When gaming meets music, the results can be spectacular, or messy. Here’s a look at a quartet of games that courted the music industry and hit all the right notes.
Brütal Legend (2009) – released for Xbox 360 and PS3
That’s not an atrocious spelling mistake, but the mind-mangling title of a video game that managed to capture the very essence of hard rock and spread that essence like sticky jam across the bread of our music-starved souls.
A collage of big-ticket names lined up to participate in this music game project led by renowned game designer Tim Schaffer, the man behind the quirky genius of The Secret of Monkey Island and Psychonauts.
Jack Black of Tenacious D fame supplied the voice of baffled hero roadie Eddie Riggs, inspired by the legend of Eddie the Head, mascot, and roadie for Iron Maiden.
Eddie battles the various minions of demigod Doviculus, voiced in suitably OTT extravagance by Rocky Horror Picture Show’s Tim Curry. With henchmen designed after David Lee Roth and David Bowie, and a great cameo from Ozzy Osbourne as the Guardian of Metal, the game manages to achieve a rare feat, being both an affectionate homage to Heavy Metal and an enormously entertaining video game to boot. It’s even got Lemmy in it, hamming it up as rock guru Kill Master.
Motörhead Video Slot (2016) – released for desktop, mobile, tablets
The late great Lemmy Kilmister surfaces again on this list, in his role as lead singer and musician for the legendary Motörhead.
The third in a trilogy of music legend-themed online slots from Net Entertainment (the first two featured Guns N Roses and Jimi Hendrix), the Motörhead Rock video slot features on casino hub Royal Swipe and has been designed from the get-go to recreate the vibe of a live event experience. 5 reels, bonus features, and 76 pay lines take care of the slot action, while top Motörhead hits are belted out in the background with ear-blasting gusto.
An intro clip plays concert footage of the band rocking out in a large stadium, which sets the scene for an immersive slot game which plays throughout like a live gig, complete with the murmur and whoops of the crowd, and Lemmy yelling ‘Turn it up!’ in a voice like a gruff shingle beach whenever a payout combination spins round.
The Beatles: Rock Band (2009) – released for Xbox 360 and PS3
George Harrison’s son Dhani was on board to help out as creative adviser for this exquisite addition to Harmonix’s Rock Band franchise, which even features previously unreleased studio chatter between the band members which plays over loading screens. Apple Corps, then gatekeepers to the Beatles legacy, ably pitched in to help fashion the artwork and overall graphical presentation of what is by far the best entry in the Rock Band series. The respectful attention to detail here is key to the overall effect, with Beatles impersonators hired to recreate the band members in slick motion-captured glory. With a fanbase as loyal and well-established as the admirers of the Beatles, it makes sense to go the extra mile when it comes to verisimilitude, and this game wins over even die-hard fans with its obsessive attention to the tiniest of details.
Rather akin to a pre-Sergeant Pepper Beatles pop hit, the game is charming, inventive, and a little on the short side. Yet it comes imbued with endless replayability and will probably withstand the test of time to become a quintessential part of some extra-terrestrial game collection when the home world of humanity is a mere radioactive cinder hanging in space.
Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker (1990/1991) – released for nearly every platform of the era
Your best chance of checking out this vintage bestseller is to find a ROM download online somewhere unless you happen to have a copy for the Amiga, Arcade, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, MS-DOS or Sega just lying around in the attic. The ports for this game are numerous, and still, fetch a handsome price on today’s retro-game market.
In many ways, the runaway success of this game, which was closely modelled on the 1988 movie of the same name, paved the way for all the above games on this list, proving to software developers that there was indeed a healthy market for games that straddle the divide between music genre piece and novelty computer game.
Players play as the King of Pop himself, strutting his inimitable stuff in an 8-bit side-scroller against a succession of foes, running the gamut from fierce dogs and creepy spiders, to dancers from his videos, all the way to a gurning Joe Pesci playing what may be the first end of level boss to be rendered in anything other than a blocky mess of pixels. The course of the game walks the player through a cluster of familiar locations, recognizable from iconic music videos, such as the mean streets of ‘Beat It’, a cemetery of writhing zombies from ‘Thriller’ and Café 30s from ‘Smooth Criminal’.
The game was an instant hit and proved to be more commercially successful than the film it was based upon. A new genre of gaming was born which sadly didn’t really take off. At least the zombies from ‘Thriller’ did.
And the rest…
There are others, of course. Some good, some less so. The years have been kind to the aforementioned games which still hold up today as fine examples of the game designing craft, and worthy of the superstar endorsement they received.
When music meets gaming, sometimes something magical happens, a fusion that brings a new whole which is more than the sum of its constituent parts. And it is these games that we celebrate here.