What Makes Rhythm Games So Successful?

If you ask someone what their favourite rhythm game is, most people have an enthusiastic response. The most common responses are Dance Dance Revolution, Guitar Hero or Rock Band and fans of Japanese pop culture are excited to start talking about the Hatsune Miku: Project Diva games. But everyone who has ever enjoyed a rhythm game, whether casual or competitive, has fond memories of their first game. Many people have stuck with their favourite franchise for years and will continue to do so for many more to come. From tapping away with a stylus on any of the Nintendo DS family, to giving your thumbs a serious workout on a smartphone or jamming on a virtual guitar controller, everyone has played some form of rhythm game.

Rhythm games have been around for a surprisingly long time and it’s safe to say they won’t be going anywhere any time soon. This sub genre of games challenges the player’s sense of rhythm. Players must hit combinations of buttons with precision to audio and visual cues. Your accuracy is rewarded with points. The concept is fairly simple and this idea is the backbone of all rhythm games. Many people will tell you that rhythm games as we know them were born with the Japanese PlayStation One title PaRappa the Rapper in 1997. In this title, the player takes control of PaRappa, a rapping dog. If you successfully hit the right button combinations with the correct timing, PaRappa will rap. You are ranked as either Awful, Bad, Good or Cool by the “U rappin’” meter. PaRappa the Rapper is a Japanese title but all of the songs and dialog are in English and it’s not long before you find yourself singing along with the catchy, original tunes. If you prefer the style of a fighting game, get ready for the 1999 hit Bust-a-Groove. This game takes the basics of a fighting game but throws dancing into the mix, resulting in bizarre button pressing rhythmic madness. Two characters battle it out in an epic battle of breakdancing, special moves and attacks. Picture a b-boy dance battle but the dancers have the ability to unleash attack moves to overcome the challenger and ultimately become the victor.

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In 1999, the arcade dance game culture was changed forever when Dance Dance Revolution hit the scene. DDR was the game that pioneered the active dancing games, over a decade before games like Just Dance hit the shelves. Standing on a virtual dance stage, players step, jump and turn while being directed by floating on-screen icons, shaking their groove-thang to the latest J-Pop hits. Fast forward to 2005. The curtain is drawn, audiences hold their breath with anticipation as the spotlight hits the new star on the scene: Guitar Hero. Guitar Hero had players following along with notes scrolling down the screen with a plastic guitar-like controller, smaller than the real deal but close enough, pressing coloured buttons on the neck of the guitar to match those on screen. Gamers and music lovers alike united in their joy of this new game, racking up high scores, showing off to mates and generally just feeling like a rock star. Then along came Rock Band, adding new instruments into the mix. Now not only could you jam on a virtual guitar, now you could also belt out the tunes until your throat was raw and drum out the killer beats on a device similar to a tiny electronic drum kit. The addition of downloadable tracks was also beneficial as it meant consumers could continue to add to their music library and expand the replay value of the games.

In more recent years, rhythm games have made a move to mobile devices. Touchscreen controls on smartphones, tablets and handheld consoles eliminate the need for awkward buttons or external controllers. The introduction of rhythm games on portable devices meant players could unleash their inner rockstar anywhere – on the bus, in waiting rooms, huddled up in bed – the options were endless. Combine your mobile device with a good pair of headphones – instant Rock God. In 2008, the iPhone Guitar Hero clone, Tap Tap Revenge appeared on the App Store, then spawned various spin off versions of the game – Linkin Park Revenge and Katy Perry Revenge come to mind. The game was almost identical to Guitar Hero but it took advantage of touch screen technology rather than relying on an external controller. The Tap Tap franchise ultimately generated 15 million downloads and received a Guinness World Record as the “most popular iPhone game series”. In more recent years we have seen Japanese vocaloid Hatsune Miku dance across our PlayStations in the series of Project Diva games. Square Enix developed Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, a rhythm game featuring all of your favourite Final Fantasy characters and game music. Theatrhythm is available for free on iOS and includes a couple of free tracks, then in-app purchases allow you to choose other songs from your favourite Final Fantasy games.

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One of the keys of success for rhythm games is that people of all ages and abilities can play. Your grandmother may not be interested in playing Battlefield 4 or Assassin’s Creed IV on a next-gen console and I doubt she would challenge you to a Pokemon battle, but hand her an iPad or tablet with a rhythm game that has music to her liking and she will probably have a bit of fun with it. Games that make you get up off the couch and shake your booty dramatically increase the levels of energy used compared to traditional video games and dancing burns more calories than running on a treadmill. Gaming can fight in the war against obesity! Guitar Hero has been utilised in the recovery and rehabilitation of stroke patients due to the multiple limb coordination the game requires. Various universities have conducted studies to determine how games like Guitar Hero can help with autism and mental health and well-being. Researchers have also used Guitar Hero to aid amputees with prosthetic limbs. Rhythm games are great for anyone to work on improving reaction times and coordination. There is something out there for everyone, literally.

At the end of the day, rhythm games are so successful because everyone loves music. Music has become a huge part of our daily lives, whether we realise it or not. Sometimes, you just want to get your groove on and rock out to your favourite tunes. And what’s more fun than listening to music? Playing it, of course! But since we aren’t all born with exceptional musical skill and talent, rhythm games can be quite a challenge but also a lot of fun. If you’re playing a rhythm game right, you can even feel as though you’re creating the music. Players may have never picked up an actual guitar in their entire lives, but they can shred like no other on Guitar Hero or Rock Band.

Another aspect of rhythm games that sets them apart from other genres of games is that they are both casual and extremely competitive at the same time. You can play a quick game on your phone or handheld on the train or challenge other gamers to a DDR showdown at an arcade or gather a group of friends in your living room and duel each other with plastic guitars, each option being as fun and rewarding as the next. These games require as much skill, effort and time as you are willing to invest in them. Like any other game, the more time you invest in them, the better you become.

Theatrhythm

 So what does the future hold for rhythm games? In 2012, Rocksmith put a spin on the traditional rhythm game by allowing players to take a more serious approach to the guitar-based games. Being able to play Guitar Hero on Expert Mode doesn’t make you a good musician. Rocksmith analyses the player’s ability and takes an absolute beginner through the basics, from how to hold the pick to how to hold the guitar correctly. Unlike guitar simulator style games, Rocksmith really teaches you how to play guitar, whether you’ve never held a guitar in your life or you just want to improve on some existing guitar playing skills.

There has been a definite switch in the way in which consumers purchase and play rhythm games in recent years. Games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band no longer fly off the shelves like they used to. Instead we’re seeing a lot more rhythm games topping the charts of the App Store and Google Play. Mobile play appears to be the way of the future for rhythm games. Seeing as most of these games are being purchased online, it’s no surprise that downloadable content goes hand in hand with rhythm games. In-app purchases in particular will continue to be the driving force behind the success of these mobile games. Particularly when games are offered for free like Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, where the game itself is free to play but if you want to play more songs, you must purchase them. This is a smart move, as it lets the player test out the game with no financial commitment.

The fat lady hasn’t sung for the rhythm game genre just yet. Shove aside your shooters and RPGs and embrace the beat.

 

Original article can be found on gamegrin.com, 25th March 2014

Review: The Elder Scrolls Online Beta

I am a big Skyrim fan. Out of all the games I have ever played, I have probably spent the most total gameplay hours playing Skyrim. It is the kind of game that has immense replay value, I have started new characters multiple times and I’m sure I will create another one in the future. So it’s safe to say I was very excited to receive an invite to the beta of The Elder Scrolls Online. I spent a few hours over the weekend playing through the beta and here is a summary of the game and some of my thoughts.

ESO

The Elder Scrolls Online takes place roughly 1,000 years before the events of Skyrim. Tamriel is in a period of instability and Molag Bal, the Daedric Prince of corruption and domination, has taken the opportunity to try and drag all of Tamriel into his realm of Coldharbour with the use of devices called Dark Anchors. You begin the game in one of the realms of Oblivion, locked in a cell. You have been captured and Molag Bal has stripped you of your soul as a sacrifice. Your task (along with every other player) is to escape from Oblivion and reach Tamriel, where the game truly begins. And from here you, the Soulless One, can choose to take on the main quest line or meet up with a bunch of friends and take on quests together. Every decision you make affects the fate of Tamriel.

There are three major factions in The Elder Scrolls Online. Those factions, made up of the different races found throughout Tamriel, are the Aldmeri Dominion, the Daggerfall Covenant, and the Ebonheart Pact. The race you choose effects which faction you will be a part of. Altmer (High Elves), Bolmer (Wood Elves) and Khajiit are make up the Aldmeri Dominion, Orsimer (Orcs), Bretons and Redguard are the Daggerfall Covenant and the Ebonheart Pact consists of Dunmer (Dark Elves), Argonians and Nords. Other factions, some of which will only be available after launch, include the Fighters Guild, Mages Guild, Thieves Guild and Dark Brotherhood. I spent my time playing as a Wood Elf. Thankfully, your choice of race and (lack of choice of) faction doesn’t affect your choice of class. Templar, Sorcerer, Nightblade or DragonKnight are the choices at hand. My Wood Elf was a Nightblade because I enjoy playing stealth with a bow. Feedback from the in game chat described the Templar as a very powerful class. Templar is without a doubt the most diverse class, with the ability to tank, partake in crowd control or act as a healer. If you enjoy the role of a mage in other MMOs, then Sorcerer is the choice for you. Dragon Knight can dish out some serious damage, so that class would be your first choice if you enjoy being in the middle of the action. Each have benefits for different purposes and different players.

TESO feels very familiar to anyone who played Skyrim or Oblivion. You still have your stamina, health and magicka bars along the lower section of the screen and the compass along the upper section. The screen isn’t cluttered with a bunch of another windows or boxes like in other MMOs. Bethesda did this on purpose, to simplify the experience and replicate the look of the previous games. Another thing that makes TESO feel more like an RPG than an MMO is that the player feels like the chosen one, not just another citizen with nothing special going for them. The only downfall is that every player is the protagonist, the Soulless One destined to stop Molag Bal, so when you think about that the entire story has a big hole in it. Molag Bal is screwed! But if you overlook that, you can carry one happily and keep on questing. None of the early quests feel like simple, mindless quests, straight away what you are doing has some form of importance. You’re stopping a bunch of crazy guys from summoning a typhoon and investigating some skooma dealers. Unfortunately the third quest I attempted had a bug that stopped me from deactivating some traps so I was never able to complete it.

My time with The Elder Scrolls Online was fairly limited, due to only having access to the Beta over one short weekend. I certainly had a lot of fun, but I didn’t get to explore as deeply into the game as I would have liked so it’s difficult to pass judgement on more in depth aspects of the game, like skills and levelling. But for the most part, The Elder Scrolls Online just made me miss Skyrim. I think at this point in time, I would rather replay Skyrim again than play $15 a month to play The Elder Scrolls Online. There is a possibility that I may warm up to The Elder Scrolls Online, but I don’t think I’ll be pre-ordering it. I would really like to give it a try on the PS4 and I’d love to play it with friends, but only time will tell.

Bethesda Softworks and Zenimax Online Studios bring us the next chapter in the Elder Scrolls saga in April on the PC and Mac and later on in June on PS4 and Xbox One. Will you be picking up a copy?

Elder Scrolls Online Beta Gameplay

I was lucky enough to snag an Elder Scrolls Online beta invite this weekend, like many others. I captured some gameplay footage to share with you all.

Let me just say, I am not a PC gamer. For one, I write this on a MacBook Pro with Retina display. A powerful beast indeed, but not exactly meant for gaming. Everyone knows that Macs and gaming don’t go hand in hand. Secondly, I simply don’t like gaming on a PC. I’m a console girl and that probably won’t be changing any time soon. That being said, despite the controls that I’m not particularly familiar or comfortable with, I loved playing ESO and I felt quite at home with the game. It felt a lot like Skyrim and nothing like other MMOs like World of Warcraft and so forth.

I will write a more in depth review of Elder Scrolls Online once I have played the beta a little more, but for now here’s a few minutes of gameplay footage. Apologies for the lack of audio, I don’t have any fancy capture software so I am only able to capture video. I hope you enjoy.