Music has always been an essential part of video games. No matter the genre, having a good soundtrack helps set the right ambiance, enhance gameplay, or just improves the overall experience. Some video game songs are so iconic that even non-gamers are familiar with them, like the Super Mario Bros. theme, or the Wii menu music.
Musical video games take their sensational soundtracks and turn them into their core premise. From rhythm games to music-based puzzles, these games use songs and beats in unique, inventive ways that make players connect with the music on a whole new level. Musical games are truly immersive experiences that employ the power of music to its greatest potential in the interactive medium.
This article includes trailers from various video games. The trailer for Sayonara Wild Hearts contains rapidly flashing lights and images.
10 Brütal Legend
Armed with a guitar and an axe, Brütal Legend‘s protagonist Eddie Rings discovers he is the “chosen one” of the heavy metal world. What follows is a one-of-a-kind action-adventure game that incorporates real-time strategy and incredible heavy metal music and aesthetics.
In Brütal Legend, Eddie’s magic guitar is a battle tool, and he can play solos on it to take out enemies or buff himself up. This use of music and the fact that few musical video games feature heavy metal make Brütal Legend an intriguing title that’s still waiting for a sequel. The gameplay isn’t for everyone, as the blend of open world and RTS can be frustrating, but the overall design is really well executed, and the musical elements are great. Brütal Legend feels like a true love letter to heavy metal.
While most rhythm games expect players to perform specific actions to the beat of the music, Fuser hands over the reins and lets them become DJs instead. The creative element in mixing songs rather than simply performing them adds a very interesting dimension to Fuser‘s gameplay.
Fuser separates tracks into their component parts and lets players decide how they want to combine them, especially in its lauded Freestyle mode. Meanwhile, the single-player campaign throws challenges at the player as they mix the songs. Unfortunately, Fuser‘s multiplayer servers are no longer available, but the game is still worth playing.
8 Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical
Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical is part murder mystery and part musical theater, with a story that places characters from Greek mythology in a modern setting. Grace, a young singer, is accused of killing the Last Muse and stealing her powers, and the goddess Athena has given her one week to discover what really happened or face retribution.
Stray Gods presents a fun take on familiar characters from Greek mythology, like Persephone or Medusa, and fantastic performances by an all-star cast. The best part of Stray Gods is the way player choice alters not only the story, but the songs. The game prompts players to make decisions mid-song that affect both the lyrics and the music, and the way these choices interact with each other makes for an incredibly unique experience.
In the colorful side-scroller Wandersong, players use a music wheel to solve a variety of puzzles, leading the Bard in his quest to gather all the pieces of the Earthsong and save the world from destruction before it’s too late.
Despite the high stakes, Wandersong is full of hope and cheer. Music affects the world in numerous ways and players can do things like make the Bard dance, which doesn’t affect the story at all, but it’s a lot of fun. Wandersong‘s main mechanic, the song wheel, is also designed with accessibility in mind, using colors and directions as additional cues rather than just sound. It all makes for a heartwarming, welcoming experience where the role of music really shines through.
6 Just Shapes & Beats
Just Shapes & Beats has a simple concept and a self-explanatory title. Players control a small shape and avoid moving obstacles as they dart across the screen, all in time to the beat of the music. What makes Just Shapes & Beats stand out as an exciting musical game is its hectic bullet hell nature and energizing soundtrack.
Just Shapes & Beats is tough, and reaching a checkpoint or finishing a level provides a massive sense of relief. Despite this, gameplay is incredibly engaging, and does a great job of feeling properly rewarding. On top of that, the way every figure on screen moves with the beat makes any playthrough of Just Shapes & Beats look like a geometric music video, making gameplay very visually appealing.
5 Dance Dance Revolution
Dance Dance Revolution is the dance game par excellence, and one of the most famous rhythm games ever made. In this arcade classic, players follow the songs’ rhythm by stepping on the correct arrows in time with the music. DDR isn’t just game, it’s an excellent workout.
Playing Dance Dance Revolution is exhilarating, as players try to keep up with the prompts and become more immersed in the music. DDR‘s simple rules, great song selection of both original and licensed tracks, and constant updates have all contributed to its continued popularity for over 20 years.
4 Beat Saber
The VR sensation Beat Saber takes the concept of matching player actions to the music’s beat and, instead of pressing a button, asks players to hit moving blocks with a glowing saber. This deceptively simple change in execution makes Beat Saber one of the most entertaining, engaging rhythm games ever – and one of the best VR games for beginners.
Like other VR games, Beat Saber physically immerses players in the action, and its futuristic neon visuals are attractive and distinctive. The true appeal is in rhythmically slicing blocks like it’s a fight scene in a movie. Some songs can be incredibly challenging, like Linkin Park’s “New Divide”, but the difficulty is part of Beat Saber‘s considerable charm.
3 Sayonara Wild Hearts
In the action game Sayonara Wild Hearts, a deeply heartbroken young woman finds herself transported to an alternate universe to which she must restore harmony. With gameplay inspired by arcade games, Sayonara Wild Hearts sees the heroine travel through beautiful surrealistic environments, collecting hearts and avoiding obstacles.
Each level in Sayonara Wild Hearts is set to a different song, and timing button presses to the music is an essential game mechanic. The entrancing pop soundtrack ranges from soft and dreamy to very high-energy depending on the level, making the entirety of Sayonara WildHearts a captivating musical experience. Additionally, the music echoes and reinforces the story’s major themes of heartbreak and healing.
2 Crypt of the NecroDancer
Crypt of the NecroDancer manages to successfully integrate two genres as disparate as roguelikes and rhythm games. Players take control of Cadence as they explore procedurally generated dungeons, collecting items and defeating enemies, but they must take care to perform any actions in time with the beat.
Crypt of the NecroDancer‘s unlikely genre mashup results in a challenging but fantastic experience that keeps players coming back for more. Additionally, while NecroDancer allows players to import their own music, the game’s soundtrack is excellent, with distinctive tracks for the various levels. Crypt of the NecroDancer is such a well executed and beloved game that Nintendo decided to collaborate with the developers to create an equally great Legend of Zelda crossover, Cadence of Hyrule.
1 Rock Band
Rock Band is an indisputable classic in the world of music games. Building on the model popularized by fellow classic Guitar Hero, Rock Band allowed people to play other instruments like the drums or keyboard, or even to sing, making it incredibly fun to play with friends.
While the Rock Band franchise greatly declined in popularity thanks to over saturation and the costly controllers needed to play, the games themselves were fantastically fun and easy to learn. Rock Band had great music choices from a variety of artists, and it brought people together. Even today, there’s no denying Rock Band‘s status as an incredible music game.