Music rhythym games are probably the hottest genre in video games today. The Wii has the widest audience in video games today. So if you make a rhythm game for the Wii, it's like printing money, right? Casual-games studio Ghostfire Games is willing to place a bet on that idea, and the result is Helix, a movement-focused game released as downloadable WiiWare. Coming in somewhere between "Dance Dance Revolution" and "WiiFit," it's an interesting piece of $10 software.
There's nothing all that complex about Helix's gameplay. Put a remote in each hand and watch a robot dancer on-screen as he punches and swings his arms to the rhythm of a techno song. Once he moves, you mirror his movements, and if you do it in time to a rhythm bar (similar to the lines in "Guitar Hero"), you succeed. Fail, and your health bar decreases until you fail out. Throw in bonuses for hitting consecutive movements, and a total of 26 unlockable songs (each with three level of difficulties,) and you have the whole story of "Helix."
So why play a game that sounds so, truthfully, simple? Honestly, it can be one hell of a workout. The Wii is built around the idea of getting up and actively playing, and with the introduction of "WiiFit," the concept was taken to another level. Here, for about 80 dollars less than a Balance Board, you get an upper-body workout that starts out pretty simply on Easy. Slow, spaced out movements won't get anyone's heart pumping, and an unnatural rhythm isn't going to create any converts, but it's just the start, the way easy on "Guitar Hero" feels. Step up to medium, and you'll start to see the possibilities, as the robot (and you) start jabbing and swinging faster and more frequently. Instead of waiting, you start anticipating, and your pulse starts quickening. Move to hard, and you'll want to A) put 911 on speed dial and B) set up a webcam, as people will certainly want to see you spazing out. Playing on this level is akin to having a panic attack.
Unlike the other big rhythm games on the market, the soundtrack to "Helix" is loaded with unknowns, unless you happen to be a big fan of the indie trance music scene. A perfunctory search on Google comes up empty on some artists, like Tokyo Robot Gangsters, while others, including Ilona Europa, have genuine recording and performing careers. You start off with a few songs available to play, but as you take them on successfully, more become available. Be prepared to play for a good long time if you expect to hear them all though, as some require more than 70 completions in order to gain access.
Though you can share a game (see the Controls for more details), there's no competitive features to "Helix," though you can work with up to three people to unlock the songs, as there are four profile slots which share progress during the game. Unfortunately, this means if you have multiple people playing on one Wii, you can't make your own way through the game, though with over 70 runs to complete, you might want some help anyway.
This is easily the shortest controls review I'll ever write. You hold one Wii-mote in each hand and move your hands in the direction indicated on-screen. Single wii-mote play is also available, but is pretty much pointless, and the same goes for the game's suggestion of sharing two remotes and having one user control a separate arm.
That's it for the controls. The movements, which include swinging your hands up, down and to the sides, doing the old "wax on, wax off," and dance moves like the Cabbage Patch, are well captured by holding the rhythmically vibrating Wii-motes, though generally moving in the approximate right direction will get the job done (thankfully, a calibration tool in the game can help make it more precise.) What's frustrating is the timing of your moves, as you can closely follow the robot, and have it register, even though it doesn't match the rhythm bar, while other times, you need to hit the rhythm bar in time. And that's all there is. It would be nice if the game could make you feel more like you're dancing, the way the step aerobics in "WiiFit" do, but this is really an upper-body game.
We're looking at some pretty simplistic graphics in this game, but what's there is done well for a Wii download. The main robot isn't too impressive, even if his movements are smooth, but he dances in front of a pretty visualizer that translates the songs into bright colors, like the famous mp3 software or screensavers, and the menu design is clean and stylish. Like the controls, this is a limited set of visuals, but like most rhythm games, you're not really paying attention to the graphics anyway.
Considering this is a music game, you would hope it's got good sound, and it certainly does, with the game's many techno dance tracks coming across strongly, with decent bass and a clear sound. There's nothing particularly dynamic about the mix, but it definitely will fill the room nicely. It all depends upon your taste in music of course.
And in the End...
When you first pick up Helix, you can run into a sense of boredom and frustration, as the easy level is a bit awkward, but as you get used to the controls and learn the game better, it becomes more natural to play and can really help you build up a sweat as it takes on the feeling of a Jazzercise-like boxing workout with a rave soundtrack. But if you're looking for an extensive gaming experience, you won't find it here, as once you unlock all the songs, it's just a matter of repetition. View it as the cheaper version of an upper-body "WiiFit" workout and you won't be disappointed.