I’ve still got this stack of hastily scribbled notes and print outs stacked at the side of my desk so I figured it was time to get back to this series of posts and wrap things up so I can retire them to the shredder. Now, I like music and I like games so when the two get together I’m almost always ready to play but over the last decade or so of music/rhythm games things have started to get a little… stale.
It seems there are only so many songs ready to be licensed out at any given time and a very small stable of which publishers feel are the most appealing to their target demographic (and reasonably priced). It was fine back in 2003 when Karaoke Revolution and Amplitude were the only major music games that focused on popular American tunes, but six years later I’m starting to get tired of the same old playlists. Most of my research comes from MTV Multiplayer’s Music Game Trackfinder but it looks like the outdated utility has finally been retired with all my attempts ending in Page Load Errors (a fairly useless copy was preserved by WayBack Machine here). That’s a shame because it made seeing the trend a lot easier but I’ve still got those print outs on my desk where I tabulated the main offenders.
Featured in no fewer than SEVEN music games are Sister Sledge’s We Are Family, The B-52’s Love Shack, and The Jackson 5’s ABC. I’m sure you can think of several songs of your own that are just plain played out but a few of my personal infamous choices would have to be YMCA, That’s The Way (I Like It), and Celebration. I suppose for casual players it’s not much of a problem since they’re more likely to stick with just one or two music games on a single console, but why should we gamers be tortured with endless covers of Complicated just because we enjoy music/rhythm games or own more than one system? I understand that locking down those mega hits that the general populace knows is important but a strong and varied playlist will keep your game in my good graces a lot longer. Of course, you can supplement things with an online marketplace, but that’s another discussion entirely.
And that’s just American popular music, things get even uglier when publishers start dipping into public domain territory. Nintendo’s the big culprit here, filling both Donkey Konga games and Wii Music with everything from B-I-NGO to Yankee Doodle. You’ve got the tune in your head just from reading the title don’t ya? These are the ultimate overplayed tunes and, unless it’s whipped into an incredible remix, shouldn’t even be considered for your music game no matter how cheap the licensing may be. Things are also getting frustrating in the rock ‘n roll arms race that is Guitar Hero vs. Rock Band. Fighting back and forth for the ultimate catalog of songs, Activision and Harmonix are ensuring that no one will ever be able to play all the songs they like without owning the entirety of each series. Swapping discs, remembering how each game works, and owning a self storage unit full of plastic instruments is the only way to have it all.
What I’d love to see is publishers of these music games (the Big Four especially) reach outside of the comfortable triple platinum megastar category and start licensing niche and indie bands and test-market-certified catchy tunes. Cut a cheap deal and feature their songs in your music game at a discounted price or free for a limited time (a la the iTunes App Store). Your catalog of songs will swell exponentially, feature a rich diversity of styles, and you can brag to your uppety Executive friends that you “totally had that hot new band before anyone else”. Please? I can only handle Oops I Did it Again, Mambo No. 5, and Take on Me for so long before I give up on music games for the rest of my life.