Music has a way of sticking around in our memory, and adding the fun and competition of play creates a truly infectious combination. Here are the games and innovations that helped define the rhythm and music genre in the game industry.
Simon (1978)
Simon featured four colored buttons (red, green, yellow, and blue) and three simple variations on its gameplay. A great memory is crucial--players have to repeat back a randomized or user-created sequence of lights and tones with a simple poke. It's named after the child's game "Simon Says" and created by Ralph Baer--who also invented home console gaming with the Magnavox Odyssey in 1972. Besides single-handedly popularizing handheld electronic entertainment, its pattern-based action formed the basis for nearly all music-themed titles to come.
Journey (1983)
Riding high on 1983's No. 2-charting Frontiers album and with spirits buoyed by one of the music industry's first sponsorship deals (with Budweiser), these balladeers were tapped by coin-operated amusement staple Bally Midway to computerize their brand of corporate rock. The setup: controlling band members with cartoon torsos and black-and-white photos of their heads, the player avoids or blasts glowing alien adversaries while collecting instruments to be rewarded with an animated concert complete with a cassette player-fueled rendition of "Separate Ways." Journey was the first ever example of a band being given its own licensed videogame.
Mario Paint (1992)
Yeah, you read that right... Mario Paint. It's a paint program! On the Super Nintendo! And yet somehow, throwing in a music generator as part of the in-game animation package just because it felt right created a monster that, to this day, is still thriving on the Internet via fan-made software and the wonders of online video. Type "Mario Paint" into YouTube and you'll see exactly what kind of an effect the music generator has had on chiptune geeks all around the world. We're talking thousands upon thousands of tunes, ranging from game music to popular hits from the charts, all recreated using a few Mario heads and a bunch of other iconic… er, icons.
PaRappa the Rapper (1997)
A far cry from what was going on with PCs at the time, this quirky PlayStation Japanese import challenged players, as the titular paper doll pooch, to bust-a-move by pressing buttons in time to featured beats. Do it correctly and you drop mad science on onion-headed martial arts masters, moose driving instructors, Rastafarian frogs, and chickens that pass for chefs. Captivating domestic audiences with its sing-song vibe, hypnotic play, and psychedelic cardboard cutout aesthetic, it's still one of the freshest interactive approximations of MCing hip-hop heads will find.
BeatMania (1997)
Long before DJ Hero came on the scene, Konami's DJ simulation equipped you with five keys and a turntable, demanding that players scratch their way through techno, drum-'n-bass, and hip-hop tracks. Originally launched in Japanese arcades, the series is credited with starting the faux tune-playing craze, and launching the "Bemani" genre, developer Konami's signature line of plastic instrument peripheral-equipped interactive music titles.
Dance Dance Revolution (1999)
The arcade game that inspired a cultural revolution and pioneered active gaming over a decade before motion controls made Dance Central or Just Dance household names. Standing on a virtual dance stage, the player works up a rhythm and then steps, jumps, and twists in time to floating arrow icons and J-Pop hits, hopefully performing something resembling an actual rump-shaking routine--performed on a pad that essentially served as a controller input for one's feet. Still a hot property even after more than a decade.
Guitar Hero (2005)
This $2 billion franchise has sold over 25 million units worldwide and spawned piles of spin-offs including dedicated tributes to bands like Aerosmith and Metallica, not to mention the likes of Band Hero and DJ Hero. Guitar Hero single-handedly built today's fastest-growing game category and potentially helped save rock through the sale of online music. It also popularized the best-known peripheral for music games, the now-ubiquitous plastic axe controller. But despite being directly responsible for the last decade's fastest-growing gaming genre, the title once hailed as the music industry's possible savior has sadly been placed on temporary hiatus.
Rock Band (2007)
The first game to combine all aspects of the virtual music-making experience (singing, pounding drums, playing guitar, or plucking bass) was also the initial offering to deliver peripherals for all (including microphone, plastic drum set, and faux axe) in one kit. Providing the now-defunct MTV Games a then-marquee entrée into the gaming universe, it also laid the foundations for groundbreaking tributes (The Beatles: Rock Band), cutting-edge online innovations (Rock Band Network), and future motion-controlled games (Dance Central) to come.
Dance Central (2010)
Does for dancing games what Rock Band did for music game). Of course, much of that's down to Microsoft's Kinect peripheral--the motion-tracking camera meant players could do away with dance mats, waggle controllers, and other things that were previously required for dancing games, leaving them with just their bodies to do the poppin' with. As the on-screen character performs moves, you simply replicate the move in time with the music
Rock Smith (2011)
Looks like Ubisoft didn't get the memo about games utilizing hefty peripherals being supposedly dead in the water: Rocksmith takes the opposite approach, as a music game that's only playable using real guitars. And Rocksmith automatically adjusts to the player's skill level, thereby acting as a guitar teacher by offering up challenges appropriate to your actual talent.
Music Games Rock
Excerpted from Music Games Rock: Rhythm Gaming's Greatest Hits of All Time by Scott Steinberg. Readers can enjoy paperback, iBooks, Kindle, and free downloadable editions at Or visit Scott Steinberg's personal sites,, and

How Music Games Have Rocked Through The Years

Music has a way of sticking around in our memory, and adding the fun and competition of play creates a truly infectious combination. Here are the games and innovations that helped define the rhythm and music genre in the game industry.

Add New Comment