Rhythm games have merged the music and the gaming worlds together for decades now, and there have been some truly great titles. We took a walk back through our catalogue to see which games left an impression, which ones had the biggest impact on the genre.
We’re sure to have missed something, so if you feel a game should be on the list, please leave your thoughts in the comments section below!
Vib-Ribbon broke the mold when it was initially released in 1999. Unfortunately it was only made available in Japan and Europe until a PSN release in 2014, but it still managed to garner a cult following in the meantime.
In this game you control Vibri, a vector graphic rabbit. Using the background song as a guide, you need to interact with the obstacles in time, while running along a white-line path. While the game shipped with its own songs, it was revolutionary in the fact that it loaded itself onto the PlayStation’s RAM, and would allow the player to use any music they had on hand. While the path that was generated would often be skewed from the actual rhythm of the song, Vib-Ribbon gains a spot on this list purely for its groundbreaking features and quirky game design.
Audiosurf adopted the innovative idea behind Vib-Ribbon, and expanded on it by employing the further improved technologies that were available at the time. Controlling a vehicle on a neon highway, the player is required to avoid obstacles, and score points using any song that they like. Audiosurf (and now Audiosurf 2) generates the highway and note chart based on any song that is in your library, allowing players to go head-to-head with friends or online to the tune of any song!
The first iteration was a little buggy, and while those imperfections seem to have been ironed out for Audiosurf 2, the charm and playability are a little shallow for anything hoping to compete with monoliths like Stepmania.
- Dance Dance Revolution
For such a space intensive game to make it from the arcade into the home is definitely a notable achievement. Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) initiated a craze across the globe, as it united the gaming and dancing worlds into one highly competitive universe.
Introduced to Japan by Konami in 1998, DDR quickly expanded to North America and Europe within a year. The simple premise of dancing, while hitting the right buttons in time with the music made it an instant hit, with hardcore and casual participants alike.
It would continue on to spawn a vast array of sequels and spin-offs and took a stand as the pioneer of the rhythm game genre.
- Elite Beat Agents
A western sequel/remake to Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan!, Elite Beat Agents (EBA) made the rhythm game portable on the Nintendo DS. Your job as an Elite Beat Agent is to cheer people on, and make sure things are accomplished to an uplifting beat!
EBA is simple, fun and cartoonish, and manages to hit their target audience square in the face with fun. It simply isn’t on the scale to compete with the bigger names on this list, but it’s one of the best portable rhythm games that we could get our mitts on.
- PaRappa The Rappa (and UmJammer Lammy)
There’s just something charismatic about games from the generation of the first PlayStation, and PaRappa The Rappa epitomised that. Its simple but gritty graphics were only the beginning. The game mixed a solid story with some cool music and gameplay, and it quickly rose to become one of the most popular games of the time.
It was in fact so popular that it spawned a sequel. UmJammer Lammy (how hilarious are these titles?!) told a similar story. Musically based, this time in the rock world, UmJammer Lammy managed to encompass everything that PaRappa The Rappa accomplished, but didn’t really add anything new. It’s worth noting that these games were made by NanaOn-Sha, the same company that made Vib-Ribbon.
- Dance Central
Few games capitalised on the advent of the Kinect, and equivalent peripherals better than Dance Central. It expanded on the idea of Dance Dance Revolution, and shot it to the next level by tracking your entire body rather than just your feet. The trendy pop music that it was shipped with, was enough to get kids, and adults!, everywhere on their feet, grooving along.
Dance off? Dance Central Station + games at the herring tonight. Face off to win a drink. Come on down. #danceoff pic.twitter.com/vdGKb92tpH
— The Red Herring (@RedHerringDLH) May 9, 2016
Dance Central is the highest ranked, full-body rhythm game on the list, and though it ranks in at fifth it’s worthy of giving a go if you haven’t already!
Probably because no-one had invested in a karaoke machine since 1993, Singstar hit the novelty market when it emerged for the PlayStation in 2004. Between then and 2014 there were 35 Singstar titles released, which equates to one roughly every 109 days, such was its popularity.
It spawned iterations from Disney Sing-A-Long, to Boy Bands versus Girl Bands, to Back To the 80’s, with each containing more of the same karaoke enjoyment. Singstar was brilliant in that it tapped into most peoples dreams of having talented vocals, but gently allowing them to realise they could never achieve that dream while in the privacy of their own home, instead of in public.
It was one of an army of ‘party games’ that Sony developed for the PlayStation 2 to edge over its rivals. While the console itself never really grew to the extent of that game, particularly with the advent of the Nintendo Wii, Singstar itself was certainly a success.
Long story short, Stepmania is Dance Dance Revolution for your fingers, and it was actually designed as an open source clone of the full-body experience. Initially released in 2001, Stepmania was simple, yet addictive. It could be operated in seconds on the lowest-spec machine, and still be hours of fun. Being a PC game, it was also highly customisable. This meant custom backgrounds and skins, as well as being able to make custom note paths for any song.
It’s simplicity and ease of access offered it the edge over the competition. You could play Stepmania anywhere that you could access a computer, and in an age where laptops and portable computers were becoming more prevalent, Stepmania quickly became commonplace on every rhythm game fans computer.
- Rock Band
Guitar Hero (GH)was always going to explode in popularity, and when Harmonix were no longer part of the GH machine, it was inevitable that a rival would be created. Rock Band offered basically everything Guitar Hero did, but with a little less finish. The initial inclusion of a whole band propelled Rock Band to being the leader in rhythm games, but it wouldn’t be long before Guitar Hero caught up.
Guitar, Bass, Drums, Vocals, Synth. You name it, you can probably play it in Rock Band. It made a resurgence last year alongside Guitar Hero, but it’s major successes have been in the branded games. Somewhere along the line Harmonix pipped Guitar Hero at the post. The Beatles and Green Day iterations of the game were stellar hits, and blew Guitar Hero’s equivalents (Van Halen, Metallica) clear out of the water.
Rock Band is almost synonymous with Guitar Hero now, with the only thing retaining Guitar Hero at number one being its hefty budget advantage.
- Guitar Hero
It may not have been the first, or the most innovative rhythm game, but Guitar Hero achieved almost everything on the mark in its formative years. The brainchild of RedOctone and Harmonix, Guitar Hero was distributed by Activision in its initial release on the PlayStation 2 in 2005. It rocketed to success with reckless abandon, spawning 23 more titles in the next five years alone, both on console and mobile devices.
Guitar Hero allowed playing the guitar to be accessible, and fun straight off the bat for many people who secretly had the urge, but never had the time, patience or money. It was consecutively a party game, an escape, a challenging solo game, and a dream come true for many people.
Like many rhythm games, there was little innovation in the gameplay sector of the title. Instead, it was in the band-branded games, and downloadable content that Guitar Hero would need to make its money. While the role of developer shifted to Neversoft in 2007, and then to FreeStyleGames in 2015, the game still retained its challenge for most of the way through its life cycle.
Guitar Hero truly and unequivocally lead rhythm games straight into the mainstream gaming market, and that is why it secures the top spot on our Top 10: Rhythm Games countdown.
What have we missed? What was your favourite rhythm game? Let us know in the comments section below!