Fans and media alike couldn't help raising an eyebrow at E3 2014 this year when Vib-Ribbon came up not once, but twice, during Sony's press conference; both seemingly at random, once as a transition to a Mortal Kombat X trailer of all things.
Now we have the announcement that fans have been waiting for nearly 15 years to hear: Vib-Ribbon has officially been confirmed for a North American release. It'll be out tomorrow on the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita, with a PlayStation 4 version possibly in the works as well.
For rhythm fans, it's a moment to rejoice. When Vib-Ribbon first came out in Japan in 1999, word quickly spread of Masaya Matsuura's unique follow-up to PaRappa the Rapper and UnJammer Lammy, and a groundswell began to build for a western release. But as Shawn Layden alluded to in his post on the PlayStation Blog, it was a tough sell for the marketing team, who likely took one look at the minimalist black-and-white graphics and said, "No way."
Their purported hesitance has much to do with how far ahead of its time Vib-Ribbon really was. An experimental game in the mold of today's indie darlings, its minimalist black and white graphics were bold, and the idea of a platformer in which the music generated the obstacles was a novel one. Games like Audiosurf have since taken the notion of visualizing music through gameplay and run with it, but at the time no one had ever really seen anything like Vib-Ribbon. Even with experimentation on the rise in 1999 and 2000 thanks to the Dreamcast, it was easy for people to look at Vib-Ribbon and say, "I don't get it."
Nevertheless, it managed to build up a cult following in the west, despite only being released in Europe, many of whom have pined for a release for a years now. After the announcement, I shot a text to a friend I know to be a fan of Vib-Ribbon and asked what he likes about it so much, and he responded, "The art. The instant generation of rhythmic gameplay to whatever you put in. The tension of the music reflected in the tension of your motions. It is a blank, minimalist canvas for your mind. It's less a game than interactive game exhibition."
And, of course, its ability to generate levels from an audio CD is pretty neat, as well.
Vib-Ribbon's minimalism should allow it to hold up much better than the majority of original PlayStation games, which are by today's standards blocky, blurry, and slow. It'll be an opportunity for a new generation of gamers, many of whom have likely never heard of Vib-Ribbon, to partake of an honestly very cool rhythm experience.
A word of caution, though: As Bob pointed out to me following the announcement, older rhythm games like PaRappa the Rapper have been significantly impacted by issues like input lag, having originally been designed for wired controllers on CRT televisions. Vib-Ribbon could very well suffer from those same issues on the PlayStation 3; and while it's possible to play on the Vita, that version will have the drawback of not supporting audios CDs. So if input lag is an issue, it'll become a matter of picking your poison.
That shouldn't put you off from picking up Vib-Ribbon when it comes out tomorrow, however. As Layden noted in his post, Sony's engineers "have developed a way to bring Vibri to life on PS3 and PS Vita," which could mean that Sony has found a way to mitigate the issues that have hurt previous rhythm game ports. And even if it does have issues with input lag, it's still a piece of rhythm game history on par with that of PaRappa the Rapper or Rez. After all these years of waiting, American music fans owe it to themselves to check it out.
With Vib-Ribbon, and soon Grim Fandango, Sony has done an excellent job of highlighting the cult hits of yesteryear (though I'm still waiting for PSN releases for Suikoden II and Valkyrie Profile). The PlayStation Network's PS1 library is still comparatively limited, but if we're in for more releases like Vib-Ribbon, then its future looks bright. Keep it up, Sony. You're doing good.