Journey to the Beatles - The Moribund Course of Music-Related Video Games

Posted by Eric Brightwell, December 9, 2010 01:00pm | Post a Comment
With the recent availability of the music by a scouse four piece known as The Beatles [sic] they could now become the biggest Liverpudlian musical export since The Top or maybe even The La's. This followed their release of 2009's video game The Beatles Rock Band. With a sound that was obviously indebted to The Everly Brothers, The Miracles and Buck Owens, no one ever accused the Fab Four of being innovators. Indeed, the concept of a band promoting their music with video games goes back 28 years to a now-forgotten five-piece called Journey, whose brand of radio-and-roller rink-ready pop/rock once brought favorable comparisons to the likes of Night Ranger, John Waite and Mr. Mister.

That first rock band video game was Journey Escape (1982). In it you have to help guide a faceless ginger (see above screen shot) through the night sky, past disembodied Italian heads and lilac-colored jelly beans with legs to the famous scarab ship that was, frankly, my favorite thing about the band. Occasionally, a character that looks like the Kool-Aid Man comes to your aid.

I haven't played the game's sequel, Journey (1983) but I was transfixed by the title screen as a kid. 

My stepbrother David had It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (1984) for the Coleco. Although the packaging makes it look like your band is some five man electric jam Three Dog Night brand of sweaty, endurance defying classic rock; in fact, whenever your band takes the stage, you produce a pleasing chiptunes melody. You also can call your band anything you like, up to a certain amount of letters, which is why my band was simply "Blowtorch" instead of "Blowtorch Balls," which was my favored, bizarre and alliterative insult at the time.

Make My Video (1992) allowed the player to play auteur and make videos for INXS and urban acts like Kriss Kross and Marky Mark & the Funky Bunch. Somehow, despite the promising set-up, it failed critically and commercially. Game Informer gave the Marky Mark version a 0 out of 10, the lowest score a game has ever received by the magazine. It has appeared on "several worst video game of all time" lists as well.
Total Distortion (1995), on the other hand, looks pretty kyewel.
The game パラッパラッパー (aka PaRappa the Rapper) (1996) was pretty massive. It's crazy how, post-Eric B & Rakim, east coast rap never surpassed this level. 
ビートマニア (aka Beatmania) (1997) pioneered the performative music video game was and the first in Konami's Benami music game line.. Although it never really caught on outside of Japan, it's pretty obvious that the folks behind Rock Band and Guitar Hero were aware of it.
ギターフリークス (aka GuitarFreaks) (1998) was another Benami music game that probably only didn't catch on outside of Japan because most of the music was J-Pop, something most non-Japanese aren't familiar with, and music composed specifically for the game.
ポップンミュージック(aka Pop’n Music) (1998) was yet another Benami game.
When Spice World (1998) came out, Benami-style games still hadn't crossed the ocean. The New York Times pithily remarked of Spice World, "The music is derivative and shallow. The game didn't have to be."
ドラムマニア (aka DrumMania) (1999) was again, for the most part, not marketed outside of the Japanese market, and amazingly Guitar Hero's John Devecka holds a patent for drum simulation games.
Not surprisingly, it was a team of Japanese developers (Shun Nakamura, Tomohiko Aita, Satoshi Okano and Hiroyuki Watanabe) who had the bright idea of targeting a Benami-style game to foreign markets with Samba de Amigo (1999).
Playstation launched their first sequel to Parappa the Rapper with ウンジャマ・ラミー (aka Um Jammer Lammy) (1999).

Although it wasn't an actual music video game, in 2000 an internet meme surfaced known as All Your Base Belong to Us. It was based on the Engrish translation of 1989's  ゼロウィング (aka Zero Wing).

In 2000, a Kansas City, Missouri computer programmer/DJ Jeffrey Ray Roberts of the gabba band The Laziest Men on Mars recorded "Invasion of the Gabber Robots," which remixed some of Zero Wing's music by Tatsuya Uemura with a voiceover phrase "All your base are belong to us." 
Frequency (2001) was developed by Harmonix, who originally pitched the concept to Microsoft but were told by the then-vice-president of game publishing, Ed Fries, that no music-rhythm game would succeed without a custom hardware controller. As a result, Harmonix went on to develop the well-known Guitar Hero with its custom guitar-shaped controller.

太鼓の達人 (aka Taiko no Tatsujin) (2001) was Namco's entry into the music game arena. Last time I checked, they still had one of these at the Little Tokyo Arcade.
American Idol (2002) was a poorly reviewed game based on an unwatchable show. X-play gave it a 1 out of 5, complaining about the gameplay consisting of pressing buttons in time and not on the player's actual singing.
ギタルマン ( aka Gitaroo Man ) (2002) was released in North America in limited quantities despite a mostly positive reception.
ブラボーミュージック (aka  Mad Maestro!) (2002) was Desert Productions' Romantic music-oriented entry into music games. 
Mambo a Go Go (2002) was going to be released in the US, but never was...
ドンキーコンガ (aka Donkey Konga ) (2003) was Mario's least-favorite simian's similar, conga-playing game for GameCube.
SingStar (2003) came with a special microphone and requires players to sing along with the game to score points, the first such video game to do so. You don't get any extra points for disrobing to James Blunt, however.

If you've learned anything from this blog entry, it's hopefully that Guitar Hero (2005), despite blowing the doors wide open for music RPGs, was really nothing new. As with most of the successful games in its vein, it spawned numerous sequels and you can even play in Amoeba in one of them.

アイドルマスター (aka THE [email protected] ) (2005) was another Japan-only release. Come on, Japan! Didn't you get the memo? People love your weird culture! Why do you think Matthew C. Perry forced you to open your ports in 1854?!
Toy’s March (2005) was developed for kids... not adults. Come on, dude! Little man (below) is drumming circles around you!


Rock Band (2007), just by standing on the shoulders of those standing on the shoulders of giants, helped the franchise steal the thunder from Guitar Hero. The same company, Harmonix, that developed GH was behind Rock Band.

Game on!

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