Image via tobyfox

10 video game franchises that deserve rhythm games

All of them, actually

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I will never say no to a rhythm game spinoff. I am, of course, a loud and unashamed fan of the genre. I’m always down for more rhythm games, but I’m especially fond of titles that recontextualize the music found in other games. I think nearly every video game would benefit from a supplemental mechanical examination of its soundtrack.

But obviously, some franchises are more suited to rhythm gaming than others. If I were to make a list of the greatest video game series soundtracks of all time, it would probably include Metroid and Halo, but those scores aren’t exactly full of toe-tappers. So while I would play a rhythm game based on absolutely any soundtrack, I’d like to outline the franchises I think truly deserve the Theatrhythm treatment.

10. Shovel Knight

Jake Kaufman is a very prolific and accomplished composer. The Shantae series could easily have made this list, but limiting myself to one Kaufman-heavy franchise, I have to give it to Shovel Knight. These games, from Shovel of Hope to Shovel Knight Dig, emulate the strict and structured chiptunes of the NES era but with more contemporary musical stylings. These are perfect rhythm game soundtracks because they’re stable and rhythmically readable, even to the layman.

Plus, Shovel of Hope has a couple of tracks by Manami Matsumae, and I felt really bad about leaving Mega Man off this list.

9. Assassin’s Creed

I don’t play Assassin’s Creed very often. It’s just not my cup of tea. But I do listen to Assassin’s Creed pretty regularly. A rotating cast of phenomenal composers has brought an awful lot of wonderful tracks to life. A lot of score pieces from the series’ history are so driven and thumping that I can practically see the beatmap in front of me.

I’m particularly fond of the Assassin’s Creed Odyssey soundtrack, and I’ve found myself finger-drumming to the beat of “Legend of the Eagle Bearer” more than a few times. At the very least, we deserve a shanty-filled Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag rhythm spinoff.

8. Undertale

Across Undertale and the first two episodes of Deltarune, series creator/composer Toby Fox has established a coherent and delightful sound to accompany his series’ world. Like Kaufman, Fox plays in the realm of chiptunes, and his are especially earworm-ish.

Some of Undertale‘s bullet hell moments already feel like a carefully orchestrated dance set to one of the game’s wonderful battle themes. Concretizing that comparison with a full-throated Undertale rhythm game would be pretty great. As an aside, you can get a pretty Undertale-ish rhythm game experience out of 2021’s Everhood.

7. Donkey Kong Country

We’ve gotten pretty close to a Donkey Kong Country rhythm game in the past – there were no fewer than three Donkey Konga games, and Donkey Kong Jungle Beat almost counts – but there’s never been a rhythm game solely focused on music from the actual DKC series.

Across the first three DKC games, David Wise, Eveline Fischer, and Robin Beanland redefined what Donkey Kong sounded like. Just about every track from the series is groovy and pleasant. To me, the beautiful soundtracks are the number one reason to return to Donkey Kong Country. A game dedicated to those soundtracks would be a dream.

6. Guilty Gear

The precise inputs fighting games demand make them feel like natural siblings to rhythm games, but Guilty Gear feels particularly suited to travel between genres. Music has always been central to the franchise—series creator Daisuke Ishiwatari has composed music for nearly every franchise entry, and as of Guilty Gear Strive, every character has an independent absolute banger for a theme.

Guilty Gear is indebted to music on nearly every level. Characters like Axl Low take blatant inspiration from real-life rockstars, and there are probably more fans of the Guilty Gear soundtrack than there are fans of the actual series. A rhythm-based spinoff is an all-too-obvious pitch.

5. Chrono

The Chrono duology will get a bit of rhythm representation in the form of DLC for Theatrhythm Final Bar Line, but honestly, I’m not sure that that’s enough. Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross collectively play host to some of the greatest JRPG music around. Yasunori Mitsuda is an incredible composer and his work alongside the legendary Nobuo Uematsu elevates the first game to incredible heights (the second one is pretty wonderful, too).

The presence of these soundtracks in Theatrhythm proves that they translate into a gamified context, so I think it would be nice to see them in their own game entirely. If you’ll permit me to dream for a moment, I’d love a rhythm game incorporating some of Chrono Trigger‘s classic dual and triple techs.

4. Super Mario

I honestly can’t believe this doesn’t exist. If you ask a random person to hum a tune from a video game, good money says they’ll go for the main theme from Super Mario Bros. There’s no denying that the Super Mario series plays host to some truly iconic music.

After The Legend of Zelda got its own Crypt of the Necrodancer-themed rhythm spinoff, I figured Mario, king of the side-game, would follow close behind. But somehow, the series’ soundtrack is still limited to cameo appearances in different rhythm games. I do want a Mario rhythm game, but more than that, I’m just shocked that there isn’t one yet.

3. Celeste

I dig the soundtrack from the original PICO-8 version of Celeste, but the series’ sonic identity really came into view when composer Lena Raine joined the team for the 2018 remake. Raine’s music makes Celeste feel like a sincere musical adventure, and that feeling is only enhanced by the game’s “B-Sides”—tougher takes on individual levels featuring brilliantly remixed takes on the original soundtrack.

Raine returned to score Celeste‘s DLC, Farewell, and she also wrote a couple of smaller tracks for the game’s miniature PICO-8 sequel, Celeste 2: Lani’s Trek. All of this music is phenomenal, and all of it would be as well-suited to a rhythm game as it is to a series of precision platformers.

2. Sonic the Hedgehog

I’m not even gonna write anything for this one. Just listen to it.

1. Nier

Like the Chrono games, the Nier series will be featured in Theatrhythm Final Bar Line, but it deserves an awful lot more. Composer Keiichi Okabe’s work is responsible for at least a solid 40% of my personal fondness for Nier, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to call it some of the best video game music ever. Okabe’s work is often melancholy and complex, but it’s also frequently catchy and light.

The music of Nier is truly brilliant. I’d love to see it paired with a set of mechanics specifically built around it. The only issue I can see with this plan is that I would probably never play anything else again.

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Sorrel Kerr-Jung
Freelancer - Sorrel Kerr-Jung has been playing video games for as long as she's been capable of pressing buttons. She's been writing news and features all over the internet for just over a year, and she started throwing words at Destructoid in late 2022. Find her on Twitter: @sorrelkj.