The 11 Most Important Music Games Ever

The 11 Most Important Music Games Ever

Music and video games go well together. Most electronic games require some degree of movement to play, whether it be your fingers or your entire body. Music likewise requires movements, whether subtle or grand, to produce a groovin’ sound. Rhythm games therefore came into being long before Guitar Hero was a gleam in Harmonix’s eye. Here’s a quick rundown of the titles that helped shape the course of console-based music and rhythm game history, and the music gaming boom of the mid-Aughts.

Simon (1978) – Not quite a video game, but certainly an inspiration for what was to come, Simon is an electronic gadget that challenges the player to a Memory-type game: Colored lights come to life in a sequence, along with a series of tones that the player must match. Simon was an instant hit, and is still sold at retail today. Kids, if your parents buy you Simon instead of a full-blown music-based video game, it means they don’t love you (just kidding).

Otocky (1987) – Released only for the Famicom Disc System in Japan, Otocky was a side-scrolling shooter that let the player fire in eight directions–and each direction produced a different note. The player could essentially become a composer and add their own beats to the background music, making the game an early preface to later music creation studios such as MTV Music Generator, Traxxpad and Beaterator.

PaRappa the Rapper (1996) – PaRappa the Rapper, an early hip-hop themed PSOne game which featured distinct crayon-like visuals and bizarre animal characters, introduced the idea of pressing controller buttons to keep time to a beat. It also introduced the concept of rapping your way to the front of a bathroom queue, which may or may not prove a successful tactic in real life. Don’t try it unless you’re desperate.

Dance Dance Revolution (1998) – Dancing simulation Dance Dance Revolution, commonly known as “DDR,” began life in the arcades before it was ported to almost every home console imaginable. Players physically “dance” to the music by stepping in time on an actual mat (or the steel pad home accessory for truly hardcore fans). On-screen arrows show you when and where to step. Think it’s easy? Watch a professional go at it one day and prepare to hang your head, completely humbled.

Guitar Freaks (1999) – Before there was Guitar Hero, Japanese arcades gave birth to Guitar Freaks, which was subsequently ported to the PSOne and PlayStation 2. Guitar Freaks utilized a plastic guitar peripheral that was extremely unique at the time, even though you currently own about twenty of them and probably throw them under cars to amuse yourself. Guitar Freaks‘ guitar only had three fret buttons, though, and scored players on accuracy instead of by “hits” and “misses.”

Space Channel 5 (1999) – Taking a cue from ye olde Simon, Space Channel 5 for Sega’s Dreamcast console required players to memorize the characters’ dance moves and relay them back via the appropriate button sequences. The game is notable for its fun, colorful visuals and guest appearance by Michael Jackson (accurately dubbed “Space Michael).

Samba de Amigo (1999) – Also for the Dreamcast, Samba de Amigo’s maraca accessories were a good indication of where rhythm based games were heading (peripherals, peripherals, peripherals). Players shook their maracas in time to the music in order to please a monkey in a sombrero.

Rez (2001) – Rez for the Dreamcast and PlayStation 2 was a slicker, somewhat more hypnotizing version of Otocky. This time, however, North America could know the joys of falling deep into a psychedelic 3D world of light and sound that also went far beyond the Famicom’s chiptunes. Alas, many still recall the game mostly for its infamous trance vibrator accessory, which several female fans put to public and sadly expectable use.

Lumines (2004) – Lumines for the PSP was another project by Tetsuya Mixuguchi, the man behind Rez. Fashioned as a falling-block puzzle based around a grid, players could manipulate the game’s audio based on the speed at which they cleared the screen of blocks. Gameplay was thus affected according to the speed of the tempo, providing a new dimension to head-scratching brainteasers.

Guitar Hero (2005) – Needs almost no introduction. Guitar Hero for the PlayStation 2 was probably the game that granted you your very first guitar peripheral (pause for teardrop). Thus began the rise of a billion-dollar bestselling franchise that would give birth to an entire genre of plastic instrument-based, button-mashing rhythm games, only to unexpectedly die after just six years of stardom. Then again, that’s the way rock legends live: Fast and dirty.

Rock Band (2007) – Rock Band happened when Harmonix said, “A guitar alone does not a rock group make.” Thus was born more accessories: The drums, the keyboard, the bass and the microphone – and lo, an entire family or group of friends could suddenly team up, form faux acts and make their music industry fantasies come true. Intriguingly, despite being launched, then subsequently dropped by MTV Games, Rock Band has still managed to cling to life even though Guitar Hero called it quits. Can the franchise endure? If not, God invented reunion tours for a reason.

Special Thanks: GamesRadar

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.


  1. Excellent list, although I’d personally add Elite Beat Agents, Electroplankton, and Rhythm Heaven as well.

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