Review: Akihabara – Feel the Rhythm (PC)

Akihabara – Feel the Rhythm is the newest rhythm puzzler to hit Steam, infusing elements of the Japanese district to create an eclectic sight and sound. The overall presentation of the title may be simple, but the real focus is on the challenging and satisfying scoring mechanics.

The game approach and presentation template in Akihabara is borrowed from the Lumines series, with the title featuring songs as levels that show off a variety of different visuals. The main mode of the game cycles through these songs in a half-hour mix, and clearing songs unlocks access to individual songs in a single-song scoring mode.

This fusion of genres usually puts the active puzzle mechanics over the rhythm aspects, but Akihabara flips this around to put more of a focus on timing. The player has no direct control over the falling pieces, but instead uses timed button presses to substitute pieces before they hit the bottom of the stack.

The game’s playfield features four columns, one for each beat of a song’s measure. Players press a key to substitute a piece on the playfield for the “next” piece, with ranks of “perfect,” “good” and “bad” being awarded based on rhythm. The core of the game’s puzzle mechanics have players matching four of the same piece to remove them from the playfield, but steady rhythm performance builds a combo multiplier that fuels scoring.

Akihabara – Feel the Rhythm doesn’t offer much in the form of extravagant bells and whistles, but it remains a solid package that encourages players to return for scoring and slight gameplay variations.

The title features 15 game level tracks, with a few needing accessed through an unlocked mode. The levels are also sprinkled with vibrant art and the song skins do dramatically shake up the game’s appearances, just like in the Lumines series. Through the graphics and music, Akihabara presents a good amount of variety that still manages to mesh together for the title’s overall theme.

To say the title is simple is not a discredit to Akihabara – with the player’s focus on the rhythm grid and puzzle pieces, a narrow view is kept on the playfield. Flashing and animated flair would only distract from the gameplay, and simplicity serves as a key element of the puzzle genre.

Breaking down the gameplay, the core mechanic is simple as well, which is a necessity to ease new players into the title. Timing inputs are mapped to one key, and the player can optionally use two other keys to immediately drop pieces or active a bonus puzzle piece, so it is not difficult to jump in and start playing Akihabara. The combo bonuses and overall scoring in the title is the hook, and a number of achievements and leaderboard options are available to give the player goals to shoot for.

The input timing seemed on track throughout my gameplay, and I only needed to adjust to the perfect timing of the first beat, as the marker loops back to the beginning of the playfield after reaching the right edge. Still, the game does offer calibration settings if the player feels the timing is amiss. The puzzle mechanics also work as expected, but the player will have to adjust to the pieces locking into place on the beat it hits the bottom of the stack – the pieces have no “rest” or “grace” period that keep them active for a short time after hitting the stack and pieces are removed all in one beat even if you have other active pieces set in line to eventually match. Keeping room at the top and organizing pieces immediately are key to preparing the playfield so the player doesn’t have to risk a poor timing just to substitute a critical puzzle piece at the last moment.

Admittedly, not having direct control of your puzzle pieces can be awkward at first, but there are options in play for Akihabara to further ease into the game. Difficulty options can be toggled to decrease or increase the number of pieces that need to be group together to remove them from the playfield, and standard and turbo modes allow the player to adjust how quickly the pieces fall.

The rhythm aspects are further rewarded in the title, as successful timing inputs build a meter that eventually grant a special puzzle piece that automatically clears a significant portion of the playfield. With many rhythm puzzlers being more puzzle than rhythm, Akihabara is an interesting change of pace for this field of games.

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