Music and games. Games and music. They have been entwined since the very start. Some theme songs and soundtracks are as iconic, if not more so than the gameplay itself – Mario’s classic tune is known the world over!
But that’s not the only fascinating thing. Within the video game world, there is a whole swathe of games dedicated to music, including ones that feature gameplay like rhythm matching, dancing, or playing instruments. In this article, we’ll uncover the best music-themed video games; some of the funniest and most iconic ones to date.
As the name suggests, there is a huge variety of games based on various aspects of music. This theme has crossed many genres, years, platforms, and ways to play.
The first rhythm-based games were usually arcade titles – or games like Nintendo’s Dance Aerobics that used a primitive dance mat addition. These evolved into the well-known series Dance Dance Revolution, and other such pressure-pad using titles.
In terms of more stationary games, PaRappa The Rappa – released in 1996 – is one of the first general music games. It required hitting inputs in time with the music to create a song and play along. Since the super success of the title, a whole web of titles have used the in-time gameplay technique.
Since the inception of rhythm and dance games, musical video games and video game music have reached new heights of popularity. Some iconic soundtracks have been recorded and performed by renowned Orchestras.
The Legend Of Zelda series held a concert in 2018, with music from the games performed by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. Similarly, Square Enix has held concerts featuring iconic music from Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts, among others. Nintendo series Splatoon even had an immensely popular live concert featuring the games’ characters!
In recent years, it hasn’t just been the music inside games proving popular – often, songs (and themes) from games go viral and even hit the charts. The social media platform TikTok has been at the forefront of this. Originals and remixes of songs from Mario, Yoshi, Animal Crossing games, and more have been used on millions of videos and gotten stuck in the minds of many.
DDR – Dance Dance Revolution – is an absolute classic series of games. Like others listed here, it began its life as an arcade staple, seeing kids and adults line up for a chance to have a go. In all of its iterations, it features a dance mat with arrow keys, and a screen showing which direction should be stepped on. Timing is key here.
The soundtracks of the games are largely made up of Japanese artists, though through the years have featured more international stars like Ariana Grande and 2 Unlimited. No matter what the song is, it will be fast-paced with a good beat behind it to keep players energetic while they dance.
Taiko no Tatsujin Drum n’ Fun! is 2018’s entry into the long-running series, and it lived up to the fame! Starting as an arcade game, it has shaped drums and sticks for players to use as controllers. The series has graduated past the sticky arcades to home consoles, most notably with the Nintendo Switch. They’re not multiplayer games, unlike most of the others in this list, but you can have a two-person battle.
Many songs come with the games – songs from commercials, shows, games, and pop artists. Drum n’ Fun! has over 70 songs in it, including songs from other titles like Super Mario. Plus, there are DLC packs available that have even more song choices!
Now, who hasn’t heard of Guitar Hero? The game has been around for years now and featured as part of many of our childhoods. It is the third-largest game franchise of all time! It has 25 of its own entries, and two spin-offs focused on a whole band and DJing.
The games came with now unforgettable guitar-shaped controllers, which were used to play along to the notes on the screen. The setting of the game was a gig – the player would be on stage and had to perform well lest they endure a booing, unamused crowd. There are multiplayer options, but the main ‘Career Mode’ of the game is great – you’re a band member that goes from gig to gig and earns money doing so. The games were incredibly well-received, and are still fantastic options today.
Beat Saber is probably the newest game on this list, certainly in terms of the console technology it uses. It is entirely in VR – either on PlayStation or with the Oculus equipment. It is a rhythm game where the player uses two controllers to slash through blocks as they pass, creating the beat. The levels range from fairly easy to ridiculously hard, depending on the setting!
The game’s soundtrack primarily features a soundtrack of drum and bass songs, but there are plenty of downloadable song packs available, including songs from Panic! At The Disco, Imagine Dragons, Green Day and BTS.
Megamix is regarded as the best entry into the Rhythm Heaven game series. As the title suggests, the game is a rhythm game. Players must hit the right buttons shown as cues on the screen in time in order to succeed.
The aptly titled Megamix combines stages from all previous games and brings them together in an all-star compilation. There is a story mode, as well as the challenge levels. Described officially as a ‘simple and infectious’ game that anyone can play, Rhythm Heaven is a great choice for anyone wanting a challenge that is fun and entertaining.
The Just Dance is a huge franchise at this point. A new installment is released every year or so, featuring new songs from the year along with older classics.
The game requires players to match the dance on screen by following the moves scrolling across the bottom. Just Dance has been released on Nintendo consoles which come with wireless controllers that can pick up the movement, as well as PlayStation and Xbox consoles.
Just Dance has an impressive catalog of songs, ranging from vintage tunes like the ‘Monster Mash’, to recent hits from acts like Blackpink.
SingStar is a PlayStation exclusive series that flourished in the 2000s. Similar to the concept of Guitar Hero, it requires players to complete songs in the correct way in order to win. Except that this time, it’s like karaoke.
Lyrics scroll across the screen, as well as bars that represent the notes that must be sung. The game was ideal for parties – it featured solo, duet, or ‘pass the mic’ multiplayer modes, ensuring no one was left out. SingStar had many variations – games focused on rock songs, 80s hits, and pop among others.
Music-based video games have been family favorites for generations, and show no sign of slowing down. Whether it’s battling your brother on Guitar Hero or learning choreography with your mum on Just Dance, musical games bring together two of the most popular hobbies ever to exist.
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