Despite its boom in the late 2000s, rhythm gaming has seemingly fallen out of the spotlight over the years. This is a shame because the genre of rhythm gaming is lively, with some of the best games I’ve ever seen in the genre having been released in the past few years.
With my recently-renewed interest in rhythm gaming, I’m going to show you the best the genre currently has to offer.
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux (via Steam)
Way back in 2008, Audiosurf took the Internet by storm by innovating on the rhythm game genre. It did this by allowing users to use their own locally-stored tracks for track generation and by being generally fun and well-designed.
In the era of the early Guitar Hero games and YouTube taking the world by storm, Audiosurf was a hit – not just as a game for people to play, but also to watch the incredible visualizations of your favorite tracks played out right in front of you, with much more visual spectacle than offered by its contemporaries.
Audiosurf 2 takes this core concept and dials it up to eleven with polished, modern-day graphics, a multitude of new game modes and improvements that make the original game obsolete, a better, more-accurate online ranking system, the ability to play virtually any song through YouTube, and the addition of user-made mods that allow them to change the way the game looks, sounds and plays.
Rock Band 3/4
Platforms: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Wii (3), PlayStation 4, Xbox One (4)
Speaking of influential rhythm games, the Guitar Hero and Rock Band series rocketed the genre into mainstream consciousness thanks to the developing ingenuity of the studio Harmonix. While Guitar Hero titles are great too, for the sake of this list we’ll only be discussing the two games from this developer that are relevant today: Rock Band 3 and 4.
Rock Band 3 is relevant due to having the largest Rock Band library ever (thanks to the deep pockets of its publisher) and despite the myriad of graphical and gameplay improvements made in Rock Band 4. A narrower set of platforms and a far narrower set of songs to choose from actually make it a hard sell.
Note: the only way to access the full Rock Band library of songs in Rock Band 4 is having already owned them in Rock Band 3 on PS3 or Xbox 360, then having transferred them over to Rock Band 4 on PS4 or Xbox One.
This is a major downside because not only are Wii users left without an upgrade path, but if you decide to enter the series on Rock Band 4, you’re essentially locked out of years of content you could’ve had access to via Rock Band 3!
That aside, Rock Band 3 and 4 are unparalleled in their form as party games, and thanks to the fact that the developers themselves are responsible for mapping the tracks, track progression in these games is typically a lot more accurate than the automated generation in games like Audiosurf.
Platforms: PC, VR Headset + Motion Controllers Required
Audioshield is a curious beast. It runs on a similar engine to Audiosurf 2 and is shipped by the same developer, but the gameplay is entirely different thanks to its ability to utilize VR headsets and motion controls.
While Audioshield boasts a lot of the same great features as its cousin (mod support, using your own songs, etc.), it makes a huge departure with its gameplay. Users don a VR headset and dual motion controllers to use as “shields” against an incoming volley of paint blobs synced to the progression of the song. Audioshield is by far the most immersive example of rhythm gaming on this list, and I highly recommend you watch the video below for a real appreciation of its gameplay.
Platforms: PC (Windows, Mac), PS3, PS4, 360, Xbox One
Rocksmith 2014 is named as such because it’s a sequel to an earlier-released Rocksmith title but didn’t want to attach a “2” at the end and risk scaring off users who hadn’t played previous it. And yes, at the time of writing, January 2017, Rocksmith 2014 remains the most recent title and likely will be for some time, as it still continually receives content updates.
Of course, that leaves the question: what even is Rocksmith?
In short, Rocksmith is actually designed to teach you guitar – specifically, electric and bass guitars, through a peripheral that allows users to directly connect their real-life instruments with their PC or console. Rocksmith is full of instructional lessons on playing guitar with hundreds of songs for the players to learn the real bones of through DLC.
Guitar Hero and such really only teach rhythm and improved hand-eye coordination. Rocksmith’s goal is to actually teach you how to play music, not just play on a simplified guitar controller at a party, and for that reason this one comes highly-recommended, especially for those looking to learn to play guitar.
Platforms: PC (Windows, Mac), Android, iOS, Windows Phone
Osu! is an immensely-popular freeware title and the only one of the rhythm games on this list to be completely free. While controllable through a variety of methods, most people seem to prefer playing it with a drawing tablet, so this game is especially recommended for people who already do digital art. Otherwise, you’re still welcome to play it, but using a mouse or touchscreen will take quite a lot more adjustment and come much less naturally.
That aside, Osu! may not be as huge or influential as other titles on this list, but it is very popular for what it is, and it offers a legitimately fun gameplay experience. Plus, user-created “beatmaps” exist for just about every song out there, so there’s plenty of ways to enjoy your music with this game!
Crypt Of The NecroDancer
Platforms: PC (Windows, Mac, Linux), iOS, PS4, PS Vita
Last but not least on our list is Crypt Of The NecroDancer! Weird name, I know, but basically this game is a roguelike dungeon crawler mixed in with brutal rhythm gaming mechanics. Your movements, attacks, score, are all tied to how well you’re able to keep up with the rhythm of the game’s custom tracks throughout its dungeon exploration.
Even once you’ve beaten the main game and enjoyed all the character and fun it has to offer, you’re able to import custom music (on PC, at least), which seems to work really well!
Whether you’re looking for a visual spectacle alongside your favorite tracks, an amazing party experience, an in-depth teaching tool, or even a quirky dungeon crawler, I believe this article gives you a wide breadth of rhythm gaming experiences to choose from.
My highest recommendation is Audiosurf 2, but you may have other preferences. That’s perfectly fine, too. Sound off in the comments and let me know what game on this list most interests you!