There was a time when music and rhythm games were a thriving genre. Just 10 years ago it seemed there was a total takeover, kicked off by Dance Dance Revolution, a game that danced its way right out of the arcades and into homes across the country.
Then there was Guitar Hero... and then Dance Central... and then Rock Band. With new editions of these titles coming out yearly, it was only a matter of time before the market was totally oversaturated. Then, they seemed to all but vanish off the face of the Earth.
However, now that we’ve had a few years to recover and all our music games are last gen, western developers are finally ready to dive back into the genre. Here’s our list of the Best Music Games, both current and upcoming.
Rock Band 4
After a nearly two year long hiatus, on January 13, 2015 Harmonix released new DLC for Rock Band 3. With it came rumors of Rock Band 4’s development. On March 5, 2015 those rumors were confirmed to be true and that Harmonix was, in fact, working on Rock Band 4. Better yet, we’ll be seeing it this year.
Coming from someone who bought into Rock Band and all of its sequels, I was happy to learn this isn’t going to be just another edition that will expire by next year. Instead, Harmonix aims to make Rock Band 4 the platform for eighth generation consoles. Over time, the game will be updated with patches, both free and paid, to introduce new features while regularly providing new DLC. Speaking of DLC, remember all of those songs you invested in? You’ll get to play them in Rock Band 4.
"At the same time we were able to be quite critical of the work that we had done and saw lots of room for improvement. And that was really important to us as well because we are all creative people and it was important for us to be able to sink our teeth into to something that was deserving of the 4 at the end of the title. We didn't just want to rehash Rock Band 3 for new consoles. We felt it was really important for us to evolve the gameplay in a way that would be interesting," says Rock Band 4 project manager Daniel Sussman.
Although Wii U and PC users won’t see Rock Band 4 this year, it’s clearer than ever that Harmonix is staying in touch with their core audience to give the fans this long-awaited sequel.
Guitar Hero Live
For the last four years, Activision had been dancing around whether or not a new Guitar Hero game was in development, but it seems the announcement of Rock Band 4 pulled them out of their shells and on April 4, 2015 Guitar Hero Live was officially announced to be in development by FreeStyleGames -- the pioneers of the original Guitar Hero franchise.
Unlike Rock Band 4, Guitar Hero Live will be available on a wide number of platforms, even iOS. In an attempt to refresh the gameplay, major core elements have been changed. First-person full motion videos will replace the third-person rockers of the previous titles, putting you, quite literally, center stage. The fancy new revamped controller will feature six buttons on the neck in two rows of three. This may or may not have been a problem for other players, but I could never truly master songs with that little orange button. So, the new controller is definitely something to look forward to. On the downside, none of your old equipment will be compatible, but hopefully the improvements will be substantial enough to make the new gear worth it.
Meet Activision’s response to the rhythm game burnout: Guitar Hero TV. Instead of scheduled sequels and planned DLC (which led to the oversaturation of the market in the late 00’s), GHTV will serve as the platform for content discovery featuring curated playlists that will allow for more playable content to be available. As of writing, it’s unknown how the game will be monetized.
Just Dance 2015
Aside from Dance Central, Just Dance was the only music game with consistent content releases over the last couple years, and its latest edition to the series did not disappoint. Just Dance 2015 features 45 pop hits paired with fun and (sort of) easy-to-learn dance routines. Of course, no one would ever take these moves to a club. It’s less about looking cool and more about having a good time. The addition of fully functional online multiplayer is the game’s greatest success. Battle it out on the virtual dancefloor one-on-one, or join a party of up to eight for a dance off. Offline, this is a great game to have a group of friends over for a dancing jamboree. You’ll either nail the moves and feel like a star, or laugh your butt off trying.
Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai 2
The direct sequel to Hatsune Miku and Future Stars: Project Mirai, Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai 2 is a Japanese rhythm game featuring a roster of Vocaloid superstars in all of their chibi cuteness. So Kawaii! Released in Japan late 2013, the game is finally making its way west this fall.
If you haven’t played a modern Japanese rhythm arcade game --and chances are you haven’t as they are increasingly more difficult to come by these days-- then this game will be a great new experience. Rhythm games in the style of Hatsune Miku: Projects Mirai 2 are relatively easy to pick up. Beginners mode is slow paced enough you won’t be tripping over the commands and the songs are so catchy, you won’t mind playing them again and again ...unless you don’t like Vocaloid music. If you’re a J-Pop junkie like me then you will be bobbing your head to the beat and singing along in no time!
Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call
Not into Vocaloids but still want to go in on a rhythm game? Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call might be a better choice. It’s filled to the brim with Final Fantasyisms and comes with 221 songs and 60 playable characters from pretty much every Final Fantasy game -- and that’s not even including DLC!
It’s super accessible from the beginning, so if you’re new to the genre, don’t fret: more difficult levels will offer a greater challenge once you’re ready. For those who played the first Theatrhythm, look forward to an expanded selection of music, new games modes, and the addition of online and local multiplayer. All in all, Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call is a solid investment for any Final Fantasy fan. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable game that features the best music of any video game franchise out there. As Bob Mackey calls it in his review, it’s the perfect nostalgia delivery device.
Crypt of the Necrodancer
Crypt of the Necrodancer is a mixed genre game that’s one part roguelike dungeon crawler and one part rhythm game. Using either a mouse and keyboard, gamepad, or even a dance pad, the player can traverse the map. The catch is, you can only successfully move or perform an attack to the beat of the song playing. You may be thinking, “Does this truly qualify as a music game?’
Sure, Crypt of the Necrodancer is, at its foundation, a dungeon crawler ...but it’s the music that serves at the core infrastructure to the battle system. You literally can’t move if you don’t move to the music. Not only that, it’s currently the only game I can think of that utilizes the dance pad. Developers Brace Yoursel have even come out with their very own special dance pad -- however any pad that’s PC compatible will do. This game might sound like a one-trick pony, but with a diverse gallery of enemies to fight and 16 awesome tracks accompanied by unique visuals, it’s a winner.
Ephemerid: A Musical Adventure
Perhaps the most unconventional title on this list, Ephemerid: A Musical Adventure is a storybook-styled rock opera about two paper mayflies. There’s no dialogue in this book. Instead it’s up to the awesome rock music and creative illustrations to guide you through its magical tale. Once you’re in, you’ll have no trouble immersing yourself in its wondrous atmosphere .
Ephemerid is a unique blend of a point and click adventure game with rhythm game elements involved to progress the story. It serves as proof that not every game needs to be challenging in order to be great. There’s something to be said about the simplicity of Ephemerid’s nature that makes the experience so enjoyable. There’s no losing this game, and no bar of skill. Without that pressure you’re really able to immerse yourself in its fantasy. Ephemerid will elate you. It will send you to all the happy places and remind you of why you love music so much.
I first found ReRave at one of the last living original arcades: 8 on the Break in Dunellen, NJ. I can say with confidence that there is no other place on the east coast quite like ‘The Break.” What started out as a pool hall and pinball arcade in the 1970’s turned into one of the most happening arcades on the east coast and a mainstay for the fighting game community today. It’s also one of the last places you can play import Japanese rhythm arcade games such as Jubeat.
Meet ReRave. Developed in 2011 by a small American studio, Step Revolution, ReRave accomplishes what few others have. They’ve created a fun and fully functional (American!) rhythm arcade game. While there are only a few machines in the US, the game is available across iOS and Android platforms. The songs that come preloaded on the game upon download are catchy and diverse. Although it’s free to download, the game does require you to purchase in-app coins to play. For less than a dollar you can purchase each song for unlimited play. With so few good mobile music games out there, this one really stands out.
Speaking of Jubeat… here is Jubeat’s mobile cousin: Jukebeat! Developed by Konami and released for mobile in 2011, Jukebeat is a nice little slice of the smash hit arcade game. Although some of the magic is lost, (the arcade cabinet puts on one hell of a light show) the game still translates well and manages to supply you with hours of great music and challenging stages. So challenging you might even fail the beginner's levels the first few times.
The music is the game's highest seller with Konami classics such as Dracula II: Noroi no Fuuin from Castlevania II (JP) and the occasional American pop song. Four years later and song packs are still being released regularly which can be purchased as DLC.