As I mentioned in my Amplitude review, the music of rhythm and music games is of primary importance to the experience you have. It has to carefully place itself at the centre of a complicated Venn diagram with categories such as style, catchiness, not boring-ness and more, and while some pieces have difficulty fitting into some of the categories (or in the worst possible scenario, anywhere) there are so many shining examples of rhythm-action and music games done right.
Starting of with more rhythm action, the music to the Rhythm Heaven series will always leave a smile on your face, with nearly all the games within combining colourful and amusing visuals with the backing music to which you need to keep to the beat. Happily, this music is incredibly catchy, and amazingly always seems to fit the scenario – from a wrestler dealing with a press conference to dogs playing badminton in light aircraft, the very poppy and Japanese influence on the soundtrack doesn’t disappoint. Sticking with Japanese games, you can’t mention rhythm action without also thinking of the Playstation’s favourite rapping dog, Parappa. The lyrics and music offered by the the series’ bizarre menagerie of characters are hugely contagious and entertaining, ranging from driving lessons, to helping lumberjacks chop down trees.
It’s always interesting to see new gameplay elements added to the more traditional music-game style. For instance, there’s the dungeon crawling Crypt of the Necrodancer which backs up it’s roguelike tendencies with the pulsating chiptune melodies of Darren Baranowsky, while Patapon takes a more tribal drum-orientated backbeat and turns itself into a strategic god-game. This genre mash-up can also be found in Bit.Trip Runner’s (platformer) chiptune filled soundtrack as well as Bust a Groove (fighting game) and its heavy J-Pop rhythms.
Not every music game is all about hard hitting beats and high energy bass lines, though. There are a lot of examples of more toned down titles which use the music for the level but don’t go out to overwhelm the player. Chime and Auditoirum, for example, are both puzzle games that take a far more relaxed approach but both in different ways; Auditorium goes down this route by having you complete puzzles to actually hear the levels full soundtrack, while Chime uses beatlines of licensed music to set off events while you place your tetris-like blocks on the board. One of my favourite examples of this comes from Sound Shapes, a simple platfmormer where the collectables on screen add musical elements to the level’s soundtrack (composed specifcially for the the game as EPs by various artists including Beck and DeadMau5)
As a last interesting piece about music games, there was a title on the Playstaion in the late 90s called Music which was basically just a creation tool where you could experiment adding in synthesised beats, samples and even creating your own riffs. I owned it but had no idea what to do with it partly due to being overwhelmed but also mainly due to not having any musical talent. Thankfully, there were those that did including a certain Jim Guthrie, composer of Sword and Sworcery and Indie Game: the Movie – this game was major part of his debut album and still comes out every now and then for his work, including the aforementioned S&S soundtrack. It’s fascinating to see what can be done with relatively narrow software.
Are there any rhythm action of music based games that tickle your fancy or can’t stop you tapping your foot? Leave a comment and let me know – for now, enjoy the playlist!