Mis à jour le 3 May 2023.
Rhythm or rhythm action games differ from other genres in the way they place music and rhythm at the heart of the gaming experience. Unlike fighting games where the rhythmic aspect is simply an element among many others, the player must follow the tempo of the music to advance through the game or score the most points.
As old as humanity itself, rhythm games cover a wide range of styles to create unique and immersive experiences. Fun controllers released in the 2000s, like the guitar from Guitar Hero, took this genre to the heights of popularity and commercial success. With new immersive technologies like virtual reality and Dolby Atmos, will rhythm games manage to forge themselves a new path?
What are rhythm games?
A rhythm game is a type of musical action game that tests the player’s rhythm skills or musical ear. These games usually focus on dancing, singing or musical instruments. They require players to perform a sequence of button presses, movements in an on-screen dictated sequence, or hit the right notes when singing.
Why are they so popular?
Since the 2000s, rhythm games have become very popular due to their accessibility, the enjoyment of playing to your favorite music, as well as the competitive aspect or the stimulating physical aspect they offer. This genre can be enjoyed by users of all skill levels and ages and manages to combine music, movement, competition and sometimes even education. The best-selling rhythm game is Dance Dance Revolution, which has sold over 400 million copies since its release in 1998.
Interaction: the motor behind rhythm game sales?
Since the discovery of screen interaction with a mouse in the 1960s to the 2000s and the emergence of video games in their modern form, rhythm games have appealed to our traditions, mainly music and dance. They represent a very advanced form of this interactivity thanks to the use of fun controllers as well as real instruments for the most musically inclined among us.
This interaction between man and machine continues today through virtual and augmented reality, haptic feedback and ultra-realistic simulators. The 2010s saw progress in the way games retrieve information: first a controller, then a dance mat with pressure sensors and a fake plastic guitar. Today, it continues with motion recognition by camera or via gyroscopes in game controllers, or by capturing the sound of real instruments. Tomorrow, it will be a sensory combination, and most certainly related to immersive technologies. The past few years have also seen the development of immersive sound with Dolby Atmos and spatial audio technologies, which could well be one of the keys to the near future of rhythm games.
Rhythm games have many more pros. They can help improve cognitive abilities, coordination and concentration. By following the beat of the music, players can improve their ability to synchronize their movements and their concentration. Physically, dance games can offer similar benefits to regular exercise, such as coordination, flexibility and endurance. These games often take on a competitive aspect, offering players the opportunity to organize tournaments and international competitions.
There are numerous competitions, especially in Asia where rhythm games are now an integral part of the culture in many countries, notably in Japan and South Korea. Last but not least, they can also have social benefits by offering a fun and interactive group activity.
What different types of rhythm games are there?
Several types of rhythm games exist, each with its own characteristics and game mechanics. Here are the main ones:
- Dance games: as the name suggests, these games require players to follow dance steps to a given music. They often use motion sensors or mats to detect the player’s movements. Just Dance is the must-have game of the last few years, it was also the first to use the motion sensors of the Nintendo Wii and the PlayStation Move.
- Tempo games: these games generally simulate drums or other percussion instruments, and require you to play in rhythm with the music by pressing buttons or using motion sensors. Many game ideas have been developed, such as Taiko no Tatsujin or Tap it, where the concept is to put the controller or your smartphone on a cardboard box and tap it.
- Guitar games: these games often simulate an electric guitar and require participants to play chords in time with the music using a guitar-shaped controller or a real guitar equipped with sensors. Guitar Hero lost its leading status to a number of new licenses flooding the market, such as Frets on Fire and Rock Band.
- Singing games: these karaoke games require players to sing along to song lyrics and the rhythm of the music. They use microphones to detect the singer’s voice. SingStar was a pioneer of this genre on the first version of the PlayStation and today, you can sing along to current hits with the game Let’s Sing on all consoles using standard USB microphones.
Where do rhythm games come from?
It can be assumed that they have existed since the dawn of time, perhaps even since man became aware of the rhythm of their heartbeat. Today, they mainly take the form of interactive video games. But the link between their primitive form and today still exists in the learning of an instrument, for example: a teacher plays a rhythmic sequence and the student must either repeat it or play a different sequence with the same rhythmic signature and/or the same intervals between two notes. This principle is widely used in our current video games.
What are the most iconic rhythm games?
PaRappa the Rapper
The first major rhythm game to be widely distributed was probably PaRappa the Rapper, developed by the Japanese studio NanaOn-Sha and released in 1996 for the Sony PlayStation. The game was praised for its unique art style and innovative gameplay, where gamers had to press buttons following the patterns displayed on the screen.
Dance Dance Revolution
In 1998, Konami released Dance Dance Revolution, which quickly became a global phenomenon. The game displayed dance steps on the screen, and players had to follow them by dancing on a special mat. First presented as an arcade game, it soon found its way into our living rooms, adapted to all consoles and delivered with a foldable mat equipped with pressure sensors and now with motion sensors.
In the early 2000s, Harmonix released the Guitar Hero series on PlayStation 2. The game was a huge hit. It allowed gamers to play rock songs by using guitar-shaped controllers instead of traditional controllers. The Rock Band series followed suit, allowing players to create bands with up to four members using guitar, bass, drum and vocal controllers.
The SingStar series, developed by Sony Computer Entertainment Europe and released in 2004, is one of the earliest examples of a singing game. It allows players to sing popular songs using a standard USB microphone, with their vocal performance evaluated in real-time.
Since 2018, the virtual reality game Beat Saber, developed by the Czech studio Beat Games, has been widely successful. It allows you to play along to any current song (and those imported by the community or yourself on their website) by using lightsabers to cut blocks of music in rhythm. Although it is not the first rhythm game in VR (Holodance 2015 on Oculus Rift), it is the most successful due to its exceptional replayability, which is made possible by the ability to import new songs.
Released in January 2023, the dazzling game Hi-Fi Rush won over critics and gamers alike with its cell-shaded graphics, which one can truly appreciate on a 4K gaming screen. A clever combination of Beat’em up and platform/adventure games, rhythm is a central element in creating combos, using powers (a bionic arm and a Flying V guitar-shaped weapon) and of course, achieving the highest score!
Rocksmith, a game with an educational twist
Rocksmith is a rhythm video game released on the PS4 and Xbox 360 in 2014. It differs from usual rhythm games by adding pedagogic elements that allow players to learn how to play an instrument in a rock band using a real instrument. Unlike other rhythm games that concentrate on timing and coordination, Rocksmith is designed to teach the technical and musical skills needed to play guitar, bass, keyboard and drums. It offers interactive lessons and practical exercises in the same way that traditional booklet methods do, without interactivity. The advancement of converters and high definition DACs, as well as the evolution of programming, have made it possible to precisely recognize the notes played on an instrument, which was impossible (because it was still too expensive) at the time of the first Guitar Hero game.
Consequently, Rocksmith 2014 is both a rhythm game and a tool to learn how to play a classic rock instrument (guitar, bass, drums or keyboard). It is still possible to play this version of Rocksmith on your PS4 and Xbox 360 consoles.
Rocksmith+, an interactive learning tool
Today, Rocksmith+ is available as a monthly subscription with lessons from major artists and regularly updated tracks. This new online version has a catalog of 6000 songs (now in many different styles), but requires a constant internet connection. Focusing primarily on guitar and bass, the new Rocksmith+ version runs on a smartphone and uses the smartphone’s microphone to capture the sound of the instrument. This convenient system allows students to practice their interactive exercises wherever they want.
Combining a home theater, a rhythm game stage and… a gym?
Certain developers have pushed the idea of virtual reality physical exercise quite far, notably with Box VR, which is one of the pioneers of the boxing/fitness game in immersive virtual format. The aim is to follow a boxing workout on imposed rhythms with visual feedback to make the exercise more fun. It is a lot like a rhythm game like Taiko no Tatsujin, where the drums are replaced by virtual boxing gloves. However, it is aimed at staying in shape and working out by following a professional coach’s program, rather than playing.
Are immersive sound and augmented reality the future of rhythm games?
We have already seen virtual reality technologies offer immersive possibilities for rhythm games by allowing players to interact with their environment and game elements in a more realistic way. While Beat Saber is a good example, the combination of new audiovisual technologies such as immersive sound opens up many possibilities. One could imagine an augmented environment, where the surrounding elements in the room come to life and interact with you in rhythm with your favorite music mixed in Atmos.
We can also imagine a classic game that uses the spatialization of Dolby Atmos systems where the location of a sound implies a particular response, a piece of information to be remembered… Or an “Air Rock” game, which, thanks to very precise movement sensors, could recognize you playing an instrument displayed in augmented reality in your room. The sound of the virtual instrument would then be reproduced according to the player’s movements and would be located in the room thanks to sound spatialization.
Audio, could offer new ways of designing rhythm games. A space equipped with a multichannel soundbar or multi-speaker home theater system offers enormous potential to the relationship between player and sound, and raises the question of its application in video games. With televisions, projectors and ultra-short-throw projectors becoming ever more efficient for gaming, there is a real risk that your home theater will become a game room, if it isn’t one already! Or even a stage, if you love rhythm games!
Thanks to the prevalence of music in everyday life and the ease with which it is possible to follow a beat, rhythm video games have evolved to offer an increasingly immersive and entertaining experience for players. From dance games to music games, singing games and educational games, the genre offers a wide variety of different gameplay to appeal to all generations. If new audiovisual technologies are combined with rhythm video games, then there is no end of surprises in store for us.