Monday, August 11, 2014

Catching the Rhythm

This is gonna be a quick update, just to let you know what's been rolling around in my head as of late.

I hate your guts, mandrill.
(Image from Wait, really?
They're still a thing?)
Some time ago, I picked up a clearance-priced copy of Rhythm Heaven Fever from a local K-Mart. I heard great things about the game, often described as Wario Ware's musically-inclined cousin, but to be honest, I wasn't that thrilled with Rhythm Heaven Fever the first time I played it. In addition to the gameplay being astonishingly simple (you press A and B on the Wii remote. Sometimes you push them together. That's it), the timing in the musical mini-games seemed off. Try as I might, I could never hit the golf balls tossed by the mandrill in the first stage, and the robots I manufactured in the second weren't fit to build Yugos. (It was a car from a third-world country on the verge of collapse. Look it up.)

It turns out that it wasn't just my questionable skills that were to blame for my lousy performance. Rhythm Heaven Fever doesn't always sync up well with high-definition televisions, throwing off the timing and making it more difficult to play. So I popped the game into my Wii U, connected to another high-def television through an HDMI cable, and lo and behold, the experience improved dramatically. I was building robots like a champ, and my shins were (mostly) unbruised by the mandrill's sneaky underhanded throws.

Still, something was not quite right. Squeezing small buttons on the Wiimote didn't seem like the best way to play a game like this... not that Nintendo offered any other options. Rhythm Heaven Fever is designed solely for the Wiimote, without support for any other controllers or peripherals. If you wanted to play the game with, say, the Donkey Konga drums or even the classic controller that plugs into the bottom of the stock Wii controller, you were out of luck. It was a wasted opportunity on Nintendo's part, especially when you consider that the arcade version of Rhythm Heaven had great big lit buttons, perfect for smashing along to the beat.

It couldn't aim for crap, but at least
it was good for something!
So I said to myself, "Self, wouldn't it be great if you built your own controller for this game out of spare parts?" And myself said, "I don't have any spare parts!" And I said back, "Sure you do! Don't you remember that crappy light gun you bought for the Wii during your brief obsession with Dead Space: Extraction? Why don't you try that?" And myself shrugged and said, "Sure, it wasn't like I was doing anything with it." So after pulling myself together, I dug the gun out of the closet, took it apart, and broke out the trusty soldering iron for a little... elective surgery. (cue maniacal laughter)

It was an easy job... I just needed to solder a wire on the solder points for each of the buttons, four in total. After that, I soldered on some small buttons for testing purposes. The results weren't ideal- I didn't have anything to mount the buttons on, so I had to hold each one awkwardly between my thumb and forefinger- but it did indeed work, opening the door for a sweet (if superfluous) mod. Now all I need are two big buttons and a wooden enclosure to mount them on and I'll be in business!

"I'm a big button, and I need a big cereal!"
(Image from Karlsson Robotics)
However, I'll need to work out the logistics first. Those big buttons mentioned earlier are expensive, generally selling for ten dollars on internet retailers like Adafruit and Karlsson Robotics. The latter site offers cheaper buttons for six clams, but they come with defects like weak springs, and nobody wants their buttons to give out in the middle of an intense jamming session. Next, the wooden enclosure would have to be weighted down to keep it steady while I'm pounding away on the buttons. Finally, I'd have to find some place for the gun itself. I could mount that on top of the wooden box, but it would likely get in the way. It would make a lot more sense to set it on the side and use a connector to plug it into the box, so I could take them apart for later storage.

It's a lot of work for a game I can't imagine playing for more than a week tops. Still, I've put more effort into stranger things. We'll see where this goes.


  1. I'm so sorry I missed this post until today. Where have I been? Anyway, I'm kind of glad to see you're not quite done with this product. I'm guessing we can expect some sort of update in the future?

    Also, I'm kind of sad to hear Rhythm Heaven Fever has yet to click with you. I mean, it's my least favorite of the three RH/RT games that have been released, but I still like it quite a bit. I've heard others say it didn't click for them either, though, so I guess you're far from alone in that regard...

    1. Well, having the right controller will help a lot, I suspect. I haven't decided if I'll use the big buttons shown in the post or just dig up a kid's toy from a yard sale. The latter would be a lot less expensive and more expendable, but those arcade buttons would be more responsive, and that counts for a lot.

  2. What a cool idea! I've thought about doing something similar for Famicom Crazy Climber. Looking forward to the results if you continue with the project.