The Day The Music Died – Weekly Recommendations 21/02 – 27/02
Every week I give three gaming recommendations (very) loosely tied to something topical. These recommendations span platform, generation and genre and are all games that I have played, enjoyed and highly recommend. As always, comments are very welcome so please do chime in with any recommendations of your own. Check back each Monday for a new set, and click here for past entries.
In one fell swoop, Activison Blizzard recently did away with their rhythm game portfolio, axing the Guitar Hero franchise and cutting FreeStyleGames, the studio behind the DJ Hero series. It was a drastic, if not entirely unexpected move, as the last few years have seen the rhythm genre fall from grace and severely underperform at retail.
Despite being well received by the press, games like DJ Hero 2 have not sold well, with consumers apparently losing interest and becoming increasingly reluctant to shell out on the expensive peripherals that were once the toast of the industry. You only need visit your local entertainment store to see box sets of drums, guitars and turntables stacked high and selling low. It would seem retailers are struggling to give them away.
Not even Harmonix, developers of the hugely successful Rock Star and Dance Central franchises are immune to market trends, changing hands last year amidst concerns regarding the shrinking of the market. The rhythm game is far from extinction, but it is clear that it will have to adapt to survive.
Despite the current, bleak conditions, there has been no shortage of great, innovative rhythm and music games over the years. Here are three of my favourites.
1. DJ Hero – PS3, Xbox 360 & Wii (2009)
It's very easy to jump straight into DJ Hero and unlike many other games of its ilk, its deep enough to keep you coming back. There is an impressive number of mixes, unlocked as you progress and earn stars, one to five depending on performance. This deep roster of musicians and unlockables contribute to DJ Hero’s lasting appeal, but it's the sheer pleasure of scratching on the mini deck that is at the root of its longevity. DJ Hero is at its best when spinning hip hop and dance, and on the right track it can be insanely entertaining, creating the illusion that you are entirely in control of a masterpiece mash up.
Not everyone can be Grand Master Flash, so thankfully you cannot fail a mix no matter how much you struggle. On the odd occasion that you find yourself having a rhythmical nightmare, instead of taking you out of the game and informing you that you are rubbish, it simply silences one layer of the song until you get back onto track. This is far less intrusive than other similar games that will often cut a musical disaster short, forcing you to start from scratch. This makes what could have been an overly complicated game far more accessible, and ultimately more fun.
DJ Hero 2 boasts some new additions, an expanded online multiplayer and most importantly a new tracklist. However, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to a newcomer to the series when the first game is equally as satisfying and significantly cheaper. You can’t really go wrong whichever you choose , so bust out your gold chains, grab a sturdy table and jump into one of the more enjoyable and well-rounded rhythm games of recent memory. Word to your mother, yo!
2. Moero! Nekketsu Rhythm Damashii: Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan 2 – Nintendo DS (2007)
Now that’s a mouthful! Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan 2 is a rhythm game for the DS, very similar in design to Elite Beat Agents. You tap your way through a varied collection of J-pop by way of the touch screen, keeping time with the music and hitting cues. The soundtrack is a cheerful and not particularly taxing set of pop songs which includes SMAP, Hirai Ken and Kishidan.
The odd premise is pretty much irrelevant – as a member of a Japanese cheer squad you must dance away the troubles of a number of strange characters – and it is one of those rare Japanese games that may be enjoyed by non-Japanese speakers. The visuals are vibrant and distinctive, though most of the time you will be concentrating so hard on the onscreen prompts that you won’t fully appreciate them.
The DS was made for games like Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan 2.
3. Singstar – PS3 (2007)
I have a natural aversion to “party games”, with their vomit inducing TV ads and punch-able cover starts. Therefore it took me a long time before I relented and climbed on the Singstar bandwagon, but i'm glad that I did. Annoying next-door neighbours worldwide, Singstar is content to do what it does best - being an excellent, and straight forward karaoke-sim. Simple in design and uncluttered by needless window dressing, it is easy to get wrapped up in the karaoke experience and forget that you are playing a video game.
As standalone titles, the Singstar games are rather underwhelming, with their limited collection of songs; usually around 20 per game. However, the downloadable store app provides access to a genre spanning library of well over 1000 songs, making it all worthwhile and ultimately rendering your choice of disc version a mute point.
If you prefer karaoke with more of a hip-hop edge, a genre somewhat underrepresented in Singstar, I would strongly recommend checking out Def Jam Rapstar. What it lacks in way of library - about 30 tracks on the disc and about the same number of DLC songs in the UK - it more than makes up for with some excellent features and emphasis on community.