Ever since PaRappa the Rapper hit the shelves in the early days of the original Playstation, Rhythm games have had a substantial presence in the video game industry, having high-selling hits on all consoles and permeating arcades and even the public conscience. I have played many dozens of different music games over the years, and have assembled my favorite games and series which I think to define the genre.
Elite Beat Agents
Starting off with a lesser-known title, EBA was a cult hit on the Nintendo DS, using the system’s touch screen to great effect. With a star-spangled soundtrack of licensed music and incredibly satisfying gameplay available in almost a dozen difficulty levels, this game can occupy you for many hours once you get hooked on the adrenaline.
The game has unique stories for each song, animated with hand-drawn scenes and (surprisingly for the NDS) full voice-acting and wins a lot of points for its well-humored and camp storyline about a squad of impressively hair-styled agents saving the world with the power of song.
One of the most elegantly simple Rhythm games out there, the Japanese Vib Ribbon proves that you only need 2 dimensions and 2 colors to make an impact in the gaming world. Another cult hit in the west, Vib Ribbon sold so terribly that good condition copies of this Playstation classic are considered some of the more valuable PS games to collectors.
With simple yet enchanting art and gameplay, the main draw of this title is the ability to load the game onto your PlayStation and then insert any CD into the CD drive and the game will generate unique levels which follow the rhythm and flow of the album you inserted. This has become a common practice in modern games but was unheard of for even years after its sequel released exclusively in Japan.
Another portable title, Patapon served as one of the flagships for the PSP in its early days. Bringing the rhythm in Rhythm Game to the absolute pinnacle, Patapon has you playing as a sage drummer controlling customizable squads of warriors as you hunt for food and conquer the land. With foot-tapping gameplay and upgrade systems rarely seen in this genre, the entire series is worth a play.
Rock Band 4
By far the biggest name in this list and part of a subgenre of Rhythm games, Rock Band 4 is the peak of Simon-says inspired rockstar simulators. Including all the features and functionality of previous Rock Band and Guitar Hero games, Rock Band 4 crowns itself king with its store of almost 2,500 songs, allowing you to play almost every song included in every previous Rock Band or Guitar Hero game and then some!
Crypt of the Necrodancer
An extremely unique spin on the genre, Necrodancer, and its Zelda-sponsored sequel combine traditional rogue-like gameplay with a funky rhythm game twist. On PC, you can load in any set of songs you happen to have to lie around to be the soundtrack to your suffering, as to successfully perform any action, be it attacking or healing or moving, you must perform the action on-beat, in time with the music.
I couldn’t possibly finish a list of musical video games without mentioning Audiosurf, the game which eventually inspired the ever-popular Beat Sabre and even had an official collaboration with Valve!
On the goofier side of the genre, there is also Star Wars Kinect which included a mini-game version of Just Dance, but with a limited selection of Star, Wars-themed parodies of early 2010s pop hits.
The rhythm game genre has been around for 25 years now and shows no intention of slowing down, even if it is in relative hibernation after Guitar Hero fever declined. Hopefully, I have given a few people the urge to play one of these games, but if you are more in the mood for some World War fun, you can use this if you want to win all the time at hell let loose, and return to some musical fantasy in the future.