News Article

Talking Point: Music and Rhythm Games Are Coming Back

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

No plastic guitars needed

There was a time, in the not too distant past, when Harmonix and Activision were locked in a gaming battle of the plastic bands, with the Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises facing off in the charts. It was a phenomenon, capitalising on the rise of a new generation of gamers, that allowed us to live out fantasies of being rock gods with some of our favourite music. Players who wanted to dive in had to pay some serious money for a plastic guitar to accompany the game, while those that really cared splashed out for band kits that included a microphone and drums.

It was a finite craze, however, as new entries all too quickly became over-familiar and predictable: the music tracks changed but the actual games brought more of the same. Maybe gamers became more self-aware and wondered whether rocking out on a plastic guitar was slightly silly, or perhaps it was just the inevitable burst of the bubble. In any case, the phenomenon was passing, and for those not paying attention it may have seemed like the end of rhythm music gaming. That wasn’t the case, however, and recent releases show that the genre still has some life in it yet.

Of course, it was only the Rock Band and Guitar Hero titles – and their imitators – that relied on reproducing popular music with instruments. Rhythm titles of various kinds have enjoyed a solid role on Nintendo systems in recent years, with one example being Let’s Tap on Wii; it was rather innovatively controlled by tapping a box, with the Wii Remote picking up the vibrations and converting them into moves in the game. DS also enjoyed its share: two notable examples were Rhythm Heaven – or Rhythm Paradise in Europe — and Elite Beat Agents. Both were quirky, particularly the latter, and simply required taps and swipes of the stylus to play. Elite Beat Agents, and its Japanese predecessor Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan, became a bit of a cult hit; its peculiar style perhaps contributed to modest sales, but it nevertheless has a considerable group of enthusiastic advocates. Rhythm Heaven, on the other hand, was advertised heavily as part of the ‘Touch Generation’ campaign that Nintendo pursued, recruiting Beyoncé Knowles, for one, to the cause.

As was the case with the increasingly stale plastic instrument titles, however, there were mis-steps that didn’t quite hit the mark and started to have a negative impact on the genre. Wii Music was, arguably, a disappointment: the concept of the Wii Remote and Nunchuk serving as a variety of instruments or conductor’s baton may have been intriguing on paper, but the execution didn’t live up to expectations. As the first decade of the 21st century gradually drew to a close, rhythm games became less bankable and prominent, and a new craze for karaoke and dancing started to take its place. There were perhaps smaller releases but, as a genre, there were question marks whether critically acclaimed experiences would make high-profile returns in the future; developers became all too aware of a shrinking market.

For musically inclined gamers who also own Nintendo systems, perhaps 2012 can be thought of as a year that has seen a return to the simple and addictive pleasures that rhythm games can offer, with some important twists to enliven the genre. First up, in Europe at least, was Rhythm Thief & the Emperor’s Treasure, a SEGA title that not only delivered solid stylus-based controls and terrific original music, but also a humorous and well-produced storyline. The production values in terms of both sound and cut scene visuals gave the title a sense of flair, and producer Shun Nakamura stated that it was all with the aim of reviving music games.

What I wanted to accomplish is the blending of rhythm and narrative. Standard rhythm games don't have such backbone and the core fun factors are to groove and simply enjoy the music. I liked being able to [achieve] a different level of fun there.

...In fact, my personal feeling is that the Bemani style has reached its limit and users feel that way too. As I mentioned before, I created a similar game about 10 years ago and I felt that creators ran out of fresh ideas to grow the genre and as a result, users have grown tired.

The approach we are taking now, of adding in plot, is my way of reviving music games. In this new method, I believe old-fashioned music games and Bemani style have a place to live.

The self-professed goal of adding a new sense of purpose to the music is also evident in the latest 3DS rhythm title, Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy, which celebrates 25 years of the venerable Square Enix franchise. Heavily stylised, the title features music from all of the major releases in the series, while incorporating elements of battles and RPG mechanics: it’s accessible to newcomers but also has enough fan-service to attract experienced gamers. Much like Rhythm Thief, the stylistic flourishes are backed up by excellent implementation, and the concept of more celebratory franchise-based Theatrhythm titles has been raised by producer Ichiro Hazama, in an interview with Siliconera.

There are many series that I would want to work on for Theatrhythm. Dragon Quest has a lot of music and Kingdom Hearts would be wonderful to do if it’s possible. I’m not too familiar with the Eidos collection, but Tomb Raider has a long history so it must have a great collection of songs. That might be fun.

The final title that absolutely must be mentioned as a top rhythm title this year is Rhythm Heaven Fever – or Beat the Beat: Rhythm Paradise in Europe – on Wii. Much like its DS predecessor it combines relentless charm with impeccable design, and is regarded as pure joy on a disc by various members of the Nintendo Life team.

If 2012 has brought us a high quality revival, what’s next? We’re hoping to see more of the same; a consistent stream of innovative, entertaining rhythm games that bring control innovation, storytelling, new game mechanics or a mix of all three. The upcoming Wii U also has potential for the genre, as the GamePad combines conventional controls with a touch screen, meaning that DS-style experiences can be recreated and enhanced. There’s potential for cross-play, too, where a new rhythm title that uses touch screen inputs, for example, can be played on either a 3DS or Wii U: play a few tracks on the bus, get home and pick up where you left off on the TV.

So many gaming genres have enjoyed sustained success, with examples such as 2D platformers, racing games and the ever-popular FPS. If music rhythm titles can continue to evolve and succeed in the same way for years to come, then that can only be a good thing.

More Stories

User Comments (47)

noxusprime06

#1

noxusprime06 said:

i need instruments guitar hero is the best game ever i forever hate activision for not continuing the series. these games look pathetic because its not actual music. rock band is a complete copy of guitar hero and a bad one at that so i say bring back the world of guitar hero

thebluelight1

#4

thebluelight1 said:

...eh @noxusprime06 ? Rock Band was made by the original Guitar Hero developers, they decided that simply churning out more Guitar Hero games was pointless so they added a whole range of instruments to the formula. The problem with Guitar Hero was that it was Activision controlling it, they saw it made money so they just churned out sub par after sub par sequels until it died. Like they did with Tony Hawk games and hopefully soon with Call of Duty.

Kagamine

#5

Kagamine said:

@noxusprime06 guitar hero just got lame after a little while. I love rhythm games, and what do you mean not real music? So if you dont like it its not music? Thats just ignorant.

pariah164

#6

pariah164 said:

Rhythm games are amazing. Guitar Hero was never my thing; I'll take Rhythm Heaven over it any day.

Prof_Clayton

#7

Prof_Clayton said:

Music Genre is comin' back baby! ♪
Hubba dub- Is that true?
I love T. Final Fantasy, my fav. 3ds game besides kiu. :D Rhythm Heaven is also enjoyable, as is Rhythm Thief (well, the demo anyway, don't have it yet).
Glad to see a sudden surge in music games! Please though, no more singing games.

D33G

#8

D33G said:

I think what @noxusprime06 means by "not real music" is that its original music, not music recorded in a studio, then sold to the public, like Nirvana and Jet.

rayword45

#10

rayword45 said:

Music games are by far my favorite genre, as I'm addicted to some freeware ones (StepMania/FlashFlashRevolution) and play a crap ton of Rock Band/Guitar Hero and DDR/ITG.

I'm glad they're coming back, but I don't think the genre is too lucrative at the moment. Some really good ones like Ongaku didn't get the recognition they deserved.

Hokori

#12

Hokori said:

@noxusprime06 so.... Ouendan doesn't have actual music, same with Final Fantasy and another rhythm game? Vocals doesn't make a game more musical then instrumental, I always hate it when people say I don't listen to music because all I listen to in video game music and JPop

theblackdragonAdmin

#13

theblackdragon said:

^ what D33G said — Guitar Hero and Rock Band were somewhat unique among Rhythm Games (at least at first) because they used actual rock songs released on albums and stuff, not songs that had been commissioned primarily for the game itself and possibly released afterthefact on an album someplace. DDR and PiU did use some actual music in this sense, but largely remixes, nothing you might've straight-up heard on a radio in that form. I remember Guitar Freaks used some licensed music as well, but it's been too long for me to say with any kind of accuracy exactly what was on it, lol.

HaNks

#14

HaNks said:

music/rhythm games hold a special place in my heart, having been involved with konami back in the boom of dancing stage in europe. they missed out big by not pushing some of the more 'obscure' instrument titles on consoles outside japan, judging by the eventual mania that was GH/RB.

rhythm heaven wii is the most fun and fresh take on the genre for some time. brings a big smile to my face and an utter joy to play.

CerealKiller062

#15

CerealKiller062 said:

I want EBA games for 3DS and Wii U, those would be fun, and a possible new rockband for Wii U. (Can't let the plastic controllers go to waste)

ecco6t9

#16

ecco6t9 said:

I think the only downside this month was Sega holding back Rhythm Thief to die at the market while going up against 3 Square Enix games and people still tracking down Pokemon Conquest.

Geonjaha

#17

Geonjaha said:

Well...not really. Rhythm Thief & the Emperor’s Treasure wasnt that well recieved and Threatrhythm only sold so well because it tugged at nostalgia strings - and that was the main aspect of its marketing...

zipmonStaff

#18

zipmon said:

Wonderful read! Rhythm games have a special place in my heart: DDR, PaRappa, Space Channel 5, Osu! Tatake! Ouendan and Rhythm Thief, which gets my vote for the best 3DS game yet. I also actually had a great time playing Wii Music with my family!

Haywired

#20

Haywired said:

You forgot to mention Electroplankton! No, to be fair it's not the sort of thing that immediately comes to mind, but it was a pretty unique music game from that era.

theblackdragonAdmin

#21

theblackdragon said:

@Haywired: Electroplankton isn't really a 'game', though, IMO... for the most part there's no logical 'goal', there's no sense of pressure or competition at all. it's just a collection of highly-artistic sound manipulation applications, y'know? it's not really fair to classify it as a 'rhythm' game when there's no 'rhythm' in it to begin with.

theblackdragonAdmin

#23

theblackdragon said:

haha, more power to you! i tried that for a while, but to be honest i haven't gone back to the Electroplankton games ever since i picked them up. other rhythm games are more fun for me :3

Samholy

#24

Samholy said:

i had my trip of guitar hero/rock band
now im done. didnt really got into the ''gotta practice hard to complete master levels'' cause you know, its waaaaay too ironic to me. better practice a real instrument and youll be a real musicien. no ?

anyway. not my type of games, but i had fun with some of these.

zipmonStaff

#25

zipmon said:

@Haywired Oh man I had so much fun with Electroplankton! The one where you rearrange the leaves in the pond and the little guys slide down them; beautiful.

Haywired

#26

Haywired said:

@zipmon
Yeah, that was the one that was used as a stage on Brawl wasn't it? I liked the one with the snakey things where each segment of their body was a note (with NES sounds).

noxusprime06

#29

noxusprime06 said:

another thing is it doesn't really feel like actually playing music without the instruments. guitar hero and rock band are the only 2 that feel real

sinalefa

#31

sinalefa said:

I actually prefer rhythm games like Rhythm Heaven than Guitar Hero/Rock Band, as you don't have to shell out tons of money on plastic instruments that will collect dust after a while. Your sense of rhythm should carry to any instrument you play, even if a stylus is not a "real" instrument.

And I find it more commendable to compose original, catchy music than to appeal to your musical tastes with licensed music, which is easier and likewise reduces your enjoyment as there are songs you will hate too. Kinda like making a licensed game sell because of the source material as opposed to the quality of the game itself.

For me the king of the genre is Rhythm Heaven, as all cues you get are musical, which means you can even play it without looking. The devs go as far as to confuse you if you depend on the visuals to guide you. So you get more focused and you actually feel like a musician, without someone telling you "now play this note here".

I played the hell out of Rhythm Heaven Fever, and the other two music games mentioned here are in their way.

gundam00

#32

gundam00 said:

@manganimist Actually you can get Rhythm Thief on Amazon and Newegg for $29.99 if you're in the US of A. I thought the demo was fun, mainly because I really like the music. However reviewers on Amazon said that there's more features and gameplay beyond rhythm timing. I really want to get this game, but with Kingdom Hearts and New Super Mario Bros. 2, my extra spending money is gonna be tapped out, not to mention I want to get FF: Theatrhythm for nostalgia purposes.

On a side note: Anyone else think Rhythm Thief would make a good anime? Lupan for the new generation? (Am I really that old??)

Wilford111

#33

Wilford111 said:

I only bought a 3DS late last year, and didn't have a DS before that, and I've been buying rhythm game after rhythm game. I didn't even notice there's been a lack of them recently :D
It's a good thing they're coming back though, I've already bought Rhythm Thief on Amazon. I've held back on buying Theatrhythm because I never really got into Final Fantasy.

Emaan

#34

Emaan said:

Yay for the music genre! Rhythm Heaven is one of my favorite series, pure joy is an understatement. I really need to pick up Theatrhythm Final Fantasy and Rhythm Thief & The Emperor's Treasure as soon as I can. :p

Mystic_Kirby

#36

Mystic_Kirby said:

For all the EBA/Ouendan fans out there, check out osu! on the PC. It's essentially a clone that lets you download custom songs.

chewytapeworm

#37

chewytapeworm said:

I personally love the Guitar Hero franchise, and I'm dead certain it'll be given a revival in about a decade. Hey, I'm a patient man! There's plenty of rhythm games coming out at the moment and the genre is looking stronger and better than ever!

VincentV

#38

VincentV said:

@noxusprime06 I thought the makers of Rock Band had their IP (Guitar hero) taken by Activision, and made Rock Band to compete w/ their old series and improve it.

VincentV

#39

VincentV said:

As long as rhythm games don't have overcharged plastic fake instruments, I could see myself getting one again. Band Hero was such a waste, my most regretted purchase (or more likely, present not exchanged).

WiiLovePeace

#40

WiiLovePeace said:

I for one am glad rhythm games are "back". I've already gotten Rhythm Thief & I'm going to get Theatrhythm too & I don't even have a 3DS yet :P (Gonna get a 3DS XL when it comes out, can't wait :D)

McHaggis

#41

McHaggis said:

@VincentV: why use fake plastic instruments at all? I have a set of Roland TD-12K drums that I hook up to RB and GH from time to time, and RB has the Pro Guitar and Pro Keys instruments. It would be a bit of a luxury to purchase something like that just for games, though.

I love GH and Rock Band, but I think they both have a lot of room for improvement. I think it would be nice if the music could be purchased game/platform independent. Just like buying music on iTunes and then transferring to your preferred digital music player, it would be great if you could buy an "interactive" song that could be transferred to your PS3/XBox360/Wii/WiiU and the games interpreted it or converted it to their own format.

Genostar09

#42

Genostar09 said:

@L4DYB4NSH33 Agreed! Ulala's character and dance moves are infectious; although the gameplay reminded me of a glorified version of Simon Says, I never had so much fun playing a rhythm game before!

Theatrhythm, DJ MAX Technika Tune, Rhythm Heaven Fever and Project Diva f, i'm short 200$ due to these games and I dont regret it one bit.

Araknie

#43

Araknie said:

I'm playing Theathrythm and i have to admit, this and Guitar Hero are the most original ones i have seen in my life.

TheItalianBaptist

#47

TheItalianBaptist said:

I'm really shocked that the just dance series wasn't mentioned. Although it's not exactly the same, the genre's extremely similar and seems to be the direction a lot of these music games are going in. It was a major seller on all 3 systems and looks like it stole gh/rb's thunder.

Leave A Comment

Hold on there, you need to login to post a comment...