An obvious derivative of the music-centric iPod, it’s no surprise that the iPhone has seen more than its share of rhythm games over the past few years. Monad Games’ recent release Rhythm Spirit, however, broke from the falling note trap that so many music games find themselves in, instead preferring a delicate blend of rhythm and combat that has met with tremendous critical success.
We recently had the chance to speak with Monad Games founder Carl Ahlund about the inspirations behind Rhythm Spirit, his favourite rhythm games, and what’s next in the world of Monad.
Combining rhythm with combat isn’t something we’ve really seen before, with the exception of games like Gitaroo-Man, or the dance-offs in Dance Dance Revolution. What inspired you to mix music and martial arts?
I’ve been hooked on rhythm games ever since the release of PaRappa the Rapper for the original PlayStation. As the genre slowly began to expand, I found myself drawn less to instrument-centric music games (the ones usually requiring a peripheral of some sort) and more to narrative, character-driven experiences like Space Channel 5 and Gitaroo Man.
Gitaroo Man in particular was an early source of inspiration. I loved the concept of a competitive, rhythm-based battle, but felt like it didn’t go far enough in providing a true sense of combat. In reality, the objective was to finish the song rather than to defeat the opponent, so the combat mechanics ended up feeling a little arbitrary.
With Rhythm Spirit, my goal was to create a competitive, character-based rhythm game in which fighting and rhythm elements would correlate directly. I wanted it to look, and more importantly, feel like a fighting game where combatants respond in real-time to the player’s input. For the sake of variety, I designed a few other types of missions and scattered them throughout the game, but the duels are most prominent and by far the most complex ‘under the hood.’ All the possible combinations of actions and reactions had to be accounted for in the logic to make it work. So instead of the characters fighting in some loose, representational fashion, each and every move is determined by which buttons the player taps. In a sense, I wanted to pick up where Gitaroo Man left off, which was something no one else had ever really attempted to do.
Given the structure of the game, you could have gone in any direction with the story and music. Were there any other themes you were considering before settling on Eastern folklore?
Not really! I’ve always had a deep interest in Japanese folklore and figured a setting that could accommodate ninjas and demons and all kinds of weird creatures would be the perfect place for a game like Rhythm Spirit. This also provided a great opportunity to explore what we could do with the music. As a result, we came up with a soundtrack blending traditional Japanese instruments with modern electronic dance music.
Rhythm games can work just as well with buttons as with a touch screen. Did you ever give any thought to releasing this on another platform like PSP Minis or Xbox Live Arcade instead of the iPhone?
At the outset, Rhythm Spirit was planned for the iPhone and designed specifically with the iPhone hardware in mind. Unlike many other types of games, it can be fully enjoyed with a touch screen without any awkwardness or learning curve.
That said, I wholeheartedly agree that Rhythm Spirit would translate very smoothly to a mobile device with buttons like the PSP or DS, and could just as easily be played with a controller on XBLA. I would definitely like to see RS on other platforms, as well as in HD. Watching Toshi and the rokurokubi duke it out at 1080p would be really cool
Are there plans for a sequel? Possibly something with similar gameplay, but a different setting and style?
Yes, I would say a sequel is very likely. It may be a continuation of the current storyline, or possibly a spin-off. One thing I’m interested in exploring in a future title is the potential for multiplayer and player vs. player duels.
What’s next for Monad Games?
It’s hard to say precisely, but there are lots of possibilities. In addition to expanding the Rhythm Spirit franchise and branching out to other platforms, we’d like to develop new titles, possibly in the strategy genre.
If you had to pick one other rhythm game that you think everyone iPhone owner should play, what would it be and why?
Patapon! Yes, I know it’s for the PSP, but I honestly find myself lacking any strong recommendation in the App Store. I am a huge fan of innovation and developers who push the envelope to try new things. I’m not trying to ruffle any feathers when I say this, but I have a really hard time getting enthused over the latest Tap Tap game or Guitar Hero clone. I feel like the rhythm genre has stagnated – actually becoming progressively less creative since its inception – which is a shame. There is so much potential for new ideas, particularly on the iPhone where the genre is well suited. I’d like to encourage iPhone developers to think big, innovate, and try to shake things up a bit.