It’s time to break out the plastic instruments and hide the microphone from your tone-deaf friends, Rock Band is back! Harmonix announced earlier this month that their flagship franchise would return after a five-year hiatus. The upcoming release for the Xbox One and Playstation 4 will feature brand new controllers, utilize previously owned DLC (once they’re released on the new service) as well as previous generation instruments.
But rhythm games are more than the fad of the late 2000s. One of the most unique genres, music games rarely share a similar visual style or gameplay. Often colorful and rarely violent, rhythm games invite players of all experiences to tap their fingers to the beat.
But which are the best? Below is a list composed of nearly 20 years of music games. But before we get started, here’s a list of criteria.
Accessibility: Not everyone knows how to fly a spaceship, build a city or jump 20 feet in the air. Why should music games be any different? Video games are all about engaging and succeeding regardless of your real world talents.
Soundtrack: Sounds obvious, right? But this has more to do with exposing players to music they may not otherwise hear. Plenty of the games on this list feature radio friendly hits as well as music from around the world, independent artists and original songs.
Art: It can be easy to overlook this aspect of music games. Players will often focus solely on the goal and miss the gorgeous visuals surrounding them. That’s a real shame because many of the titles below feature some of the most original graphics in all of video games.
Some on this list are stand-alone titles, while others are an entire series. But enough of the rules, MAN. We came here to rock! Here are the Top Ten Best Rhythm Games!
10. Rocksmith 2014 (2014)
Remember what we said about accessibility? Well, Rocksmith 2014 literally teaches you how to play the guitar, which is about as steep of a learning curve as could be. Rocksmith’s Real tone cable plugs directly into a quarter-jack of a real guitar and serves mostly as a very successful and entertaining teaching tool. Rocksmith’s Arcade Mode comes into play with faithful homages of SEGA’s House Of The Dead and Bally’s Root Beer Tapper paired with guitar chords and scales make for a fun and exciting experience you won't find anywhere else.
9. Gitaroo-Man (2001)
A cult-classic on the PlayStation 2, Gitaroo-Man is a simple story about a boy and his talking dog fighting off an alien invasion with the power of his guitar. Did I say simple? I meant totally insane and it’s all the better for it. Gitaroo’s gameplay involves wiggling an analog stick along a track while tapping buttons. That’s not to say the game is simple. It's far from it. Many of the later stages are devastatingly difficult. But the adorable humor, edgy character design and intense soundtrack will keep beaten-down players returning for more. It’s too bad its only re-release was on the PlayStation Portable, as audiences have become more accustomed to challenging rhythm games.
8.Samba de Amigo (2000)
When Sonic Team released Samba De Amigo in 2000, it stood out for two reasons. The first was it’s booming Latin soundtrack from artists such as Pérez Prado and Ritchie Valens. The second was a pair of plastic Maracas that came with every copy. Players were tasked with shaking to the beat and quickly pulling off cool poses. Pair that with a hyper-colorful party world and you've got yourself one of the best games on the SEGA Dreamcast. 2008 Gearbox (Borderlands 2; Aliens Colonial Marines) delivered a mostly faithful port to the Nintendo Wii, providing even more people the opportunity to hang out with a sombrero wearing monkey.
7. Frequency (2001)
Harmonix’s first game ever went from store shelves to bargain bins in the blink of an eye. But along the way, Frequency captured the hearts and minds of a devoted and passionate fanbase. Frequency essentially serves as a Rock Band of one, requiring players to successfully tap three buttons to the corresponding nodes in two measures before switching to a new instrument. It may sound complicated on paper, but the actual gameplay is both simplistic and rewarding. The game’s techno-psychedelic grid graphics can put players in a daze as they build a song track-by-track, fully engaging them in the music. Now 14 years later, Frequencyis making a comeback via Kickstarter as in homages such as Audiosurf.
6. Elite Beat Agents (2006)
A sort of sequel/remake of the popular Japanese title Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan, Elite Beat Agents is the best rhythm game ever to grace a touchscreen. What happens when a meteorologist, baby sitter or a zombie-fighting peanut salesmen are at their wit’s end? If you answered “a group of secret agents help them dance their way to success,” then you've probably played EBA before. Players need to follow numbered circles to tap and drag their stylus rhythmically to songs by The Village People, Rolling Stones and Avril Lavigne to name a few. Despite a highly challenging end game, Elite Beat Agents is all about overcoming challenges big and small with the power of music, and it’s optimistic outlook is infectious.
5. Rhythm Heaven (2006-Present)
For a series that spans the arcade, Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS and Wii, Rhythm Heaven’s simple gameplay hasn't evolved that much from its tapping roots. Given that it’s one of the most fun Nintendo franchises of the past decade, that’s not a problem. Rhythm Heavenfeatures a series of four short, abstract games that are then combined into fifth stage remix. Think of it as a "Sesame Street" for rhythm. The game foregoes any on screen indicators. Instead players must learn their cues from a short test and simply listen to the original music. Events range from interviewing a pro-wrestler to marching as a bird and catching peas with a fork. How can that possibly be musical? That’s the magic of Rhythm Heaven: everything is connected to the beat.
4. UmJammer Lammy (1999)
After the surprise success of the hip-hop influenced PaRappa the Rapper, NaNaOn-Sha threw their fans a curve ball with the rock based UmJammer Lammy. Those that gave the guitar-playing lamb a chance found a game with even sharper controls and twice the gameplay of its predecessor. Lammy just wants to get to her rock show, but along the way she’ll need to fight fires, put a room full of babies to sleep and fly an airplane with an ill-tempered pilot. But Lammy’s up for the task because the guitar is in her mind! UmJammmer may only use six buttons and last 43 minutes, but the added guitar filers and bonus PaRappa mode makes this the best game NaNaOn-Sha ever produced. Though the debate over which titles had the best original soundtrack rages on to this day.
3. Dance Dance Revolution (1998-Present)
Wherever there is a DDR machine, you can bet there’s a DDR master not too far away. While the rest of Konami’s Bemani output (Guitar Freaks; Beatmania) had a high barrier of entry,DDR asks players to simply land their feet to the four corresponding arrows. For 17 years, fans have danced to a wide range of techno hits on a plethora of home console dance pads. Given the athletic nature of the gameplay, DDR has been introduced to schools for physical education classes. Konami’s dancing series has dozens of entries, even included Disney andMario titles. Though it hasn't maintained the mainstream success of the early 2000’s, Dance Dance Revolution still lives on in it’s legions of devoted fans. Some users have even reported having nightmares about a three-arrow command. Yeah, it’s that popular.
2. The Beatles: Rock Band (2009)
While most of the games on this list feature limited stories, The Beatles: Rock Band is a sort of documentary of the world’s most popular band. Starting off in the Cavern Club and ending atop Apple Headquarters, this game covers the entire career of The Beatles, albeit an abridged version (sorry Billy Preston). The game slavish devotion to capturing the Beatles essence is apparent from the beginning, faithfully reproducing filmed performances from Ed Sullivan to Budokan. Yoko Ono actually refused to approve the game until the Fab Four’s hair realistically reacted to the wind.
But it’s when The Beatles enter their studio period that the art truly shines through. During a performance of Octopus's Garden, the recording studio slowly fills up with water and before long the band is standing on the bottom of the sea instruments in hand. In between songs, audio clips of studio small talk are played and the date of the recording is listed. The Beatles: Rock Band does justice to one of the most enduring and influential acts of the 20th century. Some may be disappointed by the absence of their favorite song, but the full album DLC ofAbbey Road, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Rubber Soul more than make up for the nitpicks. There’s so much more to say, but hey, there’s a reason this is only second on the list. After all, not everyone loves The Beatles.
1. Rock Band 3 (2010)
Admit it, you knew this would be number one, but there’s a good reason the final Rock Bandentry of last generation is the best rhythm game yet. A deep collection of music includingRock Band 1 and 2 as well as thousands of DLC tracks? Check. The Beatles: Rock Band three part vocal harmonies? Check. New instruments and tutorials that actually teach you how to play the guitar and keytar? Check.
Rock Band 3 is the perfect encapsulation of everything Harmonix learned from Frequency,Guitar Hero and Rock Band. Players use plastic guitars, drums, bass guitars, microphones and keytars to play a song together. The visual note highway does an excellent job of communicating measure and beats to even the most inexperienced musician. If one person fails out of a song, their band mates high scores can bring them back. Rock Band 3 is one of the most fun and rewarding party games because it gives a group of people a single goal to overcome. But it’s also an excellent single player game thanks to its deep tutorial system, ensuring your success when you get the band together.
Rock Band is second to none when it comes to licensed soundtracks. Weezer, Snoop Dogg, Boston, Tears For Fears, John Lennon, Slayer, Ramones and Stevie Ray Vaughan all contribute to the deep and varied track-list. There’s bound to be something you like, regardless of musical preference. Rock Band has also introduced younger generations to pop music's roots, resulting in a number of classic bands surging in popularity. And with Harmonix still putting out more songs to this day, there’s little reason to stop the rock.
So, what did you think of the list? Is Rock Band overrated? Are you raging over Audiosurf’s absence? Let us know in the comments below or send a voice or text message to 954-947-7377.