Of course, it was only a matter of time before the music took the center stage and became an entire genre of its own. This transition happened quite slowly, with rhythm based games sneaking into the main stream in the 1990s. And who was leading this musical rebellion? It wasn’t well established rock bands like Aerosmith or Motor Head, although they had tried. No, the commander in chief was a two dimensional onion in a karate uniform with a Fu Machu moustache- Master Onion.
The wonder of this paper thin dojo owner wasn’t that he was a successful businessman who taught his young students the power of martial arts mixed with hip hop, it wasn’t even the fact that his head was comprised entirely of a stinky vegetable. The real wonder was that nobody batted a fucking eyelid at this concept. PaRappa the Rapper was the game in question and it was a big hit in its day, slipping in there between behemoths like Tekken, Metal Slug, Pandemonium and Tomb Raider, pretending that it was an entirely normal Playstation game. You played as a young floppy eared dog who wanted to rap his way into the pants of a pretty flower. Or her dress, as the case may be, because in PaRappa’s world flowers wore dresses, the local law enforcement officer was a moose, and the afore-mentioned martial arts teacher was a battle rapping onion. Again, to the mid-90s world at large, this all seemed perfectly normal and believable.
Very little is known about PaRappa’s current whereabouts. He somewhat disappeared after staring in a short lived sequel on Playstation 2. Some say he was executed in a drive-by shooting after mixing with the wrong crowd of rowdy rottweilers. Others say he’s touring the world with a hardcore band of 2D racks of gangsta ham in the hopes of getting their next album produced by Dr. Dre. Nobody really knows for sure. However, Master Onion is still operating from his family friendly dojo and is seen by the community at large a pillar of society, although there are vicious rumours circulating that he has become involved in some legal money laundering rackets. However, through all the life lessons that I learned from Master Onion, I still hadn’t learned anything about rhythm.
There was a lot of fun to be had with PaRappa the Rapper, although it has really become a sign of its time now. However, in its wake came monsters like Bust-a-Groove, Vib Ribbon and Music holding the forth for music based games on the original Playstation. Even the Spice Girls joined the crusade with a poor and kind of creepy attempt at cashing in on the PS1’s boundless popularity. Creepy, tacky, cheap... and, yes, you can bet your sweet ass and a fist full of girl power that I still bought a copy of it on release day! However, although these games did what they had to do, it wasn’t until the PS2 that the rhythm based genre really took on a life of its own, appearing in the homes of everyone with a heartbeat.
Guitar Hero and Rock Band were the perfect personifications of Rock music. Their appearance on the scene almost seemed to be in retaliation of Dance Dance Revolution’s popularity. It was two fingers up and a big gruff “Fuck you!” to the bright and colourful world of music games. These titles presented themselves as a rebellion, armed and ready to drag everyone down into a dark, heavy world. They were made for type of dudes who were sick of the usual rattle that the radio churned out and wanted something with a bit more substance to it. And the crowd went absolutely wild for it!
I still remember the first time I laid eyes on Guitar Hero. It was a late night drinking session in a friend’s house and somebody broke out a miniature guitar and fired up the disc. I was instantly blown away. Everything about it screamed out for my attention. The flames that erupted on screen when you hit the correct notes, the fanfare from the virtual audience who couldn’t get enough of you, the fact that tilting the guitar to strike rock poses in the centre of the room activated special powers within the game. It had me by the balls; hook, line and sinker... And balls. The following day when I fought off my hangover to tell my housemates about this crazy new game I’d played, they rushed out and bought it at once. What followed was a beer drenched rollercoaster summer, jam-packed with Guitar Hero tournaments and the sounds of missed chords ringing out throughout the neighbourhood; because once again, I’ve zero rhythm.
However, it wasn’t just me and my friends who’d fallen into the GH rabbit hole. This had gone global! It sent a shockwave throughout the gaming community to a point where everybody was suddenly a living room rock star. It wasn’t just fans of Rock music either. Instead, everyone with fingers and a console to exercise them on was playing. Most of these people didn’t know one end of Rock music from the other. They were the type of folks who couldn’t tell the difference between Black Sabbath, Orange Goblin and Deep Purple, regardless of the fact that they’re colour coded! Nonetheless they loved this game.
These days though, I’ve hung up my fake drumsticks and put away my wireless Xbox 360 microphone for something a little more reserved. Ten years after the age of Guitar Hero, I like to take the more relaxed approach at rhythm gaming, all of which I now do on my 3DS. One of the many wonders of this nifty little piece of equipment is the wealth of unusual games available on it, coupled with its backwards compatibility that allows for oddball games from the last gen to become playable too. Among these are crazy, over-the-top titles like Elite Beat Agents where you play as a professional dance troop who crash people’s lives in order to brighten up their days, and Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX where you can enjoy classic tracks from throughout the career of Miku; a well respected J-Pop singer who doesn’t fucking exist!
So why then do I still find myself going out of my way to play rhythm based video games? Well, it’s probably got a little less to do with the game and a bit more to do with the music. Sure, I’ve got fond memories of playing Bust-A-Groove and how I gravitated towards Heat on the character select screen because he reminded me of Jamiroquai’s Jay Kay, just the same as the countless good times I had with the Guitar Hero series, jumping off tables and standing back to back with co-op partners in cheesy, over-the-top rock poses. The bizarre worlds of Elite Beat Agents and other similar games made me laugh my ass off time and time again. However, I believe that it was the common denominator in all of these games that truly held me. Music has been a huge part of my life for just as long, if not longer than video games. I live and breathe music of all manners on a daily basis, from the happy-go-luckiest, most annoying Pop to the fastest, most vicious Metal with a hefty side of Hip-Hop to balance things out. So, of course, if I could indulge in both of these forms of media simultaneously I would. That’s what rhythm based games do for me. The allow me to listen to some of my favourite music while gaming. The two come together seamlessly to create fantastic pick-up-and-play experiences. The runoff from this works both ways too. On one hand I’ll happily pick up a game if it features some of my favourite artists. These don’t even have to be rhythm games, per say, I’ve bought the Def Jam fighting series to play as Xzibit and Snoop Dogg, just as I’ve bought Back Yard Wrestling 2: There Goes the Neighbourhood in order to play as Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J of Insane Clown Pose. On the other hand, I’ve found myself getting into several bands due to first being introduced to their body of work through video games. I wouldn’t imagine I’m alone on this either. Think of the generation that grew up with Guitar Hero and discovered infamous rock acts like Metallica or Rage Against the Machine through these series.
My lack of rhythm may never be resolved. When my heart stops pumping blood through my veins and I finally kick the bucket, I’ll do so no less sporadically than when I attempt to dance. In fact, there’s a damn good chance that I might even fall over on the dance floor, landing right into the grave. However, I’ll do so happy in the knowledge that throughout my life video games and music when hand in hand harmoniously to supply me with countless good times. Along with the fact that someday I might return as an exponentially creepy hologram.
Spud Reminisces about how music and video games have worked together to help shape his life.
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What makes a video game fan become a collector? What does a collection of games in their physical format have to offer that their digital counterparts don't? Spud reveals his history from his very first game through to building a massive collection of more than 600 titles over multiple consoles.