Everyone has their favorite genre of video game, and for some of us, it’s rhythm games. With Taiko no Tatsujin: Rhythm Festival now join us for a look back at a playstyle that’s not as dead as you think.
Music had been a feature of video games since their debut, but it wasn’t until 1996, and the PlayStation game PaRappa the rapper, that the ability to keep time on a song became a key game mechanic. PaRappa was a cartoon dog, whose name the player would stab controller buttons to the beat of the rap depicted in the game. It wasn’t as easy as it looks – but it was wildly addictive.
The PlayStation has become a hotbed for the burgeoning rhythm game genre, with a guitar-biased spin-off from Parappa in Um Jammer Lammyfeaturing a shy lamb who gains confidence while shredding, and the intriguing obstacle avoidance experience Vib-Ribbonin which you can replace the game disc with any music CD and play along.
The unbridled creativity continued on the PlayStation 2, not only with a sequel to PaRappa the rapperbut also the crazy journey that has been Man Gitaroo. It was about a space dog who passed on his prowess on the guitar to you, in order to save the planet Gitaroo. Yes really!
Then came the PlayStation Portable. He put a new spin on rhythm playing, combining it with divine playing for the memorable Patapon. The face buttons produced different vocalizations, which were chained together so your troops could keep going – pata-pata-pata-pon! If you don’t have an old-school PlayStation in your gaming arsenal, an assortment of remastered PaRappa and Patapon the games are now available for PS4.
The PSP was also the birthplace of the DJ Max series. Hailing from South Korea, it was a joyful explosion of K-pop (and beyond) that eschewed storytelling for pure rhythmic ability. The series continues today, most recently with the superb Respect DJ Max on PS4, and also led to many stylistically similar games. These range from the trio of Character Dancing releases that add social aspects to the JRPG franchise, right down to the piano – and gorgeous – Deemo reborn, Superbat: Xonic and several experiments featuring Japanese Vocaloid sensation Hatsune Miku.
All those wonderful toys!
While we were playing these fun entertainments at home, the arcades saw a crazy selection of new musical games arrive. Going beyond the standard knob controls, these had controllers emulating turntables, drums, guitars, and even maracas (SEGA’s Amigo Samba).
Inspired by Konami’s DJ beatmania was one of the first, featuring musical keyboard-style inputs coupled with a turntable-like rotary controller. Meanwhile, the young GuitarFreaks and Drum Mania the franchises would inspire a whole new feel at home, starting with the 2005s Guitar Hero.
The concept was simple. License a bunch of popular guitar-heavy songs, jam a plastic guitar-shaped controller into players’ hands, and let them pretend to be the next Hendrix – even if they only pressed colored buttons to match the notes falling towards them on the screen.
Whereas Guitar Hero followed its path of shredding, a company called Harmonix – no stranger to rhythm-based games, having already given us the arcade style Frequency and Amplitude – changed things up with the aptly named Rock band. It included the now ubiquitous plastic guitar, but added drums and a microphone. Grab a second guitar for the bass parts and your very own plastic quartet is born.
Guitar Hero: World Tour quickly copied the format – then Activision went elsewhere entirely with the fun DJ hero, which came with a solid turntable controller. Calling on turntable skills – usually something you either have or don’t have – players were tasked with combining tracks from different songs to create hot new mixes.
While this one went like a Phil Collins ballad at a rave, Guitar Hero and Rock band continued to clash. They even released various dedicated band sets – Rock band‘s The Beatles, AC/DC and Green Day, for example, and Guitar Heroby Van Halen, Metallica and Aerosmith.
Take it to the boogie
Some people may not have a musical mind, but still like to move. Once again it was Konami to the rescue, with their dance dance revolution (Where dance scene) arcade games. These involved a large platform with various arrow pads. Players would hop to a bunch of catchy tunes, aiming to hit the right pads with their feet – with a bonus drill!
DDR soon came home, with a giant mat requiring a huge play area. Then there’s Ubisoft just dance series. Having recently celebrated its tenth anniversary, key to its continued success has been the ability to play with a simple controller or mobile phone app. Harmonix also had a stab in this market with dance center for the Xbox Kinect, but since the hardware wasn’t particularly popular (despite being in most Xbox homes), that franchise soon died out.
I just prefer to… sing!
The other large format, dominated by one title in particular, is for those who just want to do karaoke. While many have tried, including an official Microsoft franchise titled Lipsit was PlayStation star singer – with built-in microphones – which dominated this space. In its PS2 heyday, new records were released regularly, compiling hits from the era and classics past – seriously, who could live without it. 80s Singstar disk?
The arrival of the PS3 and its ability to purchase DLCs has seen no letting up in star singerthe popularity of , with its PS2 star singer disc read capability a distinct advantage. So when the PS4 came out, star singer was a given – but something went wrong.
People who had lost a lot of money on DLC found that much of it was unavailable to redownload on the PS4. Those PS2 and PS3 discs? Not needed on the new machine. Then came a game update that broke a lot of things people loved about the game, from its scoring mechanic to its difficulty level. New Release Songs have slowed to a trickle and now, sadly, star singer That’s history, as Sony shut down servers and removed all DLC from their store in early 2020. If you still have a PS3 with all that DLC, treasure it – and pray it never dies , because there is no re-download of owned songs. Physical Media FTW!
Whereas Guitar Hero no longer in operation, some may be surprised to learn that rock band 4 is still very much alive, with a thriving online community and new DLCs releasing regularly.
Those who like to hit things with their rhythm sticks have options beyond rock band 4, too. Whereas Donkey Konga on Nintendo’s GameCube may be a collector’s item now, there’s always the crazy fun of the Taiko no Tatsujin games for PS4 and Switch.
Or, of course, you can step into the whereabouts of the Velvet Room in the Character Dancing trio of games, or loaded music Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory.
Finally, if you really mean it, maaan, you can opt for Black-smith, which lets you plug a real guitar or bass into your console and learn to play for real. Perseverance pays off – and the first time you smash a Pixies song that others can actually recognize, you’ll be convinced you were truly born to rock. Or maybe it’s just us…
Good news, rhythm game fans! Taiko no Tatsujin: Rhythm Festival is now available on Nintendo Switch.
Buy now at JB Hi-Fi