One criticism of music based games is that they are all the same. Activision’s constant interation of the Guitar Hero franchise has simultaneously popularised rhythm action games and yet ensured that gamers have grown bored of the genre within just a small number of years of it’s dominance at the top of the sales charts. With so many music games out there, it’s time to explore a few of the best alternatives to RockBand, what they are, how to get hold of them, and if they’re worth your time.
Beatmania - DJ Hero may be a sure hit if the continued sales of Beatmania are anything to go by (in Japan at least). A DJ turntable game from Konami focusing on lining up samples to dance music, J-Rock and awkwardly aged pop classics. Released primarily for the Playstation and PS2 the game plays out very much like Guitar Hero, the player hitting ’notes’ when they pass a specific line as they descend from the top of the screen. A perfect title then for players wanting a similar but different experience to Guitar Hero. Notably, many of Konami’s rhythm action games follow a similar structure of play, including guitar driven game pioneer Guitar Freaks where, arguably, all of this interest in music games has arisen. Obtain the European version first (it’s cheap and easy to get hold of) to see if you like Beatmania’s stylings, then if the mood takes you, mod your aging, unloved PS2 and import the rest from Japan and the United States.
Dancing Stage – The original ‘make a tit of yourself infront of your mates’ simulator, Dancing Stage is a pop culture icon now, seemingly having conquered the arcade scene the world over with it’s anyone can play attitude and easy to learn, difficult to master difficulty curve. It’s simplicity is it’s greatest asset certainly, even those with little musical knowledge (or knowledge at all) know their lefts and rights, their ups and downs. The skill needed quickly ramps up though, so whilst anyone can step to the earlier tracks, only hardened veterans with hundreds of hours of practice can achieve the illusive AAA rank at higher levels. Featuring a cheesy but furiously fast selection of tunes, Dancing Stage is like Betty Boop having rough sex with Ron Jeremy; in places it’s cute, in places it’s weird but ultimately it’s hardcore all over. Those wanting to try their hand (or, more accurately, their feet) at Dancing Stage should find a copy of the game no problem, but the real trick is getting the right play mat. Try it out at an arcade first and if you really like it splash out on a really great quality, £80 stage to play it on your last generation console of choice.
Parappa The Rapper – Perhaps responsible for sparking interest in music games in the West and released by quirky developer Nana On Sha, Parappa’s story is one of a rapping dog that has just ‘gotta believe’. You could be forgiven for dismissing it as just another weird game from the East, but it’s far more than that, it’s a well constructed, very accessible music action game with a strong if bizarre plot and some of the most memorable, characterful tunes to grace the humble PSX. Sequelised for the PS2 and re-released for the PSP, it’s easy to get into Parappa’s world to see what started this rocking revolution, but what’s best is that there’s no need for another plastic peripheral in your life, it utilises the Playstation controller to it’s fullest, requiring a different kind of gaming dexterity.
Elite Beat Agents (Ouendan) – Similar to Parappa The Rapper in terms of it’s play structure but not in it’s actual mechanics, EBA features an organisation of male cheerleaders setting out to right the social wrongs of a colourful alternative to the real world. What most people don’t give EBA credit for is it’s fairly powerful plot. It’s fairly irreverant and it certainly isn’t Shakespeare, but towards the end the developers try some interesting narrative techniques you wouldn’t expect from the average music game. Luckily it’s pretty easy and inexpensive to get hold of a copy of the Western release, but Ouendan (the Japanese original with J-Pop soundtrack) is slightly more expensive and slightly less prevelent in the game shops of the British Isles. Still, the DS is region free so importing shouldn’t be a problem, and the entirely stylus driven gameplay transends language, culture and age; anyone at all can, and should, experience this musical classic.
Rez – A music game, but with the traditional mechanic of rhythm action reversed. Instead of timing your button presses to specific notes, Rez makes you create the soundscape, rewarding your musical talent with stunning polygonal neon explosions. You see Rez is also a rail shooter in the vein of Panzer Dragoon, but it is the music that drives the player forward, the sleek presentation and technical glitchy trance giving way to a synaesthesia experience still unparalled today. Having received a high definition update, the next gen version is a must buy for serious music fans, but if you have a little cash kicking about, it’s worth investigating the Dreamcast and PS2 iterations. The less said about the optional vibration controller though, the better…
There we have it then, a few choice musical cuts from video gaming’s back catalogue. Know any more quality titles that deserve a mention? Why not leave them in the comments section below?