One of the biggest games of the year Rock Band 4 is finally out. Sure, it may not be perfect and there are still a lot of bugs to work out, but it’s another solid entry in the series. Rock Band has always been one of my favorite games. I played well when it went out of favor with mainstream audiences. I was so excited about the new release that it got me thinking about other stellar music games out there. Though the most popular choices feature plastic instruments that provide sweet satisfaction, there are a bunch of rhythm based games that don’t require any extra controllers. There are a lot of different games out there, but here are what I think are the ten best music video games.
Harmonix has been in the music game business well before Guitar Hero was even an idea. In 2003, they launched Amplitude, the sequel to their other music game Frequency. Instead of hitting buttons or holding plastic instruments, this game finds the player controlling a ship that moves down a colorful path corresponding to different parts of the song. Players switch between the different instruments and vocals to keep the song going. It’s fun, but the setlist is decent at best and switching back and forth between the different tracks gets dull after awhile. Honestly, I’ve never been a fan of music games like this (think Rock Band Blitz) and this game didn’t do much to change my opinion. But at least it’s fun for a little bit.
9. Space Channel 5
Space Channel 5 puts you in the shoes of intergalactic news reporter Ulala tracking down a breaking story on an alien invasion. The only way to stop them? Dancing. Instead of creating music or hitting colorful notes in the right amount of time, this game has you memorizing patterns to copy the enemies’ dance moves. Think of it as a video game version of Simon (remember that toy?). Similar to many other PS2 rhythm games, it’s lots of fun, but hard as hell. You’ll fail several times, but because it’s so damn catchy you keep playing just see what’ll happen next. Fun fact: Michael Jackson makes an appearance in the game as Space Michael, who you have to save from brainwashing aliens. Hey, I never said the game made any sense.
8. Bit.Trip Runner
This is a fairly simple game that’s so fucking addicting. It’ll make you both smile and seethe with rage as you duck and jump over obstacles while getting treasure. Matched with a cool electro-synth soundtrack, you play as an 8-bit runner who makes music by well timed jumps, kicks, and dodges. As you progress and get enough power ups, the music for the level flourishes and swells making it catchier, irresistible, and awesome. But watch out! Miss one jump or run into a rock and it’s back to the beginning for you. Guess they really wanted to keep up with the old school aesthetic.
7. Elite Beat Agents
Made for the original Nintendo DS, Elite Beat Agents is one of those weird games that seems kind of dumb, yet is so damn addicting. Bright colors, eye popping visuals, and a wacky story line where three agents help people out of sticky situations makes this one of the most unique games for the system. Very few rhythm games work well on handheld systems, but this one challenges players to tap, drag, and spin their stylus to the beat of songs ranging from Sum 41 to Earth, Wind, and Fire. Playing one song is never enough and before you know it you’ve played through half the game. But be warned: just when you think you’re during well, you’ll encounter that one track that shows the fail screen over and over again. Fuck you, Canned Heat!
6. Parappa the Rapper games
Ever wanted to be a funky fresh rapper? These games give you the chance by helping a cute little dog named Parappa help save the day. Whether you’re playing the first game or the second, you’ll be sucked in by it’s charm and quirkiness. The visuals are cartoony and the stories are ridiculous, but that’s what makes the game so much fun. Though it looks deceptively easy, it’s actually pretty tough and will leaving you raging at your TV. Note that the second does ease up on the difficulty, but only a little bit. But when you finish a rap it brings so much satisfaction. Remember, you just gotta believe!
Like so many music games on the list this one is weird, yet addicting. This is a rail shooter where players find themselves controlling a hacker set to take down supercomputer Eden, who has gained too much knowledge. As you hit viruses, firewalls, and other programs set out to stop you to the rhythm of the synth soundtrack, your avatar transforms to be more powerful and protected. Mess up too many times and it’s back to a inferior form. You don’t just play the game, you experience it. You get sucked in to this bright, Tron-like world where everything wants to attack you. You have to be quick and precise with your attacks. One bad move and it’s mission failed. The game received the sequel Child of Eden years later, but it’s not as engaging or breathtaking as the original. Track down this game and experience it for yourself.
4. Gitaroo Man
This is an underrated gem for the PS2. Rather than becoming the biggest band on the planet, Gitaroo Man is about saving the last Gitaroo in the world and preventing it from falling into the wrong hands. There are no peripherals here; just you and the controller. The character, U-1, attacks by laying down some riffs which are really tough to pull off. Did I mention he has a talking dog named Puma that turns into a robot when the Gitaroo is unleashed? Yes, it’s a weird ass game from Japan, but a great one. The game is insanely fun, but super fucking hard. The 2006 PSP port is a little more forgiving since the smaller control stick is easier to use, but it’s still a challenge to get through the whole game.
3. Guitar Hero 2
Sure Activision made the music game popular with the first entry in the series, but the second game tweaks everything to make it better, faster, and tougher. With a stellar setlist, tighter controls, and more customization it’s Guitar Hero 2 that made you go over to your friend’s house to play for hours until your fingers bled. Revisiting this game made me realize it’s pretty fucking tough. Rather than going for exact instrumentation, this game was all about making you suffer. How many people do you remember bragging they could do “Jordan” on Expert mode? Unfortunately, it kind of led to the downfall of the series since it seemed to focus more on making nearly impossible notes to hit. But even after all this time the game is still fun to rock out without as a guitar god.
2. Rhythm Heaven games
If you want one of the best games for both the DS and the Wii then look no further than these titles. Both the original and the sequel, Rhythm Heaven Fever, are insanely fun, wacky, challenging, and fucking addicting. Players have to keep the beat during mini games where karate masters punch away trash, seals waddle to the beat, a choir gets in harmony, and robots get built in a factory. The visuals are colorful, cute, and easy on the eyes meaning you’ll never get tired of the cutesy imagery no matter how many times you fail a level. The Wii version also has a super fun two player mode where you and a friend have to stay in sync for the best score. It’s tougher than you think. All things considering, this is one of the most underrated video games in the music genre.
1. Rock Band 3
Sure Guitar Hero may have been first on the plastic instrument phenomenon, but Harmonix did it best when they separated from Activision in 2007 to create Rock Band. All of the games are good (except for the Lego version) but the third entry is far superior. They managed to get everything right with this entry. The songs are great, the character customization is awesome, and the goals are so challenging it’ll keep you playing way after you reach superstardom. Maybe the keyboard wasn’t the best peripheral, but it’s not terrible. It at least offered something new, something that Guitar Hero couldn’t manage to do well into their career. The latest entry in the series is shaping up to be great, but with all the recent issues with the instruments and song transfers, it may be worth it to revisit this gem.
Which music game is your favorite? Is there one I missed that I need to know about? Let me know in the comments!