A person’s tastes are a funny thing. Weather it’s movies, books, music, or games, people can have a very deep and narrow scope or have a vast range of things they like. I was going through my playlists on my iPod and I realized just how weird and eclectic my tastes are in, well, everything.
After getting into a lengthy debate over music with a friend I started thinking about games, rhythm games specifically. It’s a genre that gets both a lot of love and hate. A lot of gamers are really passionate rhythm game fans. They shell out big bucks for expensive controllers or out-of-print cult classics, but it seems that for every rhythm gamer there is at least one person who has an equally passionate hate for the genre. While I get that DDR or Guitar Hero might not be everyone’s thing for various reasons, I feel like they are often expressed poorly. So today, I am going to take a look at rhythm games.
Samba De Amigo for the Dreamcast uses motion sensing maraca controllers. Very fun but hard to find.
So why do people love these games? What makes them so appealing that people get so addicted to them? I’ve found that a lot of the reasons to love and hate these games are sort of the same. First off, there’s the strange, colorful, and often flashy style of many of these games. While exciting to some (including myself), I know that this bright, loud, style can be obnoxious and off putting to others. this big flashy style serves a purpose, and that is to compliment the gameplay. Once you pick up the simple gameplay you can sink into a fun, crazy place. The wild characters and the eccentric, silly, world of a game like Space Channel 5 can be a fun and cheerful escape from the dreary realities of work and school, but in the end it is too over the top to be loved by all. I know my last roommate would rather study physics than play a co-op rhythm game.
Parappa the Rapper (left) rapping his way to a black belt and Ulala, galactic reporter from Space Channel 5 (right) saving the galaxy one dance at a time.
Many people try these games and see it as style over substance and to some extent that’s a fair statement. But is that really a bad thing? In the case of a lot of rhythm games, especially older ones, the games themselves can be boiled down to two categories: Variations of Simon says or arcade styled, score-chasing, combo-munchers. A lot of the Simon type games like Parappa the Rapper and Space Channel 5 use colorful, stylized graphics and sound to make a rich and vibrant game world to work around the fact that the core of what you do in the game is so simple, and as a compliment to the simple gameplay the world builds richer actions. In Parappa you aren’t just repeating a patterned of colored buttons given to you, you’re learning Karate and how to cook. In Space Channel 5 you’re saving the world from brainwashing robots and aliens. The simple gameplay allows the player to immerse himself or herself into the world of the game and lets the characters and style really shine. The simple mechanics allow you to sink into a mad and colorful world. If the player had to focus on complex objectives and convoluted controls they wouldn’t be able to take in the feel of the level in a game like Rez or the detail put into Cool Cool Toon.
Rez (left) is a rhythmic rail shooter and Cool Cool Toon (right) is just plain insane.
In the case of the more arcade-y games, they are just what they look like. They’re reflex-testing combo-munchers. On the surface, they’re the most basic of basic arcade games. Throw in some flashing lights and some Hyper-sugar Tecno J-pop with a quirky control mechanism with some pattern or reflex based gameplay and you have a arcade styled Rhythm game. The gameplay is as basic as it gets, and I’ve heard my fair share of criticism for that. (And that a lot of the music is garbage, but that’s a whole other debate.) If you ask me, that’s a fair point, but isn’t that kind of how a lot of arcade classics are? Shoot the aliens and move left or right, that’s all there is to Space Invaders. Avoid barrels and climb up, that’s pretty much all to say about Donkey Kong. It’s fine to dislike Rhythm games for they’re simple nature and restrictive gameplay, but it’s kind of the nature of the beast.
Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Hero: two of the most well known rhythm games
Not everyone likes rhythm games. That’s perfectly understandable. Most people have genres of gaming they don’t like. Mine, for example, is FPS games. I just don’t care about them, just like some people don’t like RPGs. It all comes down to what a player’s tastes are and what they are looking for. But what makes Rhythm games harder to like and recommend is that many of the common complaints are necessary evils. The difference is that there are RPGs that get around grinding and FPS games with a wide range of how heavy the tactics are, but in order for a Rhythm game to really work it needs to have stricter rules.
Playing music on a real instrument has a lot of preset parameters: specific patters of notes, timing, and methods of input, like how to strum a guitar. There are boundaries in making a song. To make music as a game or play with music already set up in place more restrictions and rules need to be in place. Without them you’re not really playing a game at all, you’re just playing with a noisy toy. Music has rhyme, reason, and structure. Rhythm games add to this. Without the rules and structure you’re not really dealing with a game, just playing a noisy toy.
So what am I getting at with all of this? I guess what I’m saying is that yeah, not everyone likes rhythm games, and some people probably never will. That’s totally cool. So rhythm gamers shouldn’t shove games down the throats of those who don’t like them and people who dislike these games should just walk past them. The gameplay is rigid and there are valid points to not like them, many of which are necessary evils, making it harder to find that one exception that everyone can enjoy. But it is partially for this same reason that people like these games. It ll boils down to you, the player. If you like rhythm games, good for you! Go play one. If you don’t, go do your own thing. Taste is subjective. That’s a fact.