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Songs for the dearth: Classic music games to fill the hollow

5:00 PM on 05.29.2014 // Brittany Vincent

Rockin' just to keep on rockin'

With a new Amplitude on the horizon and a post-Guitar Hero world having left much to be desired by way of rhythm games, we must look to the past to drink our fill from the fount of the world of music. And even before Guitar Hero spoon-fed the bitter taste of recording artists' dignity to the videogame-playing masses (have you heard Band Hero’s reworking of Filter’s “Take A Picture?”), rhythm and music game aficionados had it way better.

The future is always promising, but if you backed the Amplitude Kickstarter because you felt starved for a musical revolution, take a trip down memory lane with these greats. Now, now -- if your favorite isn't on this list, I might just revisit the idea later. You never know.

Quest for Fame

Quest for Fame was an Aerosmith-themed PC rocker that came packaged with a light blue guitar pick peripheral. You know, back when the term “peripheral” didn’t simply mean “enormous piece of plastic I’ll later toss in my closet.” Though the game suggested you tap the pick against a hard surface, I usually found that smacking my thigh produced the best results via “rhythm EKG,” the meter for measuring your progress on-screen. This meant you looked like a total moron while playing. It was quick, raw, and fairly dirty, like any BioWare sex scene. But it effectively simulated the feeling of “playing” a real guitar. And to me, that meant something.

Unfortunately, through repeated use and abuse, the guitar pick eventually only responded when slammed against the computer desk in front of me. It was, however, a fresh look at a genre I’d never experienced before, and it hardly receives any of the credit it rightfully deserves as one of the first truly interactive guitar games to make you feel like a rock star.

Space Channel 5

Atomic pink-haired Ulala, a particularly scintillating tentacle scene, and some embarrassingly catchy electronic pop joined together like undulating Planeteers to create Space Channel 5. By your powers combined, indeed. With every “chu!” and subsequent “HEY!”, the quirky crew liberated groovin’ presidents and helpless civilians from the clutches of the terrifying Morolians and those who dared side with them.

In classic call-and-response fashion, enemies spewed out a string of nonsensical chants alongside “lyrics” that could only be described as lazy, leaving you as Ulala to repeat them back with the beat. Unless you had the memory of a goldfish, you could save the world. And I’m proud to say I -- wait, what? It wasn’t perfect, but I would have given my silver Space Michael onesie to work on Ulala’s Swingin’ Report Show. Admit it, you would have too, unless you don’t know the difference between Pudding and Padding. In that case, get off my stage.

Gitaroo Man

U-1 played a magical Gitaroo, or as us normal folk would call it, a guitar. And it was good. Still is. Don’t hate. Gitaroo Man, the classic drag-the-note-via-analog-stick-to-pitch-bend musical adventure had it all, even some particularly horrid English voice acting.

From cutesy J-Pop to orchestral songs littered with hardcore guitar riffs, to some Day of the Dead-like tunes, it’s a cavalcade of songs meant to beat you into submission. Though genuinely nightmarish in difficulty, it’s still flyin’ to my heart after all these years. A rare find on the PlayStation 2, it saw subsequent release on the PSP for an affordable less-than-$20 steal.

PaRappa the Rapper/Um Jammer Lammy

I need to potty, or I’ll be real naughty. I’ll settle for talking about PaRappa the Rapper -- rappin’ dog, and Um Jammer Lammy -- wailin’ lamb (now immortalized on my right arm.) PaRappa, with all the street cred a talking dog could muster after falling in love with a sunflower and rapping about seafood cake, was pretty darn dope, y’all. Lammy adopted the same premise as PaRappa, but you wailed on a guitar rather than relying on your rapping chops to solve every single one of your problems.

Rodney Alan Greenblat lent his magical touch to the games, giving them a “paper-thin” look, as well as some truly bizarre characters that to this day I can’t forget. Tupac may have gone down in history, but lines like “In the rain or in the snow / I got the funky flow / But now, I really gotta go” deserve archival for future generations. PaRappa received a lackluster sequel (minus the bit about the burgers) and Major Minor’s Majestic March ranks as one of the worst games I’ve ever had the misfortune of playing. So stick to PaRappa or Lammy’s first endeavors. And that’s the bottom line, ‘cause Chop Chop Master Onion said so.

Vib Ribbon

To some, this is one of the strangest music games ever made. To those same people, The Human Centipede is “scary” and the Fright Night remake induces nightmares. You know the type. With its overabundance of vector graphics and trippy music, it’s definitely an acquired taste. But one that goes down oh so good. Like eating at White Castle, without the crippling heartburn in the morning. As the vector rabbit Vibri, you traverse each level (a thin white line) riddled with obstacles.

If you’re a chicken-wuss, you can use any CD to create stages for Vibri. Go ahead, use Limp Bizkit. Vibri trucks on to "Rollin’." You’ll quickly learn that Vib Ribbon also means to scare the bejeezus out of you, especially if you play along to the song “Polaroid.” Lordy, lordy. I know I spent hours with Monster Rancher back in the day trying to get different monsters from my dad’s CD if you wasted all your time spinning anything from The Pixies to ‘70s Superstar Club Hits, you’ll feel right at home here. Unfortunately, Vib Ribbon never saw a North American release, so you’ll need to get crafty to procure a copy in this day and age.

Bust A Groove (Bust A Move)

Following in the vein of PaRappa the Rapper, Bust A Groove boasted a varied mix of tracks ranging from trance to disco and everything in between. You input a string of arrows on the PlayStation’s d-pad followed by one of the four face buttons, all in time with the music, of course. It stars a crazy cast of characters, including a grown woman with an infantilism fetish, your token zombie character, and even capoeira-dancing aliens named (you guessed it) Capoeira. Hey, I never said it won points for originality.

Each of the characters represent the mix of dance styles, so no matter who you pick you’re destined for busting some “stone-cold grooves." If you could manage to pull off Perfects for three or more turns, you’d get a Freeze. Dance perfectly, or reach a score higher than recommended for that stage? You’d get Fever Time, which showcased your character’s amazing dance moves in a solo show that almost always turned out dismally, unless you chose to play as gangsta rapper Strike. And he’s so much more street than Fiddy’ll ever be. Unfortunately, I stepped on my copy and cracked the disc. This is why I can’t have nice things.

Brittany Vincent, Former Associate Editor
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Can't play witcha, I been busy workin', baby. Brittany Vincent is an accomplished video game and freelance entertainment writer whose work has been featured in esteemed publications and o... more   |   staff directory

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