s sick beat-matching mayhem.
Rhythm Fighter is a unique and anarchic roguelite escapade that’s both addictive and satisfying to play, even IF it can get a little repetitive in places. Thankfully, the constant unlockables you earn and rewarding sense of progress with upgrades will keep you coming back for more, whilst the fun and unique rhythm-based battling always brings with it a sense of chaos that never gets boring – especially during the tougher later levels and boss encounters.
Developer: Echo Games
Publisher: Coconut Island Games
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PC