by Goran Damnjanovic, Gaming Columnist
Published in Gaming on 22nd March, 2019
Music games, dance games, rhythm games. They were a part of the video games world ever since chips became powerful enough to play more than just a simple combination of MIDI tones.
Titles like PaRappa the Rapper, Beat Mania, and Samba the Amigo shaped our childhood and made us love both music and video games. But the history of music games goes even further, with titles like Dance Aerobics dating back to 1987, back when the NES was the most powerful video games machine available, chugging out simplistic MIDI melodies that were enough to make you get in the groove and work out a bit.
With the new century, we received a new wave of music games, titles that required complex peripherals like huge plastic guitars that were used as controllers and it is safe to say that the noughties were a decade of Guitar Hero and Rock Band.
Those two titles created a sort of an explosion of popularity for music games selling tens of millions of copies and turning dorms and living rooms into live band stages were everyone could be a rock star, if only for a night. Rock Band and Guitar Hero were massively popular during the glory days of PS3 and Xbox 360 but their fame faded with the arrival of the new console generation.
Never massively popular but always around were dance games such as Dance Dance Revolution and Just Dance. Their peak was around the turn of the 21st century, back when DDR made a literal revolution in video game parlors around the world.
And let's not forget note smashing rhythm games that evolved into VR fireworks like Beat Saber and Thumper or mobile friendly titles such as Lost in Harmony or Voez. These days we have dozens of quality music and rhythm games and while they never won the popularity contest, music and rhythm video games always had (and still have) relatively large but extremely faithful following.
If you want to ride your music, play your favorite songs in a video game, tap on notes like maniac, dance till you drop, or simply enjoy unique video games we have some exciting titles to show.
One of the two most popular dance video games in the world, Just Dance is the more home friendly part of the pair. The game is available for every major console and when we say every we really mean it. Aside from the usual suspects in the form of the PS4, Xbox One, and the Nintendo Switch, Just Dance 2019 can be found on the PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, and the infamous WiiU.
So yes, if you want to play this game you can do it on a wide range of platforms. Even mobile devices have their own version of Just Dance called Just Dance Now.
The premise of the game is pretty straightforward: you play a song and then have to mimic the moves shown on the screen. In other words, you have to dance according to the choreography. This can be done by using your smartphone with Just Dance app installed or (on Nintendo consoles) by using motion controllers.
The game is filled with songs and there are also additional ones that can be unlocked by subscribing to a service called Just Dance Unlimited, which offers always evolving selection of songs that can be downloaded. Great for families, excellent for staying in shape, and superb for dance lovers Just Dance 2019 is the best thing to play if you dance your way through life.
Audiosurf was a true revolution. The game promised to scan every song you have on your hard drive, creating unique music filled levels for each song.
And it delivered upon its promise becoming an instant hit in those days when digital games just started to become a regular deal. It was one of the early Steam hits and soon after everyone played it.
The game is pretty simple - you have your hovering spaceship, which moves on top of a runway dotted with blocks that represent individual song notes. The goal is to collect as many blocks as possible without hitting dark blocks that are to be avoided.
And Audiosurf 2 follows its predecessor's simple formula but it also adds some of its own flavors like improved visuals, new game modes, and better UI.
The difficulty is tied to the song's rhythm - slower paced tunes are easier to play while faster rhythm means higher challenge. You can see the difficulty of each song as soon as you select it.
The second game in the series not only offered to play any song you have on your hard drive, it also came with the support for playing songs found on YouTube but the feature was dropped at some moment and it still is unavailable. So, if you're in the mood for riding some songs bear in mind that the game works only with songs you have on your hard drive; streaming songs aren't supported.
While Guitar Hero started the whole "play your favorite songs in a video game" craze, Rock Band ultimately became the more popular option.
Instead of limiting players to guitars, Rock Band gave them a chance to play as a full band, adding keyboards, drums, and vocals to the mix. And the latest release of the famous series is the only one available on current-gen consoles. The formula didn't change much, with only visuals becoming prettier than before.
You have your own rock band and they can play a bunch of songs. The basic version of the game comes with 65 songs but the online library of downloadable songs counts more than 1,500 titles ranging from the earliest years of Rock and Roll to the modern times and spanning from pop rock to death metal.
In other words, there's something for everyone. If you want to be a part of a rock band but don't have the time or knowledge needed to play an instrument Rock Band could be a nice sub for a real-life gig.
Thumper looks like Audiosurf when you look at it but it holds its own when it comes to the uniqueness of the experience and the overall originality. Instead of riding your own music you follow dark industrial notes of Thumper's soundtrack that are oppressive, futuristic, and strangely catchy like all quality industrial music usually is.
The game is all about riding on top of a twisted Sci-Fi railroad while following notes and rhythm of the tyrannizing music, trying to stay alive while also getting closer and closer to the Head.
The Head is a nasty looking alien or whatnot that is always on your horizon. It looks like a mixture of Salvador Dali and some nasty demon and your beetle (the ship really look like one of those large, black beetles with rigid black wings) has to pull off combos that arm it with some sort of a bomb that is launched at the head. And each level has the same goal - pull off combos, receive the bomb, launch it at the head, and take it down.
The music and the overall atmosphere is superb, there are lots of levels that become tougher and tougher, gameplay is really addictive, and the game looks best when played in VR. If you like rhythm-based games that go deeper than hitting the right notes do check out Thumper.
Imagine Audiosurf but in VR and with notes being sliced with dual lightsabers instead picked with a futuristic F-Zero-like racer and you get a rough idea what Beat Saber is like.
The game sounds cool in theory and it is even better in practice. Beat Saber is one of the games that helped VR to turn into a proper gaming platform; it is a music rollercoaster capable of sucking you in and holding you for hours on end; it is one of the best VR games on the market and a perfect party title.
There are lots of songs in the library and each one is a small firework of excitement and pure elation. The symphony of rhythmic hand swipes tuned to go in line with incoming notes in order to cut them in half is mesmerizing and easy to learn gameplay is made both for casual and hardcore gamers.
You can play a level that asks nothing more than simple slices up and down that can be performed by your grandparents or you can opt for a hardcore experience and test your hand-eye coordination and inner sense of rhythm.
The choice is yours but no matter on which difficulty the game is played, Beat Saber is a must buy for owners of any major VR headset (the game can be played on Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PSVR) who like their games musical and for all who are looking for a perfect VR game for parties.
No, the title of the game is not a typo; the latest member of the famous Dance Dance Revolution is called simply A and is available only on arcade systems in your local video games parlor.
Shame, because previous entries always found their way to gaming consoles so if you want to dance your way to the top you'll have to let the whole world see you doing it (or you can simply go with Just Dance 2019).
The addictive and cardio intensive gameplay is back, with the famous D-pad dance stage again being used for dancing to the tunes and dual arcade systems for some casual or even competitive multiplayer between friends.
There are plenty of songs and players can play songs featured on older Dance Dance games by unlocking them in Extra Level game mode. The game is still fun as hell and great for everyone who has rhythm. The sequel, called Dance Dance Revolution A20 (those names are just getting better and better) is slated for late March 2019 release and it will come with new songs, but only in Japan for now.
The oldest and most recognizable music game franchise has only one member on current gen consoles, Guitar Hero Live. The game served as a sort of a Guitar Hero reboot meaning new controllers and no backward compatibility with old songs like in Rock Band 4 but developers promised a huge influx of new content via online service dubbed GHTV.
Sadly, GHTV servers went offline a few months ago means that you can only play the game's original 42 songs that can be found on the disc. Even worse, Activision closed down servers that hosted GHTV service just three years after the game came out which practically doomed the game and left players just with songs that shipped on the disc.
That's bad but if you want to play a Guitar Hero game on new hardware, Live is the only option. While songs themselves are far from the best selection for a Guitar Hero game, the gameplay and the new "live" background layer made out of crowd and band members who react to your performance are great additions and new control scheme makes things a bit more complicated but also more enjoyable once you get the hang of it.
My personal favorite is Rock Band 4 mainly because it supports songs featured in previous games, which is unbelievably good in case you own previous Rock Band games.
Tetsuya Mizuguchi is a video game legend, the man who brought us amazing games such as timeless Lumines, otherworldly Tetris Effect, and rhythm-based shooter, Rez. Rez was something completely different back when it debuted on the Sega Dreamcast.
A minimalistic rail shooter with simple polygonal visuals that revolved around electronic music. There were no sound effects, no dialogue, just music. Player actions (shooting, aiming, killing enemies, etc.) would add to the music with subtle effects (like in Tetris Effect and Lumines) and even further, the whole world beats to the rhythm of the music, with noticeable visual and sound effects.
Even shooting isn't done in real time. Instead, each shoot lands along with beats that play in the background, making boss battles a real test of whether you have the rhythm inside of you or not. The game has five large levels and with each enemy destroyed players receive new upgrades and evolve to the next stage (which is represented by the player's avatar), receiving new weapons and new physical forms.
Rez Infinite is a remaster of the original game out for the PS4, PC, and Android and it looks and plays great. High resolution combined with a quality surround system or a pair of audiophile headphones is the way to play this one. Enjoy supreme electro soundtrack while battling demons of the digital age and for just a couple of hours forget about the real world and experience life in polygonal form.
I saved four similar rhythm games for the end of this list. All four can be enjoyed on smartphones and tablets (both on Android and iOS) and some of them can be played on other systems, too.
Voez can be found on the Nintendo Switch and mobile platforms. The game is a touch-friendly rhythm title that features gameplay revolving around tapping moving icons that rhythmically appear while different songs play in the background.
The game proved to be a major hit among mobile gamers and even the Nintendo Switch version received praise and accolades from both reviewers and players. Voez ended up as a sort of a rhythm game for the smartphone era, with touchscreens replacing hefty guitar controllers and electronic sounds replacing rock and metal riffs.
The game is a relatively soothing experience that gives you a sort of a physical enjoyment of tapping icons and pulling off combos while enjoying to music. The game features a story that follows six different characters (mostly teenagers) while they live their life over the course of one year. It isn't much but it is a nice addition that provides additional motivation to play the game.
But you don't have to know a single bit of the story because Voez is all about its rhythmic tap-based gameplay that is so good you'll forget about the story each time a new song starts.
Lost in harmony is a mix between a classic rhythm game for smartphones (tap on those icons in rhythm with the music) and an endless runner (or better to say skater) but with levels you can actually finish.
The campaign is made out of lots of different levels, each placed in a unique area. There are city streets, busy piers filled with ships delivering goods and huge containers, sunny island piers idyllic country roads and more. Backgrounds are hand painted and are a joy to look at while playing the game. You can play Lost in Harmony on smartphones (Android and iOS are supported), Nintendo Switch, and PC.
The gameplay is made out of evading different obstacles (depending on the stage), tapping on icons as they appear on the screen when certain notes play and riding on certain lines that award extra points.
There are special moves that knockdown bosses (yes, there are boss battles and they are pretty good) and make them miss their attacks until they are defeated. Lost in Harmony also features a story that is much better than in other games shown here. We won't spoil it for you but you can be sure that the story is well written, emotional, and interesting to follow through the end.
There are more than 30 levels and while most of them are easy to beat a couple will surely sweat your hands and put your reflexes to the test.
This title is for those who don't know what to do with their immense skill at rhythm games. The playing field is divided with two lines, one near the bottom of the screen and one placed a bit above the middle. The bottom one is where you have to tap on notes as they blaze away at incredible speed, like in Guitar Hero games.
The middle line is for special "chords" that have to be followed with fingers touching the screen. Harder stages even see the middle line with individual notes, which can make for extremely tricky gameplay when the rhythm goes into sixth gear.
The game is pretty unique and while it looks like classic Guitar Hero and Rock Band games it plays differently and even early levels can pose a tough challenge.
The best way to play is with thumbs (unlike other similar touch-based rhythm games that play better with a phone placed down) while holding the phone because the duality of the playing field requires thumb coordination and cooperation. Arcaea has a rudimentary story but it works simply as a vessel to serve players new and trickier levels.
There are more than 90 songs and new ones arrive regularly via updates. An immense fun that can be found on Android and iOS.
Lanota is the most original game from the mobile bunch. It uses the touchscreen as a drawing board for a large circle with notes coming out from the middle of it.
The circle is beautifully animated and it looks gorgeous. You have to not only tap on incoming notes but also to flick them in various directions, catch them when they arrive at the edge at the right time, and the game also has rail moves when the player has to hold down fingers on the screen while following rail lines.
The circle moves its position, it rotates and goes up and down, creating superb animations with lots of effects; Lanota isn't only the most original rhythm mobile game featured here, it is also by far the prettiest.
Songs are of various genres and each one can be played on three difficulty levels. There's the main story and while not on the level of the story seen in Lost in Harmony, it's pretty good and serves its purpose of keeping you hooked till the end of the game.
Lanota looks like if some magical picture book came alive and its superb combination of gorgeous visuals and original gameplay puts it on the top of the best rhythm games I've ever seen on a mobile device. Aside from owners of Android and iOS devices, Lanota can be played by all of you who own the Nintendo Switch.