The 5 best music video games – let’s turn up the volume!

An image reading the word "music" in different positions

Music video games are a genre that goes in and out of mass popularity. Unlike puzzle games, music games also change with the times to an extent that many others do not.

In fact, you would be hard-pressed to find a continuous theme through music video games in history, outside of rhythm and some gameplay riff on that.

From the 1990s titles like Dance Dance Revolution and PaRappa the Rapper to the 2000s peripheral craze, music is at the heart of the experience, but the presentation and gameplay styles are so varied within the genre, that it is hard to compare them.

For instance, how do you compare PaRappa the Rapper to a game like Guitar Hero? You cannot really.

Or how do you compare something like Rez, which is very cerebral and exotic, to something like Dance Dance Revolution which is both physical and grounded in reality?

Taking all of the different styles of music video games out there, this list represents the top five from my personal perspective.

This should represent a broad overview of the modern understanding of the genre. I also try to take into account how different the experiences people can have of these games can be in my creation of this list.

Without further ado, here are the 5 best music video games:

No, no please wait, one more thing: Guitar Hero is not on this list. Do not get me wrong, I love it, but it is not retro, in my opinion.

Now we can start:

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5. Vib-Ribbon (developed by NanaOn-Sha, published by Sony; PlayStation, 1999 JP, 2000 Europe)

Vib-Ribbon, PlayStation 3 version

So simple, yet so… Magnetic!

Guide Vibri the rabbit across lines, as you keep time with the beat and avoid obstacles along the way, in this quirky, yet classic title. If you like old-school graphics and an artistic approach to presentation and gameplay, Vib-Ribbon deserves to be on your list of must-check-out games.

Simultaneously evocative of classic Atari 2600 games, as well as old black-and-white cartoons, Vib-Ribbon is both whimsical and considered in terms of its gameplay. That is to say it is both accessible and inviting, while also being utterly challenging and addictive. In other words, V-R is a great melange of genres, such as platforming and rhythm titles.

On a side note: I played Vib-Ribbon for the first time 5 years ago, that is, when it was released on the PS Store for the PS3. I have never understood why the original game was only published in Japan and Europe.


4. Dance Dance Revolution (developed by Konami and Bemani, published by Konami; arcade, 1998 JP, 1999 rest of the world)

Dance Dance Revolution arcade version

The legendary DDR cabinet! My friends and me left liters of sweat on the floor…

It is hard to escape this game, as it is all over the place in popular culture and video games in general. Konami’s rhythm classic that has debuted more than a few skilled dancers to the world, Dance Dance Revolution is a title that works in the arcades and kind of works elsewhere.

It is one of those titles that is both of its time and somewhat hard to replicate. Requiring certain physical movements to be executed in sequence, the arcade cabinet for Dance Dance Revolution was gigantic, well-built, and somewhat essential to truly experiencing the game. It is a rare title that can really only be experienced in the arcades, but Dance Dance Revolution is such a game. The home ports are not bad, but it is just not the same.


3. PaRappa the Rapper (developed by NanaOn-Sha, published by Sony; PlayStation, Japan 1996, Europe and NA 1997)

PaRappa the Rapper's remastered version on the PS4

PTR generated a very cool spin-off called “Um Jammer Lammy”. As usual, though, one game per series and so, it is up to PaRappa to represents it

PaRappa the Rapper is one of those titles that demonstrates just how cutting-edge the PlayStation was in terms of the kinds of games it was bringing to market. Graphically, it is an interesting title and, musically, it is like a mix between a children’s cartoon and a music video.

This game tells the story of PaRappa, a dog rapper and his friends who help him in his rapping quest. It is a heady mix of cartoon-esque plotlines and graphics and challenging gameplay that makes this game a rare title indeed. Completely experimental when it came out, PTR was really unlike anything that had come out before, and that is what marks it out as a big deal in the history of music video games.

2. Rez (developed and published by List; Dreamcast and PlayStation , 2001 JP, 2002 NA and Europe)

Rez for the Dreamcast

The more I play it, the more I like it! Totally immersive…

United Game Artists’ musical rail shooter that is parts Tempest and parts rhythm game, Rez is a legend in its own right and a cult classic even today. Known for its trademark high-velocity music, Rez dazzles gamers with an explosion of light, color, and sound that is basted upon a sturdy foundation of rock solid, compelling gameplay.

While the player does not have control over the path of the avatar, you can move around (a la Tempest) and avoid and eliminate obstacles, as they appear. Interestingly, the game rewards your performance but does not really punish it that harshly. If you play exceedingly well, Rez is more challenging for you but, if not, it never becomes a prohibitive experience.

Rez is one of those games that trades heavily on “flow” or the state of play in which you just keep gaming almost instinctively. That is no surprise either because, like Tetris, Rez is a total sensory experience.

Honorable mention:

Gitaroo Man (developed by Koei and iNiS, published by THQ for Europe and by Koei for the rest of the world; PlayStation 2, 2001 JP, 2002 NA and Europe)

Gitaroo Man on the PlayStation 2

U-1 – the game’s protagonist – is a bit of an outcast, but payback time is around the corner!

What do you get when you combine a fighting game style mechanic with a rhythm game? You get Gitaroo Man, a title for the ages, that pits you against other guitar players in a shred fest to the death… Or the video game equivalent, which is no health remaining in your life bar. But I digress.

If you remember the game Puzzle Fighter from Capcom and how it combined a Bejeweled type of game with a Street Fighter II fighting mechanic, then you will know what is at work here.
Bizarre? No doubt, but very fun to play.

Alright, time to dance to number one, now! And the winner is…


1. Bust a Groove (developed by Metro Graphics, published by Enix for JP, 989 Studios for NA and Sony for Europe; PlayStation 1998)

Bust a Groove on the PlayStation

The fighting game element takes competitiveness to the next level… Hard to put the joypad down!

This game was not done any favors by its box art, when it came out for the PlayStation back in 1998. Sporting a cast of characters on its cover that looked more comfortable in a Hot Topic ad than a video game, Bust a Groove is like a quick-time event on steroids. Didn’t think a QTE by itself could make a compelling game? Play Bust a Groove. As you successfully complete button inputs, your dancer tears it up on the floor accordingly.

Featuring a cast of different dancers, a range of eclectic styles (some of which are hidden), and a ton of content, BaG gave you a lot of bang for your buck, back in the day. What makes it special today? Timeless accessibility, mixed with a gameplay style that cannot help but age well. That is what.

And that’s a wrap for this list retro folks, but what about you? Do you have some favorite music video games that I left out? If that is the case, please let me know your top picks in the comments below.

Till next retro article!

About Andrew A.

Andrew is the founder and owner of RetroGamingLoft. He considers himself a natural-born gamer and is on a mission to keep our younger gaming years alive through the medium of Retro Stories. His event recount includes hopes, dreams, broken joysticks, magic, nostalgia and another final boss defeated.

10 thoughts on “The 5 best music video games – let’s turn up the volume!

  1. mark

    I have an absolute addiction to old school video games, i remember most of them from my childhood, except from Vib-Ribbon, ill give that a try later today, work comes first(unfortunately, haha), if i had to choose a favorite from the top 5, i would choose Rez, simply because of it’s unique design and game controls, i love it!

    Thanks for refreshing my childhood memories Andrew!
    Mark.

    Reply
    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello Mark and welcome to my blog, I am glad you enjoyed my post.
      No need to thank me, bringing back fun memories is one of my main goals. 🙂
      Rez is an absolutely respectable choice. Like I said it is one of a kind, and it is a pity, there should definitely be more games like that!
      Same goes for Vib-Ribbon actually, I am sure you will like it. Apparently, it is the most simple game in the world, but when it reveals its complexity, you are already hooked.
      Thanks again for stopping by, hope you become a regular here!

      Reply
  2. Babsie Wagner

    Oh you article was so enjoyable to read.  Looking at that Dance Dance Revolution, and seeing the comment about the liters of sweat on the floor brought back some really fun memories.  My friends and I have literally had hours of fun on that darned thing.  It’s addictive.  Now, we enjoy my Granddaughter (who is two) who dances like a crazy person on that thing. We took a video of her, and it went viral.  People loved it.  Just wanted to pop in here and tell you how much I enjoyed this article.

    Reply
    1. Andrew A. Post author

      You always leave me nice comments Babsie, thank you very much indeed. 🙂
      But now I want to see the video lol, could you please drop me the link?
      Thanks again for taking time to share your thoughts, bringing back fun memories is what I most want. And yeah, DDR was addicitve but also brought out the competitiveness in us lol… Unforgettable times!
      Till next post!

      Reply
  3. C

    Thanks! I have always liked PaRappa the Rapper. That always seemed like a fun game. Rez sounds really cool, since the other time you mentioned that I have wanted to check it out. The ribbon game sounds interesting. I was never much of a Dance Dance Revolution person but that is one of the games I have seen the most. Sorry if I missed it, but why didn’t Guitar Hero make the list? 

    Personally I was never really that into Guitar Hero but it is such a well-known game and I’m surprised that it didn’t make the list. Ocarina of Time was a cool game with a musical component, but it wasn’t totally about music or playing music. I also really like the music in Animal Crossing, but again the music was only a small part of the game, I’m talking about the music from the KK Rider guy at the train station. Thanks for another great article and have a good day!

    Reply
    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello C, great to hear from you again!
      I really need to thank you: upon reading your comment, I edited my post and explained why Guitar Hero did not make the list.
      My bad for not mentioning that in the first place, but again thank you for pointing that out.
      Concerning the games that I listed, you cannot go wrong with Rez, it will get you hooked. I have already featured it twice now, and it might come back in a “best shooter list”. Such a unique game is an absolute must-play.
      I also like KK Rider’s theme (assuming you are talking about him playing guitar), but you are right, this list is about music games.
      Stay tuned anyway, I am fancying making a list about the best video game tracks… 😉

      Reply
  4. Nuttanee

    I like Bust and groove and Dance Dance revolution!! I still have the dancing pad which broke already. I love all these music video games they remind me of the old classic songs and I get to interact and complete the melody. There is also a game called Bust a move as well, not sure when it came out but the same concept, you press the button and the avatar dance to the music video

    Have you ever played Taiko no Tatsujin? This game is big in Japan. You just hit the traditional Japanese drums to the music video. They have the English version too, so much fun!

    Reply
    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello Nuttanee and thanks for your nice comment. I am sorry for the delay, but I am glad that you enjoyed my post. 🙂
      Bust a Move is the Japanese name for Bust a Groove actually, I am afraid you are confusing it with another game.
      There is another game called Bust-A-Move but it is none other than Puzzle Bobble. If you recall the exact name, please let me know.

      Concerning Taiko No Tatsujin, unfortunately I did not get to play the arcade version, but I played Taiko: Drum Master, its Northamerican PlayStation 2 port (if we can say so). Nice game and nice idea, but hitting real Taikos at an arcade would be a different story, I believe. Not giving up on that anyway, sooner or later I will find it and play it, lol!
      Thanks for stopping by, it was nice to hear from you again!

      Reply
    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello Louise and welcome to my retro blog. 🙂
      No need to thank me, it’s a mere pleasure to bring back lovely memories. And yeah, Dance Dance Revolution rocked and made me dance a lot, despite me not liking dancing lol.
      Thanks again for your comment, stay tuned for more retro posts!

      Reply

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