Music and rhythm is always an important part of any gaming experience. It sets the tone for a level (like in Castlevania). It gives emotion when a game calls for it (like with a certain flower girl from Final Fantasy VII). It makes the game seem more fast-paced and fun (like with the Rockman/Mega Man games). But for some games, music goes beyond just part of the ambiance; it’s actually part of the game. Let’s take a look at a few interesting games that I’m familiar with that really incorporate music as an important part of the gameplay. And I’m not going to really cover rhythm games here because they are very numerous and they typically all implement a common play element (hitting a button in time to the beat). Of course, having said that, I’m going to be a bit hypocritical with my choices as well.
DubWars is a twin-stick shmup that is out for Windows and Ouya (which is what I bought and played it on).
This is a game where one stick controls your ship and the other controls your gun direction. But it’s actually the beat and thus the song that controls your fire (what weapon and what frequency). So to excel at the game you really have to understand the song and what beats to expect. And – because some of the audio effects fire really powerful weapons – there’s a certain strategy to it all.
On top of that, you can score points that you can spend on the ship in an RPG-like manner (and you get to keep the points even if you lose the round). These points appear after you kill an enemy, but you can die trying to get there by oncoming enemies and fire. So there’s a risk vs reward aspect to the game as well (as in.. do you try and complete the level so you can see the next or go for the points and then level up your ship after you lose the level).
Crypt of the Necrodancer is a roguelike with a heavy rhythm/beat element.
According to wikipedia, a Roguelike is a subgenre of role-playing video games characterized by a dungeon crawl through procedurally generated game levels, turn-based gameplay, tile-based graphics, and permanent death of the player-character. The twist here story-wise is that your adventurer has died and has been resurrected by a Necrodancer (Necromancer) who has implanted her with a magical heart that is driven by the beat of the dungeon (as are all the enemies).
Gameplay-wise you must move and use items in rhythm with the music or else you suffer penalties. There are also floor-tiles in the game that manipulate the tempo when they’re stepped on. The game has an easy mode for those that play the game using a dance mat as well (or for people like me that just suck at the game). The game is available currently on PC (via GOG) and on PS Vita (via the Playstation Store). You can also add your own soundtracks to the game – although the supplied music is pretty awesome.
Bit.Trip Runner is a runner game – with music/beat as a feedback mechanism. In this game (as with all runner games), the character must run from left to right. In this case, you can finish a level (often runners are endless).
The level is filled with obstacles; getting hit by any one of them results in having to restart the level. Besides jumping, the player can also slide and kick their way to the end of the level. There’s also a risk-reward element if you want to score points by grabbing gold along the way.
What makes this a musical adventure is that the pace of the level is steady and the design of the courses (at least from what I’ve played) has you make musical notes while you play. So, if you’re playing the game right you’re rewarded with a cute tonal melody. Play it wrong and you’ll be missing the notes (and probably be playing the whole level again in short fashion).
The game was available as WiiWare. But a physical copy also exists for the Wii – as well as for Nintendo 3DS and for Windows (I have the disc-copy in sleeve for Windows). There is also a sequel – Bit.Trip Runner 2 for Wii U, PS3, and Xbox 360 (digital-only I believe).
Sound Shapes is a game where your actions make music/art as you play the game. The game takes the form of a 2D platformer. You might recognize the artwork from Pixeljam, Capy, and Superbrother. And there is music from I Am Robot and Proud, Jim Guthrie, and Deadmau5.
The object of the game is for your little blob of a guy to make it to the end of the level – all the while grabbing sounds/collectibles.
The game was originally available on the Vita, but then moved on to the PS3 and PS4. For PS3, you can get a physical copy on the Best of PSN Volume 1 – which is uncommon to find in the wild, but still fairly cheap. I’d definitely recommend it since it has other awesome games like Tokyo Jungle.
There are other, related games that sort of fall in the same mold as the games covered above, but don’t have quite as much of a musical/rhythm element to them.
If you like Sound Shapes and DubWars, give DYAD a shot also – it’s a racer/shmup with the level being a soundscape of sorts. It’s all psychedelic and trippy (but in a good way). That game is available on the PS3 and other modern systems (i.e. Steam). If you like this, you might also check out Rez on PS2 and later systems as well.
(Dyad – top – and TxK – bottom)
There’s also TxK on the Playstation Vita – a Tempest 2000 clone redone for the handheld (and the PSTV). Both games aren’t controlled by music as much as just great musical experiences (incorporating beat and music into the whole experience).
I love bright beautiful games and these are some of the games I found interesting in how they utilized sound into their design. I’ll cover some rhythm games later on, but I wanted to start with some games that aren’t quite just about rhythm from how they cross genre.