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Beat the Beat: Rhythm Paradise review: A perfect Wii send-off

The console's last big game is bizarrely brilliant

We may never know exactly what happened to Nintendo designer Yoshio Sakamoto as a child. Some kind of mind-altering trauma, obviously. Probably at a zoo. Most likely involving monkeys.

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Whatever happened - and sorry about this, Mr Sakamoto - we're really, really glad it did. Because the mad visions that have poured from his broken brain into Beat The Beat, of dancing shrimp and inflatable boxing champs and entire worlds held in the eye of a bird, have given us Wii owners a summer full of absolute joy, brilliant tunes, and floppy-eared dogs playing badminton in biplanes. Basically: welcome to 50-odd stages of the most relentlessly crazy, colourful, tuneful and not-taking-itself-seriously-at-all rhythm action in the universe.

Missed the brilliant DS/GBA editions? Here's how it works. Each stage is a couple of minutes long. Sometimes you need to mirror or respond to another character's actions - just like Simon Says, except Simon is a tambourine-playing monkey with a frog on his head, and probably not called Simon at all. More often, you have to react to music in complex ways, with sounds and pictures prompting you as you go - whether that's monsters leaping somewhat aggressively out of the dark, or garden peas being flicked very aggressively at you from a distance.

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The best stages are a blend of funny visuals, perfect controls and pounding music that make it feel like you're playing a musical instrument. Like Screwbot Factory: you grip A and B for the pleasing squeeze-hold-lift action that screws in the necks of conveyor belt 'bots, and find it impossible not to bob your own head in time to the music as the little automatons punch the air, happy to be alive. Dead cute.

HITTING GENIUS

Here's the thing though: beneath the cartoony looks lies an impressively clever game. Most rhythm actioners - Guitar Hero, Drum Master, Elite Beat Agents - show you what to press when, and have a fairly simple connection between what you hear and what you do. Beat The Beat is tricksier by far. It probably won't hit you until one stage tells you that you "syncopated really well". Suddenly, you're awake to the advanced finger-drumming demanded by all the offbeats, tricky time signatures and flip-flopping rhythm patterns. Nintendo are toying with tunes, and chucking you audio curveballs - often you'll feel the patterns before you fully comprehend them.

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Sometimes it's too difficult, mind. We've struggled through two iterations of the series' confusingly difficult rapping stage now - on GBA and now Wii - and we still end up on our knees, pleading tearfully for the damn thing to tell us what it wants from us. It's telling, too, that the Shrimp Shuffle stage has a voiceover counting out its very awkward rhythm. Turns out shrimps syncopate a little too well. A friendly dog - a friendly dog barista, no less - helps you skip stages if you're struggling. But persistence pays off. Racking up Perfects at certain points (a sweaty-palmed experience and no mistake) unlocks a clutch of bizarre toys and rewards, and a music box full of game tunes.

It's testament to how strong a hold the rhythms have over your fingers, eyes and mind that the bewildering ridiculousness of Beat The Beat sometimes completely passes you by. A board meeting involves four pigs spinning on swivel chairs? Sure, must be due to the ongoing recession or something. They're making wristwatches that display the time using high-fiving monkeys now? Technological progress is an amazing thing.

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From seals cartwheeling across the Arctic to grinning microbes jigging around a petri dish, it's utterly mad from start to finish - and instantly recognisable as the work of the geniuses behind WarioWare. On the whole, Beat The Beat's nonsense isn't quite as memorable as the GBA version's. But it does have the aforementioned cat/dog biplane badminton - which we're formally recognising as the funniest, fun-est thing to happen to the entire series. Just ahead of Flock Step: a posse of relentlessly cheery birds stomping and squawking to a real earworm of a tune, climaxing with a crowdpleasing moment of 'birdception' best discovered for yourself.

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