Music has always been an essential part of the gaming experience, from the monotonous Russian folk bleeps of Tetris or the catchy tunes of LucasArts’ Monkey Island series to the Wagneresque score of God of War. The musical elements of a game provide atmosphere and pace, much as they do in film, and while a certain piece of music might conjure up The Godfather or Lord of The Rings, in the same way a harp arpeggio or a few seconds of a Prodigy track can transport you back to when you played a certain game. No wonder the orchestral performances of videogame music put on by Videogames Live are sellouts.
Now music is increasingly showing up as the content of a game as well as its accompaniment. It makes a lot of sense if you’re a games company wanting to grow your market: whether you're a longtime gamer or not, you probably like music of some description. One branch of music game has you simulate music-making itself, mastering the intricacies of the plastic fretboard buttons or the drums – see part 2 for more on this. Then there’s the so-called rhythm genre, which in its simplest form asks you to hit the button, or tap with a stylus, in perfect time with the beat. When you’re playing well, you slide into a kind of breathless trance; at other times, it's tempting to throw down the controller and stomp on it to your own rhythm.
Here are three favourites past and present (from The Rough Guide to Videogames):
If you’re more serious about your music, check out the next post.
PS; NanaOn-Sha, Sony; 2000
Unreleased in the US (though rumoured to be coming to PlayStation Network), Vib-Ribbon is a uniquely lo-fi game. You control a scribble of a white rabbit as she jumps over a ribbon of obstacles on a black screen – blocks, squiggles and suchlike created by the music – and either evolves into a princess or dissolves into a frog, depending on how well you play. Ingeniously, the program runs from the system’s RAM, so the disc can be removed and replaced with your own CDs, which makes for a uniquely personalized experience.
PaRappa The Rapper
PS; Sony; 1997
Kickstarting an entirely new genre, PaRappa came as a breath of fresh air. The eponymous paper-thin dog undergoes seemingly mundane trials – learning to drive, cooking burgers – in a quest to be worthy of his dream flower girl, Sunny Funny. This involves following the instructions of a Master Rapper in each of six scenarios, copying and freestyling for a better rating. The re-release on PSP (2007) looks and sounds as cool as it ever did, but it’s also just as short as it was back then.
Elite Beat Agents
DS; iNiS, Nintendo; 2006
A Westernized remake of the acclaimed Japanese title Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! but with Cher, Madonna and the Village People providing the soundtrack. Like their forebears, the trio of men in black are called on for cheerleading support by various folks in trouble, whose stories appear like manga panels on the top screen. From the TV weatherwoman who predicts sunshine so as not to spoil her son’s picnic, to the treasure-hunting ship’s captain who can’t find any treasure, whether their problems are resolved depends on how accurately you tap decreasing circles in time to the music – not as easy as it sounds, but with enough practice you might eventually save the world.