The genre of rhythm video games seems to have been dwindling in recent years. Guitar Hero and Rock Band, once a pair of mighty 3rd party series, faded into obscurity, only to get revival editions that not many people seemed to play, and even recycled songs that had already been featured in the series. I don’t think these series deserve to be left in the dust, however, but a little bit of innovation would help both series bounce back.
Okay, so I’m gonna go obscure on you guys for a little bit, and I only ask that you bear with me.
Vib-Ribbon, released in Japan in 1999 and Europe in 2000, was a rhythm game for the PlayStation that was highly innovative for its time. It wasn’t necessarily the graphics, which, while charming, were certainly simplistic. And nor was it the gameplay, which followed the typical timed-button press templates of other rhythm games (although having to determine which buttons to press in combo obstacles was extremely difficult). The innovation in this game was found in one crucial development decision: you could take the disc out of the PS1 and replace it with a CD of your own choosing, and the game would create a playable level for you that matched any particular song perfectly.
Needless to say, this was an awesome feature of Vib-Ribbon, and when the game was finally released in North America for the PS Store in 2014, Chase and I experimented with a bunch of different CDs and played their tracks. Now, going back to Guitar Hero and Rock Band, how awesome would it be if you could play any track you wanted with a tailor-made level to match the rhythm of the song? I guarantee this would get so many more people to buy and play the games. Well…I would, at least.
There are, of course, drawbacks to this idea that need to be discussed. For one thing, microtransactions, whether we like ‘em or not, have become a commonplace addition to modern games. And the Guitar Hero and Rock Band series are no exceptions, with recent editions forcing you to buy tracks that you wanted to play that weren’t on the game’s standard soundtrack. If game developers implemented this Vib-Ribbon-esque system, microtransactions would be eliminated, which would cost the companies a lot of potential cash.
Also, whereas Vib-Ribbon had simplistic graphics and gameplay, Guitar Hero’s and Rock Band’s visual and gaming elements are more complex. It’s probably difficult to create tracks in the first place, let alone create an algorithm that could create a level for any song.
But if Vib-Ribbon could do it almost 20 years ago, why can’t modern rhythm games do the same thing? Game consoles have evolved a lot over the years, with graphics and gameplay elements becoming more and more complex. I don’t think it’s too unreasonable to suggest that this is a more than feasible idea.
So, Activision and Harmonix, if you’re by chance reading this, please take a cue from NanaOn-Sha, who understood that rhythm games are most fun when the soundtracks match your own taste in music, and create an algorithm that allows a playable track to be played for any song one may choose. Vib-Ribbon did it in 1999, and it works seamlessly, so why can’t you do the same? Keep the standard gameplay from the classic editions, and I guarantee that people would line up for this new game. It’d sell like hotcakes, and people wouldn’t get bored with it very soon, especially since there would be, virtually, endless possibilities.
If there already exists some software like this that I’m just unaware of, please let me know in the comments! Thank you all for reading, and make sure you check out all the other content on Mid-American Culture, including this week’s playlist. This week, the playlist is centered around songs named after places. See you guys next week.