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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 ???????? (aka PaRappa the Rapper) (1996) was pretty massive. It's crazy how, post-Eric B & Rakim, east coast rap never surpassed this level. 
?????? (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.
???????? (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.
??????????(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."
?????? (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 ????????? (aka Um Jammer Lammy) (1999).