The best rhythm games have allowed us to interact with music in ways no other medium can. Games like Just Dance and Dance Dance Revolution have seen commercial success in their histories.
Titles like Guitar Hero and Rock Band create the closest thing to the whole band experience, and other games like Donkey Konga and Taiko no Tatsujin aimed to do something completely different in the rhythm game genre. Due to this, they’re excluded from our list.
What makes these games great ultimately boils down to their gameplay, peripherals, and music catalog. With that in mind, we are presenting our list of the best rhythm games.
Beat Saber combines your favorite music with lightsabers
Beat Saber is a unique rhythm game for several reasons. Taking place in a virtual reality space, the notes are cubes, and your instruments are lightsabers. This combination of mechanics led to Beat Saber getting a lot of attention when it was released in 2019 for VR.
In Beat Saber, the player swipes at cubes that correspond with the colors of your sabers. Arrows on the cubes will indicate which direction to swipe the saber. In the sea of cubes will sometimes be obstacles you’ll have to avoid by moving your physical body.
The base game will be packaged with a mostly electronic soundtrack. PC players can backload their music into the game through other means. The success of Beat Saber led to it being acquired by Facebook in 2019.
Guitar Hero 3 features legends of Rock n’ Roll and a killer soundtrack
The third mainline installment of Guitar Hero is arguably the franchise at its best, as it improved and polished the core gameplay it’s known for. The visuals received a much-needed upgrade, and game mechanics like hammer-ons were simplified. On top of that, it had a banging soundtrack. It featured the likes of The Smashing Pumpkins, Heart, The Rolling Stones, Beastie Boys, and Weezer.
The soundtrack had a perfect blend of old and new artists. This soundtrack is a standout one since most tracks were master recordings. Until then, most songs in Guitar Hero had been recorded by cover bands. It also allowed guitar legends like Tom Morello and Slash to be unlocked as playable characters. You’ll face these legends in the game’s career mode, which is about a small band’s journey to stardom.
Guitar Hero 3 was the first game in the series not to be developed by Harmonix. That studio would release the first Rock Band game within a week of Guitar Hero 3 in North America. That didn’t seem to hurt sales, as Guitar Hero 3 became the first video game to generate over $1 billion in sales.
Crypt of the Necrodancer is one of the best rhythm games thanks to its genre-bending
Most rhythm games involve hitting a button to the beat of a song to get a high score, but what if you needed to hit that note on time to move or attack? That’s the pitch for Crypt of the Necrodancer. It’s a roguelike where the player moves across a sometimes procedurally generated map to the beat of the music. Missing the beat could result in getting attacked by an enemy or losing a score multiplier. Like other roguelikes, the player will lose most of their items upon death.
The game’s developers, Brace Yourself Games, would repeat this formula in Cadence of Hyrule, a crossover game set in the Legend of Zelda universe.
Rock Band 4 continues to be supported nearly a decade after its release
Rock Band 4 may be the longest-running rhythm game in history. Seven years after its release, Harmonix is still adding songs weekly to its massive catalog of downloadable songs. That’s thanks to a niche community that was able to secure the game’s many peripherals before they stopped being manufactured. The inaccessibility of those peripherals may prevent newbies from experiencing one of the best entries in the Rock Band series. One thing this series did better than Guitar Hero was replicating the “whole band” experience.
Harmonix made it seamless to transfer songs from previous Rock Band games, as well as downloadable content if the game data was saved to your platform. Part of the game’s other support has included the substantial Rockband Rivals expansion released in 2016 and continuing season pass releases.
PaRappa the Rapper brought the rhythm to the PlayStation in the 90s
PaRappa the Rapper is one of the most iconic games on the original PlayStation. It’s often been credited as being the first modern rhythm game. PaRappa the Rapper’s core gameplay, like other rhythm games, involves pressing a controller button to correspond with what is displayed on the screen. Music producer Masaya Matsuura helped create a rap soundtrack that other rhythm games haven’t been able to replicate.
Beyond the music, the art style and overall aesthetic felt new to the industry when it was released in 1996. The game was so beloved that it received a 10th-anniversary port for the PSP and a 20th-anniversary port on the PlayStation 4.
Fuser lets you be the DJ
If you ever wanted to know what Smash Mouth’s “All-Star” sounded like when mashed up with Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy,” then Fuser was made for you. Developed by the rhythm game veterans at Harmonix, Fuser lets anyone become a DJ by creating song mashups in the core gameplay. It features a catalog of over 200 songs from music genres like pop, rock, rap, electronic, and everything in between. Master tracks allow a song’s instrumentals to be stripped down and combined with another song’s instrumental track.
It can lead to the creation of genuinely innovative music. This can be done solo, cooperatively, or competitively. Since Fuser was released in 2020, Harmonix has made more than 100 tracks available for download.
Save the world with dance and music in one of the best rhythm games, Elite Beat Agents
It was only a matter of time before a rhythm game would be released on the Nintendo DS that utilized its iconic touch screen. Although it was home to several Guitar Hero titles, the real rhythm game to shine on the handheld was the Nintendo-published Elite Beat Agents.
The comic-inspired game’s premise revolves around a secret agent organization that uses dance and music to fight evil. It was praised for its innovation in the genre. It was different from other rhythm games because instead of hitting the right notes at the right time on a track, the player performed a series of minigames that involved tapping the screen to the beat or moving a note to the next one.
Dance Dance Revolution helped popularize rhythm games
Konami’s 1998 release of the first Dance Dance Revolution helped start a revolution in rhythm games. Even if the 1998 release may not be the best in the series, it should be praised for what it did for the genre. During the 2000s, the Dance Dance Revolution series was a part of pop culture.
Its core gameplay revolves around stepping on corresponding arrows to go with the beat of the music. The arrows are on the game’s iconic dance pad, a staple in many arcades worldwide. Dance Dance Revolution was special because it was both a rhythm and dance game. The dancing aspect made it appealing to both participate in and spectate.
Dance Dance Revolution would eventually make its way to home consoles through a foldable dance pad. One of these console releases included a collaboration with Nintendo with Dance Dance Revolution: Mario Mix.
Sayonara Wild Hearts is an interactive pop album
Very few rhythm games like Sayonara Wild Hearts incorporate a narrative into their gameplay. The player controls the game’s heroine as she travels across an alternate universe to restore harmony to the world. The levels vary in type and may involve avoiding obstacles or collecting items on various motor vehicles. These actions sometimes need to be done to the beat of the level’s music.
Sayonara Wild Hearts was praised for its visuals and its soundtrack. Said soundtrack leading up to its release was described as a playable pop album. It includes 26 tracks that are available on streaming services. It’s a game full of style and fun. Did we mention it features Queen Latifah as its narrator?
Be the director of a musical group in Patapon
Patapon was released on the PSP in 2007 when PlayStation was not known for its third-person narrative action/adventures like it is today. It’s when the company was putting out wacky and unique titles such as Patapon. The player is in control of a tribe of little creatures known as Patapon. Pressing sequences of buttons as they appear on screen can make the Patapon move forward, attack, and defend. The sequences have to be inputted to the right beat for them to work.
How did we do on our list of the best rhythm games? What did we leave out that you would have added in? By only doing ten, plenty of other games are worthy of consideration. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!