Features// Rhythm and the Revolution

Posted 25 Jul 2008 17:41 by
It seems like, for a long time in my world, there was no such thing as Rhythm-Action games, unless you count Twister. Which you shouldn't. Of course, outside my world, there had been and they'd been there for a while. Rumours circulated in awed tones and with respectful nods regarding Dance Dance Revolution and other dancemat games. They were played in malls, we imagined, by Japanese teenagers, presumably whilst talking on their Wasp T12 Speechtools; flailing delicate, Pokémon trinket covered wrists around to balance their whirling feet.

Most British teenagers, if my groups of friends were anything to go by, were hunched in darkened, tobacco-stained living rooms with cans of Pepsi, playing FPSs and Action/Adventure games, ignoring the impassioned pleas of parents that they need to go to school or get some vitamin D, depending on the time of year. We could never be like the gyrating Japanese. We, like the folk of the Shire, lived in a different world. Smaller. Darker. More hovel-based. Our stumpy, ugly feet could barely carry us to the shops, let alone tip-tap across a patch of floor following synchronised patterns and creating something beautiful and miraculous to see.

When Donkey Konga arrived in one of the more daring gamer's houses it was like putting a particularly rare species of butterfly down in front of a botanist. Interesting, but irrelevant. Until we played it. Now, for a revolution, it was not that potent. We didn't charge out into the streets burning our pads and dancing across the tarmac to an imaginary La Bamba done with sea creature noises. But it was fun. It was different, it changed things.

Looking through a brief history of guitar-based games I was surprised to see how many had gone before. Like a believer in Intelligent Design I was imagining that the eye came fully formed and had just waited for the nearest eye socket to pop into. The more evolutionary approach is, in both scenarios, much more sensible – so why had I not heard of these previous attempts? Possibly because I was, in all but the most literal of terms, hiding under a comfy and familiar rock but it does seem like primordial vision sensory organs there were drawbacks which made all but the most enthusiastic gamer sigh and decide against downloading or purchasing them.

In 1995 Quest For Fame used a v-pick to let gamers play on their PCs to a selection of Aerosmith songs. It's remarkable that this much came out fully formed from the imaginative soup of possibilities at such an early age, but it failed to inspire the world on mass. PCs were about as far from rhythm action as Wiis are now from writing essays. PCs were for serious gamers, not for the Mortal Kombat players, busy doing wrestling moves on their younger siblings in the next room whilst eating marshmallow fluff straight from the pot.

Astonishingly, the good people of Virtual Music stuck at it and came back with Music Playground in 2001 which allowed users to buy the instrument tracks for CDs they already-owned and play along with them. Part of me wants to scream - “Where was I? How did I not know this? This was shuuurely the beginning of the DLC and iTunes-based society we love today!” whilst the other 7/8ths acknowledge sadly that it wouldn't have mattered. It was too expensive and too focused. Like sticking with Aerosmith's hits in the first version, any one album or artist would not give the variety needed to all but the most ardent of music fans. It was shut down in 2003 to almost no complaints.
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