Rhythm Doctor is a one-button rhythm game set in a hospital that heals patients by defibrillating in time to their heartbeats. Players press the space bar to every 7th beat of the music for each level, and each level expands on that same basic concept by adding interesting poly-rhythms, offbeats, irregular time signatures, multiple patients and also surprising mechanics of breaking the fourth wall.
Lens of Surprise
- While the basic premise of Rhythm Doctor is simple, the game introduces many surprising mechanics that aims to surprise and distract the player from the main game play, playing around with glitches and even messing up the audio. For instance, in Level 2-X All The Times, the game minimizes the game window and moves it around the screen to surprise and confuse the player (video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jkXtILc1XUc&t=134s).
- In Rhythm Doctor it is easy to rely greatly on the large visual hints (moving beat and red ‘X’s to signal pauses) to help with timing hits. By obscuring these visual hints, players are often forced to break their visual focus and instead concentrate on listening to the music and keeping beat in their head.
- From personal experience in playing the game, I was very pleasantly surprised at the ingenuity and creativity in the kinds of surprises thrown at players at every level, and I looked forward to finding out what the next level held in store for me. Being forced to distrust my visual and audio cues was also refreshing, and not something I have experienced in other more static rhythm games.
Lens of Simplicity / Complexity + Lens of Skill
- Being a one-button game, rhythm doctor is deceptively simple. The mechanics of the game makes it easy for new players to pick up – just a very short explanation and tutorial is required to get new players started, which draws players in easily. As the game progresses, it increases in complexity through level design and more complicated music rhythms, but the basic mechanism of a single button press remains. This design choice makes the game accessible for almost all casual players.
- However, further play will reveal that Rhythm Doctor is not a simple game. As compared to other rhythm games, Rhythm Doctor has a stricter hit timing window, and the surprise elements of the game as described above evolve from level to level, placing a greater demand on players’ focus. Paired with the difficult rhythms, Rhythm Doctor is agreed to be, and through personal experience, a difficult game to excel in. However, the play through for each level does not change, making it easy and satisfying to repeat levels to earn the B+ grade to move on in the story. This design choice gives players the sense that they are developing skill in their game play, with immediate and obvious improvements in performance through practice and repeated play.
Lens of Community
- Rhythm Doctor comes bundled with a level editor built into the game. Players are able to create and share custom levels at https://rhythm.cafe/ and it is easy to download custom levels to play too. The in-built support for custom player levels greatly encourages the building of a fan community where players can exchange levels and continue engaging with the game long after they have finished the original gameplay.
- There is also a lot of support for people looking to create their own levels, with a tutorial guide https://rhythm-doctor.gitbook.io/level-editor/ and even a discord server for community support https://discord.gg/rhythmdr. This mirrors the community building model of another highly successful rhythm game osu! that has 19.3 million monthly active users in its fan community, whose game content is nearly entirely community-created. While the fan community for Rhythm Doctor is not as large, there is potential for it to grow in the same way.
Rhythm Doctor is a deceptively simple game that is surprising and refreshing in its innovation of game play mechanics. It is definitely one of the most creative rhythm games I have played, and suitably challenging and engaging even for someone like me who gets bored of games easily. By analysing the game through the lenses of game design, it is apparent that Rhythm Doctor is well thought out and carefully designed to pull players in and provide a rewarding and memorable experience.