In celebration of National Video Game Day, we’re revisiting our list of the best video games based on bands.
This week, the Los Angeles Convention Center hosts the Electronic Entertainment Expo, otherwise known as E3, which showcases the hottest upcoming video games and game-related software. Wondering what will follow Xbox 360? Are you still waiting for that new Tomb Raider follow up? Getting tired of the Kinect and in need of something more? Pending this week’s results, you might have answers to all of those questions.
In light of the festivities, Consequence of Sound waxed nostalgic and felt the urge to talk shop, asking one question: “What bands have made use of the video game medium?” The geekiest contributors over here suggested some ridiculous titles and then chiseled it down to ten (mostly) admirable titles. Some might surprise you of its existence, others might remind you why you should still be playing them. Whatever the case, we’re hoping this list changes in the future — perhaps this year’s showcase has some worthy contenders. We’ll find out at the end of this week!
For now, click away to start
p.s. If you’re looking for full coverage of E3, don’t forget to follow any and all updates from our friends over at Nerdy Show!
The Beatles: Rock Band
Artist: The Beatles
Platform(s): PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox 360
They’re the greatest band in popular music history, so why shouldn’t we have expected them to issue the greatest music game in modern gaming history? In 2009, that’s exactly what Harmonix Music Systems did when they released The Beatles: Rock Band. Everything about this product sings with quality; from the meticulously detailed, Apple Corps-assisted artwork to the creative use of unreleased studio chatter placed amid loading screens to the inclusion of harmonies that only added emphasis to each song and the player’s experience. The developers spared no expense and, in most cases, went the extra mile. Not only did they receive help from George Harrison’s son, Dhani, but they even hired acclaimed Beatles impersonators for motion capturing.
Although the game’s admittedly short, the replay factor is high, which comes as no surprise given that, well, it’s The Beatles. For over 50 years, people have spun A Hard Day’s Night or Abbey Road religiously, and that ideology explains why the game’s so alluring even three years later. While the Rock Band franchise fades into obscurity, this gem of a game stands on its own — it represents the peak of its kind. Perhaps that’s why few gamers are interested in the other Rock Band products anymore; think about it, where do you go once you’ve climbed Everest? –Michael Roffman
Britney’s Dance Beat
Artist: Britney Spears
Platform(s): Game Boy Advance, PC, PlayStation 2
In 2002, one couldn’t turn on the television without seeing or hearing Britney Spears — she was arguably at her career best. In the previous year, she became the only female artist in SoundScan history to have their first three albums debut at number one, and she’d break that record again a year later with the release of her fourth studio LP, In the Zone. So, it only made sense that she would get her own video game.
THQ issued Britney’s Dance Beat to commercial success. It wasn’t the first rhythm game of its kind — the Spice Girls beat her to that back in ’98 with the critically panned Spice World — but it’s really the first artist-endorsed one that worked. It would be years before the Kinect came in and changed everything, so players had to follow dance moves strictly through a variation of buttons — basically, it was a high-tech, more colorful version of Simon. Players took on the role of a faceless dancer trying out for Britney Spears’ dance crew, and each win would unlock a number of exclusive videos. As GameSpot wrote back in ’02, “…Britney fanatics will undoubtedly walk away with a smile.” They still do. –Michael Roffman
Artist(s): Jack Black, Ozzy Osbourne, Lita Ford, Lemmy Kilmister
Platform(s): PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Even the world of gaming has its living legends, and game designer Tim Schaffer (Psychonauts,The Secret of Monkey Island) is one of them. In 2009, Schaffer brought his love of metal music to nearly every aspect of the pixelated world of BrÃ¼tal Legend, the design of which was inspired by heavy metal album covers. As the Jack Black-voiced roadie Eddie Riggs (named for Iron Maiden’s Eddie the Head mascot and his creator Derek Riggs, designed as a mix of Black and Glenn Danzig), players battle the minions of Doviculus (voiced by Tim Curry, though Ronnie James Dio had recorded some of the game before being replaced) and his henchman General Lionwhyte, who is voiced by Rob Halford, designed after David Bowie and David Lee Roth and named after glammetal band White Lion.
Along the way, there’s aid from Kill Master, voiced and designed fittingly after Lemmy Kilmister; Fire Baron, designed after and voiced by Halford; Amazonian Rima, voiced by Lita Ford and made up like KISS; and the Guardian of Metal, AKA Ozzy Osbourne. And it just goes on and on like that, with nigh every character, setting, plot point, and even bit of dialogue a nod to metaldom. It’s like a metal head Easter Egg hunt trying to pick up on all the references. What’s even better (and entirely unsurprising for a Schaffer work), is that it’s a damn fine game, earning an 82 on Metacritic. –Ben Kaye
Frankie Goes to Hollywood
Artist: Frankie Goes to Hollywood
Platform(s): Amstrad CPC, C64, ZX Spectrum
Yeah, this one caught us off guard, too. Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s claim to fame is “Relax”, a live version of which was included on cassette with this 1985 game for Commodore 64. The goal was pretty straightforward: You’re in Liverpool (title of the band’s second album) trying to make your way to the Pleasuredome (title of their first). It’s the getting there that starts to sound really ridiculous. In order to become a 100% real person, you complete a series of puzzles and mini-games to collect “pleasure points” in the form of four attributes the band sang about, with “love” and “faith” represented reasonably by a heart and a cross. “Sex” is depicted as a pair of yin-yang sperm, while “war” is a condom (okay, it’s probably supposed to be a missile, but look at it — it’s a condom).
When you earn these points, the game reads “Frankie give you X more pleasure units,” sic. The game involved collecting items like a thirsty cat and completely unrelated mini-games like two heads floating in a river spitting at each other through a wall or collecting falling flowers to make a bunch. Oh yeah, and somewhere in there you solve a murder (the murderer is a vegetarian, atheist, red wine enthusiast, btw). ’80s UK gamer magazine Zzap!64 gave the game a Gold Medal award and a 97% rating. Sigh, the ’80s had some weird moments. –Ben Kaye
“The hottest band in the country is about to take over the planet!” This was the tagline used to promote Journey’s 1983 induction into arcade halls across the globe. For a game based solely on a band, this one might be the oldest, and naturally, it’s probably the most simplistic of them all, too. It was a puzzle game that offered the player the opportunity to choose one of five planets, which each featured a mini-game starring one of the five Journey members. Each win delivered one instrument, and once all five were collected, the player then acted as the roadie for Journey as they performed “Separate Ways” onscreen, which in actuality was just a cassette rolling from within the machine.
Despite its analog nature, the game was pretty advanced. Players could identify the band’s members through black-and-white stills taken while they were on tour — so, for example, those completing Steve Perry’s mini-game probably found solace in seeing the guy’s trademark mane. What’s more, the machine was originally going to take photos of high-score winners, but as the game’s Wiki page points out, that plan was scrapped when one winner flipped off the machine. To think, this was before Tipper Gore, too. –Michael Roffman
Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker
Artist: Michael Jackson
Released: 1990, 1991
Platform(s): Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Arcade, Atari ST, Commodore 64, MS-DOS, MSX, Sega, ZX Spectrum
With the exception of The Beatles: Rock Band, Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker might be the most popular game on this list. It’s a rare find in vintage gaming these days, but those who’ve actually played it (or, let’s be real, downloaded the ROM) no doubt still scoff at the game’s premise. As Michael Jackson, players dance, twist, and throw sparkly hats at the King of Pop’s nefarious foes, which include other dancers from his videos, chairs, the occasional dog or spider, and, um, Joe Pesci. It’s all based on the 1988 film of the same name, which is just as rare of a find — at least it used to be.
Most of the ports were similar enough in style, though the arcade version featured a sprawling landscape as opposed to the consoles’ side-scrolling gameplay. Those familiar with the ’80s film or Jackson’s music videos should recognize a number of the game’s levels, namely the iconic Cafe 30s from “Smooth Criminal” or the grimy streets from “Beat It”. There was even a level set in the cemetery featuring zombies! For full effect, most levels were paired with the appropriate 8-bit Jackson track; however, and this is still an onerous detail, the cemetery level in the Sega port used “Another Part of Me” in lieu of “Thriller”. Then again, this was the same game that had players saving the same sprite of the same little girl multiple times in the same level. It’s still great, though. –Michael Roffman
KISS: Psycho Circus: The Nightmare Child
Platform(s): Dreamcast, Windows
Since the ’70s, KISS have capitalized on just about every trademark opportunity known to capitalism. So, it’s somewhat surprising that it took over two decades for the fire-breathing, blood-spitting rockers to grace arcades, consoles, or computers. But, back in 2000, they finally were digitized, and a series of Todd MacFarlane comics based on the band’s 18th studio LP, Psycho Circus, served as the basis for the game’s premise.
Their video game debut ended up being a first-person shooter and focused on a KISS cover band who were granted super powers. Okay, so it didn’t have a very compelling story, but back in the early aughts, first-person shooters were so popular that it only proved that KISS knew exactly what market to tackle. Unfortunately, it didn’t really pan out critically or commercially as they expected, but in the realm of band-related video games, this one has its shining moments. And hey, for the few thousand (okay, hundreds) of true believers that caught Detroit Rock City in the late summer of ’99, this was a great grab in the discount bin a year later — so was the KISS Pinball game that surfaced to little attention on the PS1 a couple years later, too. –Michael Roffman
Platform(s): Arcade, PC, PlayStation, Sega Genesis, Sega Saturn, SNES
Nearly two decades before he was schilling Whoppers, Steven Tyler was telling teenagers across the world that “Music is the weapon.” It was 1994, only a year after the release of Get a Grip, one of the most popular modern rock albums of the early ’90s, and Aerosmith spent most of that year enlisting its fans for what they called Revolution X. What exactly was that? A rail shooter that had one to two gamers fighting a corrupt governmental force referred to as the New Order Nation, who banned all forms of music, television, magazines, and video games in a dystopian 1996. What did Aerosmith have to do with it? Not only did you have to save each band member through a puzzling mix of batshit crazy levels, but you heeded their advice in bringing down the fascist organization.
So, again it’s a stupid story, but in the ’90s that stupidity went a long way. Long before consoles destroyed arcades, teens used to spend hours going from one machine to the next, and Revolution X delivered the goods. It capitalized on the light gun system, no doubt popularized by Midway’s previous title, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, only this game soundtracked the carnage to songs like “Eat the Rich” or “Sweet Emotion”. Bottom line: At the time, Aerosmith were cool enough to get away with this. Plus, saving bikini-clad women from becoming Primal Rage-like apes or destroying helicopters with CDs tickled the hearts of every young male rocker stuck in suburban hell. Admittedly, when it arrived on consoles soon after, the magic was gone. –Michael Roffman
Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style
Artist: Wu-Tang Clan
No musical group better lends itself to the gaming medium than the Wu-Tang Clan, especially when the game in question is a sword-slashing fighter in the vein of Mortal Kombat. Released in 1999 for the original PlayStation, Wu-Tang Clan: Shaolin Style featured a Wu-centric storyline, RZA-produced music, and actual voiceovers by the group’s members. Critical reception was mixed (the controls were terrible), but the game did leave behind a highly collectible artifact: The “W” Controller — arguably the most impractically shaped (yet coolest looking) joypad in existence. –Jon Hadusek
Xplora1: Peter Gabriel’s Secret World
Artist: Peter Gabriel
Platform(s): CD-i, Macintosh, PC
Back in 1993, Peter Gabriel — ever the innovator — assembled a game that really was ahead of its time. Xplora1: Peter Gabriel’s Secret World was more or less an interactive compendium of everything Gabriel-related. In promotion of his 1992 LP, Us, the game featured a number of scavenger hunts and mini-games that opened up exclusive content, which in retrospect was quite exciting at the time given the lack of Internet. Fans could enjoy a bevy of pre-loaded music, which soundtracked the various puzzles and journeys, and the videos took advantage of the new media players popping up in computers around that time.
Despite Windows claiming a vast majority of computer games throughout the ’90s, Macintosh spearheaded this release, which might explain why it was so revolutionary. Nevertheless, the experimental release would go on to win three awards at the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences, including Best Interactive Product of 1994. A follow-up arrived in 1996 titled EVE, but the real genius ties back to the original. It’s really a shame that Gabriel hasn’t dabbled in gaming for the new millennium. –Michael Roffman