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 411mania » Games » Columns

The 8 Ball 3.05.13: Top 8 Rhythm Games
Posted by Marc Morrison on 03.05.2013

Welcome to another installment of The 8 Ball. Readers voted on seeing my Top 8 Rhythm games from last week's poll, so here we are. I included only the games I've really played in my list, which is the primary reason Dance Central (or anything Kinect-related) didn't make the cut. Let's begin:

8. PaRappa the Rapper

As one of the more fondly remembered original Playstation games, PaRappa holds a special place in a lot of older gamer's hearts. While the gameplay is rudimentary by today's standards, PaRappa was a lot of fun, back in the day. This is primarily due to the great music and the 2D hand-drawn artwork that the game was revered for. The gameplay is just simple repeating the sequence at the top, but you have to do it in time with the beat. You're graded on how well you do in the game ranging from Awful to Cool. But really, the game's greatest accomplishment is the introduction of Chop Chop Master Onion and his fresh rhyme of "Kick! Punch! It's all in the mind / If you wanna test me, I'm sure you'll find / The things I'll teach ya is sure to beat ya / But nevertheless you'll get a lesson from teacher" Word, Master Onion, Word.

7. Vib-Ribbon

Sadly, this game never came to America, which is still one of the biggest crime's Sony has committed. Vib-Ribbon is a Playstation 1 game in which you guide Vibri the Rabbit along a path that is dotted with obstacles. These include towers, pits, jagged lines and loops. Each obstacle corresponds with a single button on the controller, R1 for loop, L1 for tower, etc. You also have to combine button presses, because some obstacles will be combinations of buttons, say a jagged tower (L1 and X). The obstacles are generated from the beats of the in-game soundtrack, but the really crazy thing is that you could use your own cd. You would load up the game then swap out the disk for a cd, and the game would make a level out of it. This game could, and should be easily ported to modern systems, but few people know about it and that's a shame.

6. Audiosurf

This is the other "Your music is the game" game on my list. While Audiosurf does have some music included within it, it's when you put your own music in the game does it really open up. The game involves you basically piloting your ship along a track that is generated from the game scanning your music. Depending on the mode you choose, your ship has different abilities, be it Eraser, Vegas, Pointman and more. As your ship travels down you pick up different colored blocks that correspond with the beat, and you have to match 3 (or more) in order to score. It's probably actually my favorite music game of them all, just because you can put in any song you want and have a blast trying to play it.

5. Groove Coaster

I think this might actually be the newest game on my list. Groove Coaster is a rhythm game for iOS in which your ship moves along a track and you have to tap (or hold) the screen in concert with the beat when the prompts show up. The coaster part comes in because the track is constantly moving and turning all around. This can make it difficult to actually keep up with the game when the track is looping around and turning. Power ups help in the game by making hidden beats shown, or boosting up your score, etc. The music is mostly techno driven which sounds pretty solid. Like Vib-Ribbon it has a pretty minimalist look to it, but that works in the game's favor.

4. Guitar Hero

Guitar Hero really cemented music/rhythm games for the popular culture. While there had been prior games before it, GutiarFreaks chiefly, those were highly niche titles only really seen in arcades or in import game stores. Guitar Hero is the game that brought the genre to the real main-stream, where you could find the thing in your local stores, buy it, and play it with relative ease. For me, Guitar Hero 2 was the high point of the series, because it had the most music I liked in it, most of the early Guitar Hero games were solid enough. It's when Activision really annualized the hell out of the series, is when it took a severe nose dive. With that said, the first three Guitar Hero games are solid enough, as is Guitar Hero 5, even if it is an obvious copy of the next game on this list.

3. Rock Band 2

While Rock Band 1 was the complete package when it came to the full band experience, Rock Band 2 was a better band experience, overall. With better constructed instruments, an improved tour mode, and the ability to play multiples of the same instruments for a single song, make RB2 a much richer gamer for both solo and group play. The biggest thing that the game introduced was the track/DLC store where you had access to thousands of songs at your disposal for a decent price. This changed the game, as it were, from being a game with only 70 or 80 songs, to a game with literally over a thousand by the time it was done. Rock Band 3 kept the dream alive with even more songs for you to buy with the store finally coming to a close next month. I would've liked more music I personally enjoy to be in the store, that's a small complaint. Harmonix should be respected for keeping the series so long as they did.

2. DDR

What Guitar Hero did for rhythm games for the mainstream pubic, DDR did for rhythm games for nerd's years before. It wasn't the first game to use a mat for gameplay purposes, sure, but it was the first to really breach stateside and be good at it (sorry Power Pad fans). The game just involved you pressing the arrows as they scrolled up the screen, but the game got a lot of mileage out of this simple concept. While I personally rue the day DDR was brought to America, just because it signaled the end for the classic, dark, adult-oriented arcades I used to love; it was still a decent game to play. While other games have taken over the dance game mantle, notably Dance Central, DDR was the big game back in the day and should be respected for it.

1. Amplitude

Amplitude probably isn't a lot of people's first choice, but it certainly is mine. Honestly, I think this game probably has the perfect melding of rhythm gameplay and the soundtrack to back it up. The game involved a song being broken up into multiple tracks, guitar, vocals, bass drums, etc., and having notes in that track that you have to press the button on. Once you clear out a section, that track goes away for a bit and you move onto the next instrument. The real trick is to maximize your combo, both with your own rhythm for getting a big score, and using the power ups effectively. The soundtrack ranged from David Bowie, to Freezepop to Blink 182, DJ HMX and more, it was good for the overall look of the game with a lot of interesting music to try out. Rock Band Blitz is much like this game, but I found it strangely not as fun. I still pop in Amplitude from time to time, just to have a few rounds of play, because it is just that good.

The Better Half


Rhythm games are the pink ghetto of the gaming world. They either erode your hardcore cred, make you seem even less socially acceptable at gatherings, or conjure up stereotypes of rapidly moving intense Asian kids. But they somehow still manage to sell like hotcakes in North America, so SOMEBODY in the core constituency is playing them.

I am fully prepared to admit that I play my share of rhythm games -- I hate gyms, I find treadmills boring, and rhythm games are great exercise on the harder difficulties. Rhythm games are a deceptively complex genre,despite being aimed at more casual players. So without further ado, I'll attempt to prove this with the following list.

Honorable mention: Rocksmith: While amazing, Rocksmith isn't a rhythm game to me, as much as a guitar playing app. I felt it would be insulting to the dev team's work to include it on a list of games, when it's really a skill teaching tool.

8) Dance Dance Revolution -- I'm including this because it's obligatory, and made enough of a cultural impact to create some of the aforementioned stereotypes. But it doesn't get above number 8 because the home version sucked. If I'd had the full arcade machine at home I probably would have loved it, but those plastic pads did not stay in place for me during harder difficulty settings. I don't want to think about how many times I could have ended up in the hospital because of a slip or the pad bunching unexpectedly. Also, that is not dancing; that is playing Simon with your feet. The game should have been called "Stomp Stomp Ad-Nauseam".... does anyone still remember the Simon game?

7) Dyad -- while not actually a rhythm game, it is a hybrid music title, and there are elements of rhythm play in this little gem of an indie title. I'd rather include something I thought was awesome then put in too many meh games just because they strictly adhere to definitions. I don't think we're going to be doing a Top 8 Pitch Games anytime soon. In fact, I vote for never doing that list. The reason I think Dyad's groove works here is because when you really sink into the experience, the music and the gameplay become inextricably interwoven and you do end up unintentionally matching your moves to the beat. So it's rhythm game by osmosis.

6) Just Dance 4 -- This is another game series I have an extreme bias against because IT SCARES THE CRAP OUT OF ME! The on-screen characters are way, WAY too much like psychedelic clowns. That's just wrong. Obviously, the psychedelic quality doesn't bother me because I just recommended Dyad, but the avatars just look like pop art re- imaginings of drunk gay child molesters. Seriously, they leered at the stick figure guy from Dance Central while he was in the fifth grade and said filthy things to him in French, which is how he got the name Frenchy. True story. ... Okay maybe I made that up.

I have to give Ubisoft points for its dance title's broad appeal, and for creating a special feature for the Wii U that was actually fun -- for the twelve people who used it. But the game just hits the same fear centers in my brain that are triggered by Teletubbies and The Wiggles. That, and I really got self-conscious doing booty pops to Beyonce while my six year-old niece was playing with me. Awkward.

5) PaRappa the Rapper -- Were it not for the huge success of PaRappa, we may not have a modern rhythm genre as we know it. I remember how completely confused I was in the mid-nineties over this weird little rapping paper dog who provided a completely different sort of game experience while the early days of the violent video game culture wars were raging. It's one of those games that probably wouldn't thrive in today's marketing-heavy games culture, because could you imagine trying to get a game that's "Paper Mario meets Hong Kong Phooey meets Eminem with an original soundtrack about donuts and toilets" any sort of press attention at E3? Despite this, PaRappa is so badass that he ended up in Playstation All-Stars. Could you imagine one of the Dance Central characters in a brawler?

4) Rayman Raving Rabbids -- Okay yeah I'm only talking about certain categories of minigames here, but you could Shake Your Booty with the Rabbids three years before Just Dance started completely freaking me out. Any song the Rabbids include in a game is forever changed in my mind, and I have to wonder if the success of the dancing bunnies element inspired Ubisoft to make a dedicated dance game with FREAKY

I can't say that Raving Rabbids was a fantastic technical rhythm game, but it was an early adopter of what was possible with motion controllers beyond bowling and waggling. Ubisoft is exceptionally good at figuring out creative early uses for new gaming tech. Yes, this is my outside-the-box entry on this list, but it was the first "dance game" I ever played, so I feel it deserves some credit.

3) Guitar Hero II -- Yes, the original Guitar Hero was the game that launched a thousand peripherals cluttering my living room, but I could not get the "pull-offs" function to work to save my life. The hammer-ons and pull-offs functions worked much better in the sequel, and the expanded character roster included awesomeness like Lars Umlaut and Casey Lynch. Guitar Hero II was undeniably awesome, from its track
list to its silly venues, and the tons of fun had with friends in that happy mid-point between actual musical talent and air guitar. It was the last Guitar Hero game developed by Harmonix, and NOTHING good came out of the franchise after Harmonix left. /end hyperbole. Moving on.

2) Dance Central -- Harmonix's first attempt on the Kinect made a horrible first impression. At the Kinect unveiling at E3, the character roster of cuddly MTV wannabes without some sort of addiction was eye-roll inspiring. The trails of fairy-dust and flashing encouragements -- GREAT! FLAWLESS! FIVE STARS! -- made me want to puke. But once you play the game, Harmonix's hallmarks come out to play: balanced difficulty, a canny track listing, and a growing list of DLC. It was hands-down the best launch title for Kinect, and kept Harmonix afloat after the music game bubble burst. While Dance Central 2 did improve some functions, the track list was nowhere near as good as the original. I mean, a Justin Bieber song? I have
limits! I also found, to my surprise, that I actually missed the weird minimal plot with Oblio shunning the decadence of the mansion... and stuff. Subsequent Dance Centrals needed more of the cool-wrapped-
in-ridiculous found in...

1) Rock Band 2 -- Remember when Rock Band came out, and we were all calling it "Guitar Hero with Drums, made by MTV"? Wow were we wrong. The original title in the franchise took the world -- not just the
gaming world but the WHOLE world -- by storm, and the sequel produced much needed improvements, most notably in a kick drum pedal heavy enough to prevent it from migrating or flying into the air during really fast songs. This was important for me, because I play drums like the love child of Meg White and Animal.

While it lacked the cartoonish characters of Guitar Hero and the customized avatars never really worked for me, the technically innovations, the Rock Band Network, and an unrivaled amount of DLC, more than made up for that. Rock Band 3 may have wowed music critics, but it may have been TOO close to playing real instruments for people just wanting to goof around with their friends, and it took the franchise away from the sweet spot it had settled into.

It was Rock Band 2 that became the new karaoke as a local pub theme night staple, as well as a game-for-people-who-don't-play-games as well as a geekie way for overpaid pinheads to flash their money around
with the ion drum kit. Rock Band was one of those games that made consoles relevant to the mainstream masses in a way that wasn't a debate on violent media.

Here is Liana's newest video:

Complainer's Corner

There's a lot of rhythm games that people are likely going to be outraged by that aren't on the big list. Here goes: Beat Hazard, Beat Sketcher, Bit Trip Beat/Runner, Boom Boom Rocket, DDR, DJ Hero, Donkey Konga, Samba de Amigo, Elite Beat Agents, Just Dance, Let's Tap, Mad Maestro, Patapon (and sequels), Rez/Children of Eden, Sound Shapes, Space Channel 5, Dance Central, Rhythm Heaven, Guitar Freaks, and Drum Mania

The General Roundup

Yeesh, there were a lot of comments about the column last week. I'd say my honorary 9th pick probably would have been Call of Duty. The only thing stopping me is that those game are still fairly solid. They aren't everybody's cup of tea sure, and the annualization has severely tarnished the franchise, but they are still fairly solid games. A few other points: 1. I didn't single the Dynasty Warriors game because that would fall into the heading of "Anime games", especially the Gundam ones. 2. Online co-op isn't exactly a new thing. Yet Traveller's Tales seems intent on including it in the franchise. 3. Assassin's Creed isn't over 10 years old. It's barely 6. The first AC game came out in 2007. And finally 4. WWE games probably shouldn't end. What SHOULD end is Yukes developing them. Once 2K took over the license, they just brought Yukes back. Considering how busted those games have been on this generation, starting fresh (with a new developer), would have been welcome. Here's hoping they do that with the new consoles.

What do you want the 8 Ball to be about next week?

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