Best Music Games: Gaming’s Top Hits – Pt 1

Best Music Games: Gaming’s Top Hits – Pt 1

Activision’s Guitar Hero video game franchise is dead. But music gaming’s legacy, a part of interactive entertainment’s history since the very beginning, lives on.

A special preview of yours truly’s upcoming free digitally downloadable book, Music Games Rock: Gaming’s 100 Greatest Hits of All-Time (Power Play, 2011), we’re proud to present a look back over the field’s 30-year history.

In the first of a special three-part series, we give you some of music gaming’s top smashes from the Seventies and Eighties. These kept players happily glued to monitors, TV screens and arcade machines since home computing’s early dawn.

Simon (Milton Bradley, 1978) – Launched May 15th at Studio 54, this Jurassic forerunner to today’s touch-sensitive Nintendo DS/3DS featured four colored buttons and three simple variations. Memorization’s the goal, with players required to repeat back a randomized or user-created sequence of lights and tones with a simple poke. Named for “Simon Says” and created by Ralph Baer, who also invented home console gaming with 1972’s Magnavox Odyssey, it quickly became an American institution. Besides single-handedly popularizing handheld electronic entertainment and directly influencing every subsequent system from Game Boy to PlayStation Portable, its pattern-based action set the mold for nearly all successive music-themed titles. That goes double for many of the current generation’s most “innovative” offerings, which simply require enthusiasts to play back notes synchronized to audiovisual prompts that appear onscreen.

KISS Pinball (Bally, 1978) – Resplendent in dragons, flames, lightning bolts and black-and-white face paint, this classic flipper-swatter features enough flashing lights and table-shaking tones to pass for one of its namesake band’s infamous stage acts. Lovingly showcasing Gene Simmons’ proboscis-like tongue, it offers chilling foreshadowing as to fellow rockers’ insatiable appetite for high-tech merchandising that would follow. Amusingly, it was later reprised in 2001 with an unrelated and eponymous PC/PlayStation follow-up which didn’t even feature licensed music or speech samples.

Journey (Bally/Midway, 1983) – Riding high on 1983’s Number Two-charting Frontiers album, the San Francisco balladeers were tapped by coin-operated amusement staple Bally Midway to computerize their brand of arena rock. Controlling band members with cartoon torsos and black-and-white photos for heads, avoid or blast glowing alien adversaries while collecting instruments to be rewarded with an animated concert complete with a cassette player-fueled rendition of “Separate Ways.” Oddly, the arcade game was preceded by 1982 home console counterpart Journey Escape from Data Age, also inexplicably set in space and featuring players fighting intergalactic groupies (hearts with legs) and promoters (floating heads) with the help of roadies to reach an insect-like spaceship. These ventures marked the first time a band got its own licensed video game — before Journey, only pinball machines featuring acts like Kiss were available. The title paved the way for every other band appearance, or interactive tribute (e.g. Green Day: Rock Band, Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, etc.) since.

To read the read of this article, click here to visit Rolling Stone.

About Scott Steinberg
Scott Steinberg is CEO of strategic consulting and product testing firm TechSavvy Global, and a noted keynote speaker and business expert. Hailed as a top tech expert and parenting guru by critics from USA Today to NPR, he’s also an on-air analyst for ABC, CBS and CNN.

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