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:
(Affiliate Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links. This means that – at no additional cost to you – if you click through and make a purchase, I may earn a commission. For more info, please check my affiliate disclosure page.)
5. Vib-Ribbon (developed by NanaOn-Sha, published by Sony; PlayStation, 1999 JP, 2000 Europe)
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)
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 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)
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.
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)
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)
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!