You can't get more flamboyant than a musical, so it should be no surprise that the predominantly masculine worlds of videogames don't often let their characters burst into song. After all, gunning down terrorists in the Middle East and firing a rocket into a cluster of aliens don't exactly make for the most fitting avenue for a frivolous song and dance number... though, it would be pretty awesome if it did happen, right?
Last month, Warren Spector announced Disney Epic Mickey 2 before me and a gathering of other journalists in Austin, TX. All the new features and improvements sounded good to me, but there was one thing that rubbed me wrong. Spector, a master of game design if there ever was one, made the mistake of calling his upcoming title "the first musical comedy game in the history of videogames." The reason it rubbed me wrong? It simply isn't true, and I'm here to show why.
So without further ado, these are gaming's stand-out musical games and moments.
Marl Kingdom Series
The first thing that comes to my mind when I think "musical" and "videogame" is Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure. Perhaps it's because it has the word "musical" right in its title?
This effeminate, brief RPG didn't make publisher Atlus much money when it was released on the PlayStation in '98, but it has built up a loyal cult following over the years. Even when the game was re-released a decade later for DS, there was still little else to compare this strange musical JRPG to. The game performed much better overseas, where there was a market more receptive to the game's blend of strategy, RPG, and twee musical numbers. In fact, developer Nippon Ichi turned it into a series with two Japan-only sequels: Little Princess: The Puppet Princess of Marl Kingdom 2 and Tenshi no Present: A Marl Kingdom Story.
In these games, key plot elements and dialog are sung to a backing track. Rhapsody even let players select the language of the lyrics and the ability to mute it altogether. The game's goofy story, young female cast, and tactical elements didn't exactly set the world on fire, but they marked the first time a game boldly declared itself a musical and lived up to the title.
PaRappa the Rapper Series
Masaya Matsuura's peculiar music series helped Sony stand out in the early days of the PlayStation. While the three games (PaRappa 1 & 2, UmJammer Lammy) have stage performances that contextualize the singing, most of the musical numbers are absurd and make no sense at all, no matter how you approach them. From a heavy metal airplane pilot to a Rasta frog, the PaRappa series brought numerous outlandish characters and scenarios to life with songs that were so good they made it worth playing each game twice, if not many more times.
Considering how much of these games are based around song, this series may be the closest games have ever come to having a full-on musical and not a genre game with musical scenes spliced in every couple of hours. On the other hand, each of these games only lasts a couple of hours.
The Nightmare Before Christmas: Oogie's Revenge - Boss Fights
You know, there is only one way to make a decade-late, Devil May Cry-inspired Capcom sequel to The Nightmare Before Christmas any stranger: have the boss fights center around song-and-dance routines (controlled through a rhythm mini-game).
It's a weird combination, but it's one that has stuck with some people throughout the years, including our own Jim Sterling.
The Curse of Monkey Island - Singing Pirates
The Monkey Island series has a lot of great moments, but one of my favorites is the singing pirates scene in The Curse of Monkey Island. Between Guybrush's disgruntled quips (that you choose!) and the pirates' derpy dance animations, it always puts a smile on my face.
Not sure if I'd want a full game of this kind of thing, but it's fun while it lasts.
Conker's Bad Fur Day - The Great Mighty Poo
The Great Mighty Poo is the only thing I can remember about Conker's Bad Fur Day for good reason: it's one of the most disgusting, bizarre WTF moments ever put into a game. If you didn't have it spoiled for you, it was a real shocker. With lyrics allegedly co-written by Weird Al Yankovic (under the alias Ed Horowitz) and a catchy operatic melody, this tune went a long way in giving Conker its South Park-lite identity that made so many love or hate it.
Patapon & LocoRoco Series
Both Patapon and LocoRoco were early reasons to buy a PSP. They also were both musicals in a bizarre sort of way. They each feature strange, lovable characters who sing their way to victory, collecting items and defeating enemies along the way. Sure, they sing in gibberish, but singing to music still counts as a musical, no?
To be honest, it's such an abstract take on the format that I didn't even consider listing these games until Jonathan Holmes made the suggestion.
Kingdom Hearts 2 - "Under the Sea" Sequence
Okay, this really feels like cheating, but I'm going to throw it in anyway.
Are there any obvious picks I forgot to list?
Are you as indifferent to musicals as I am?
Does Disney Epic Mickey 2's being a musical make you excited or worried?