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Musical Gameplay

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In a video game with Musical Gameplay, the sound effects are the music. Or at least contribute to the music.

In games with a Variable Mix, the Background Music subtly alters in response to certain events. This can perhaps be considered the ultimate conclusion of that philosophy—every event, from hitting an enemy to taking damage, produces not a sharp bleep or a hiss of static, but a clear musical note, chord or flourish. As the game is played, a rich tapestry of music is created, unique to this particular game session.

But, Musical Gameplay doesn't occur in what is an otherwise silent void. Usually, there is a simple backbeat playing as a conventional background track, to provide a rhythm and context to the musical sounds.

Compare Mickey Mousing, which is a similar idea applied to non-interactive media. See also Variable Mix, in which the sound effects are normal but the Background Music smoothly changes with the action.


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    Action Adventure 
  • The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker accents Link's sword-strikes with musical notes in time to the score, so that a fierce battle can actually generate its own melody.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword:
    • Just like in The Wind Waker, whenever you strike enemies successfully, a musical sting plays. Special mention goes to the Ghirahim battles, because the stings are played by actual orchestra instruments.
    • Though Skyward Sword isn't the first Zelda game to feature dynamic background music (Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess used it before), it is the first in the series to have dynamic recorded music. Twilight Princess was originally going to have orchestrated music, but having dynamic orchestrated music was too difficult back then. But Nintendo found a way to do it with Skyward Sword, and it works great. Examples: As you pass from the present to the past in Lanayru Desert and related areas, the music seamlessly gains more percussion and a stronger melody. Dungeon music also starts out bare but has instruments added the farther along you are to completing it. The Bazaar has a similar effect with the instruments changing between different vendors. And the Sky theme gains percussion when Link is near enemies.
  • Crypt of the NecroDancer and Cadence of Hyrule take it a step further with the main gameplay gimmick by making the movement of every character on-screen match the tempo of the Background Music, forcing the player to do the same, though in the later game, this only applies when enemies are on-screen.

    Action Game 
  • Dig Dug is quite literal about this as the music only plays as the character moves.
  • Taz-Mania for the Genesis varies the amount of instrumentation in the music depending on what is happening on-screen. If Taz is standing still, it will be sparse, but moving adds more percussion.

    Adventure Game 
  • Done in Chibi-Robo!, as all of Chibi-Robo's motions are punctuated by different musical sounds, including walking, scrubbing floors, and shooting a blaster. An interesting note on the walking: the sounds change depending on what surface the little guy is walking on.
  • In King's Quest VI, when Alexander climbs a cliff, each step is punctuated by two notes with an overall rising pitch, and when he momentarily loses his balance, a teetering little melody plays.
  • In Obsidian, when the player interacts with a miniature mariachi player, the music it plays synchronizes with the background ambiance, only lasting until a nearby clue finishes its animation.

    Bullet Hell Game 

    Exploration Game 
  • Proteus has you walking on an island where the entire environment, including plants and animals, reacts to your movements musically. In fact, it is the only way you can interact with your environment: the only actions your avatar can perform are walking and sitting.

    Fighting Game 
  • Def Jam Icon uses the music of whatever artist you're controlling to distinguish who has the upper hand. People who have the music on their side are given a whole plethora of attacks from the environment, which, subsequently, reacts to the beat of the music. And boy, does it ever.
  • Skullgirls has a character, Big Band, whose medium punch involves him pulling out a trumpet and playing it with proper finger placement for each note. Since the trumpet stays in play as long as the player chooses, there are some impressive videos of people utilizing this feature.
  • Killer Instinct 2013 when an Ultra Combo is performed: a variant of the executing character's theme song plays little by little as it lands every different hit possible until the last hit of the Ultra climaxes the end of the song.

    First Person Shooter 
  • In the first game adaptation of The Darkness, the music would change based on the intensity of the situation, ranging from steady low key ambience when exploring or sneaking to pounding metal thrashing during frantic fire fights.
  • In Left 4 Dead 2, the music changes when certain special infected appear, giving you a chance to adjust your tactics. Unfortunately between the gunfire, sounds of melee weapons and your three other party-members giving tactical updates, these musical changes are very easy to miss. And then there's a tank beating you to death.
  • In PAYDAY 2 and PAYDAY 3, the music changes depending on how badly the cops want you dead. It starts off slow and quiet during the stealth phase, then picks up when the cops spot you, and gradually rises in pitch to indicate the incoming police assault.

    Party Games 

  • The pinball machine Radical! has a simple bass riff and a bit of percussion as its Background Music. Instead, shooting anything on the playfield, including ramps, will provide instrumentation specific to that object (with a different sound for ramps depending on if the ball makes it all the way or not). As Radical! was made in 1990, this makes it one of the earliest examples of this trope.

    Platform Game 
  • In de Blob, when you paint the scenery, an instrument in the Background Music gets a brief solo. The instrument depends on what colour you are. For example, paint a building green, and you get a flourish on the piano, but red will bring out the saxophone. In addition, many actions, such as liberation Graydians, produce special voices that match up with the Background Music.
  • Super Mario Bros.:
    • In Super Mario World, hopping on Yoshi will add a bongo track to the Background Music. This is especially notable in the Underground Theme.
      • This is used again in Super Mario Galaxy 2 but with shaker and tambourine percussion instead of bongos. This is furthered when Yoshi eats a dash pepper, causing the tempo of the Mario World Athetlic Theme remix to increase and a violin run to be added to the music.
      • Super Mario Maker's Super Mario World theme adds the Yoshi bongos to the Background Music where they were missing in the orginal game.
    • Super Mario Galaxy does things similar to the Wind Waker example above; the game has a normal soundtrack playing at all times (though several levels use Variable Mix), and every time a coin pops out of a block or a bush, its sound effect will match the backing music in pitch and tempo.
      • There's also a galaxy in Super Mario Galaxy 2 that has platforms that alternate existing and not existing to the beat of the music. Levels like this are also in Super Mario 3D Land.
      • There are platforms in both games that toggle between blue and yellow as Mario steps on them. The sound they make is set to match whatever chord the Background Music is playing at that moment.
      • When fighting King Kaliente, if you hit a coconut, the music changes so a note is played whenever you or the boss hits it. The notes rise in pitch until either you miss it or get hit (which returns the music to normal), or he gets hit (which results in a flourish that starts the music over). This happens whenever you fight him, including in the second game.
      • The Sling Stars that rocket Mario between different parts of a level play a harp trill in tempo and harmony with the music track, even if the stage music has been replaced with a power-up track. The larger stars have longer trills.
    • The Music Note Blocks in New Super Mario Bros. 2 will play a jingle when Mario leaps off of it. This jingle is an arpeggiated chord that matches the key of the Background Music, and whose first note is the same as the main melody of the Background Music. Also, when you run through a gold ring or are Gold Fire Flower Mario, there is a constant tinkling and chiming in the background matching the Background Music.
    • In Super Mario Maker, this can be invoked by the player when placing objects into the level editor. Each object will have its name called out, and the pitch will match the music of the theme/game pairing currently in use, such as Super Mario Bros. Ground or Super Mario World Ghost House. Tapping objects in to the time of the music will create the full piece.
  • In Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus, the boss fight with Mz. Ruby completely revolves around the music. You have to act with the beat of the music to stay alive. Also, whenever in stealth mode, violin strungs are plucked staccatto in time with every step Sly takes.
  • In Donkey Kong Country Returns, there is a level called "Music Madness," which is a factory-based level where the obstacles are in sync with the music.
  • Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy and Jak II: Renegade did this. With Jak One, the music will gain specific instruments based on Jak's location within a level (such as majestic horns at the Sentinel Beach lighthouse). Jak II changes this and instead adds instruments based on the gameplay: drawing out the Morph Gun will add a techno underscore, getting into combat will add more dramatic instruments, jumping into a Hover vehicle will add percussion, and using the Hoverboard will have add a rather "airy" line of notes. Notably, every game from Jak 3 onwards averts this.
  • Rayman Legends features musical stages at the end of each world that are based completely around this, where players need to jump and attack to the song. One of the first (non-leaked) trailers shows an early version of this type of stage.
  • This is basically the entire point of Sound Shapes.
  • The premise of HarmoKnight. The goal of the game is to time your actions, such as jumping and swinging your weapon, to the beat of the music.

    Puzzle Game 
  • Lumines performed this beautifully. The sound-effects made as you dropped blocks or cleared areas of the screen tied into the trance-inducing music, which changed constantly as you progressed through the levels. The effect became increasingly hypnotic.
  • Meteos has a basic background theme for each level. As you make matches, a different riff is inserted into the theme, which changes with every level of a combo. This is done smoothly enough that it's hard to tell the riffs aren't part of the basic music unless you check in the sound test.
  • Xbox Live Arcade game Chime is a similar deal to Lumines, with sounds tying in to the music as you place blocks and make quads.
  • Groovin' Blocks gives you bonus points for clearing blocks by hard-dropping your current block set to the beat of the song.
  • Music Minesweeper does this.
  • Portal 2 does this with the Thermal Discouragement Beams. Each time you align a beam with its receptacle, the receptacle emits a continuous musical pattern that syncs up with the Background Music. If there is more than one such beam in a test chamber, they will all play different patterns that mesh together.
  • Some ports of Lemmings, for instance the Macintosh version, have each skill button play a different note when selected.

    Racing Game 

  • Need for Speed Hot Pursuit had a subtle version of this: Whenever you wrecked particularly hard or hit an obstacle head-on, there would be a cymbal crash at the moment of impact, followed by a brief section where everything but the bass was cut out of the music as your car reset itself. The music also gets more upbeat when you are winning. Most Wanted (2005) plays the more upbeat phrases of the pursuit Variable Mix when you're losing the cops.
  • Mario Kart:
    • The music speeds up and raises in pitch slightly when you are on the last lap.
    • Starting with Mario Kart Wii, some tracks have a Variable Mix for different sections of the course. For example, when you enter the underwater tunnel in Wii's Koopa Cape, the music becomes synthesized, the melody drops out, and the bass becomes more prominent.
    • Mario Kart 7 adds drums to the Background Music when you are in the lead. And one of its stages, Music Park / Melody Motorway, has jumping musical notes for obstacles, that jump in time to the Background Music. They even speed up their jumping to match the sped-up music in the last lap.

    Rail Shooter 
  • On-rails shooter Rez uses heavily-sequenced themes that are affected by, and themselves affect, the gameplay. Firing a shot produces a drum tap, lock-on combos create a phrase of notes. Defeating a large enemy will produce a crash or similar, or even abruptly start a new bar/measure in the music. Advancing to a new area in the level is delayed to coincide with the start of a new phrase of the theme. Ditto for Child of Eden, the spiritual sequel.

    Real-Time Strategy 
  • Crusader Kings 2: When clicking on the map in the pre-game lobby to select a ruler to play, the sound of a note played on a harp is heard. This note changes every time a new ruler is selected and if you keep clicking around in a steady rhythm, you'll discover that these notes form a soft harp version of the game's main theme.

    Rhythm Game 
  • The BIT.TRIP series for WiiWare. BIT.TRIP BEAT and BIT.TRIP FLUX are "rhythm Pong" games, BIT.TRIP CORE is "rhythm Missile Command", BIT.TRIP VOID is a "rhythm Bullet Hell", BIT.TRIP RUNNER is a "rhythm platformer" and BIT.TRIP FATE is a "rhythm shmup". Oh, and each game is about 1000 times faster and harder than you're thinking. And it's Retraux.
  • Friday Night Funkin': The Boyfriend singing is tied to if the notes are hit in time: miss a note, and the corresponding voice clip won't play.
  • In Patapon, you play a rhythm in order to control your very own walking eyeball army who start singing along to your beat. However, if you don't keep the time, the Patapons start getting annoyed with you.
  • The Famicom Disk System game Otocky has the main character shooting out notes which make sound, depending on the direction they were fired at and the current instrument the player has.
  • Literally the entire point of Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians.
  • SOUND VOLTEX plays with this. Hitting non-hold notes and long BTN notes won't influence the background track, but hitting long FX notes and following the VOL notes will create filter effects that "mix" the track. If you don't hit any of these notes at all, the track will sound as intended, while doing so will give the impression of mixing a track as part of a DJ's set.
  • Super Beat Sports: In the Switch-exclusive Rhythm Racket, the ball bounces off walls to the beat of the music.
  • In Wii Music the instruments play when their note inputs are triggered. It will be very apparent if the player is playing out of time. In Jam Mode, the instruments will also play random notes if the input doesn't line up with any notes in the melody. In Handbell Harmony, each Wii Remote and nunchuck corresponds to a specific note and will always play it when triggered. In Mii Maestro, the player assumes the role of the conductor, and the orchestra follows the speed of the baton.

    Role Playing Game 
  • The point of Mother 3's "Sound Battle" system. Hitting an enemy or an enemy hitting you causes small melodies to be spliced into the backing music, and timing your hits right allows you to deal powerful combos. Also, all these melodies speed up or slow down to match the beat of the battle music. This system also often serves to provide hints regarding the true identities of some of the characters you meet., such as Fassad being the Locria, the seventh Magypsy; given away by the distorted version of the Magypsies' theme he plays through his musical horns when he returns as New Fassad, and, for those who are really paying attention, the Masked Man being Claus; in the single battle from the start of the game that you control Claus for, the electric guitar strums that play as he attacks are the same as the Masked Man's.
  • Ar tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel has the R.A.H. system, in which your Reyvateils' songs change during battle based on your actions. This has a variety of effects on combat.
  • Pok√©mon Black and White have several areas where certain actions such as walking add music or percussion effects to the BGM.

    Shoot Em Up 
  • Space Invaders Extreme, notably in the DS version. Firing and destroying enemies triggers musical sound effects a la Rez and Lumines. Collecting powerups, going into a Round, activating Fever mode, or going into a boss battle will more dramatically alter the Background Music. In some stages, destroying the boss will bring the music from a frantic state to a more relaxed mood.
    • This is done more effectively in the sequel since the main game is not interrupted by Rounds or Fever start.
  • The Indie game Everyday Shooter has an electric guitar track in the background, with various other musical elements coming in whenever you shoot an enemy.
    • And that's just the first level. Each different level has its own musical theme.
  • Zillion Beatz, a Shmup, has this as the main gimmick: the bosses' attacks are perfectly in sync with the BGM.
  • Inverted in Beat Hazard, where the BGM you choose affects the difficulty.
  • Freelancer plays a faster and more percussive variation of your local system's theme when enemies are nearby, and a quieter variation when you're inside a debris field.

    Sports Game 
  • SSX games take this trope to a higher level, in which the in-game music would go to a slight change when the player would hit big air heights. Also, at the conclusion of a race, the music would come to a down-toning end.

Non-video game examples:

  • The Familias Regnant series justifies Space Is Noisy through the use of auralization, that is, sound generated by the computer for the benefit of the crew. There's at least one captain who replaced all the sounds with those of a symphony orchestra.


Video Example(s):


INSIDE Shockwave

The protagonist must traverse through a giant area where an unknown engine generates powerful shockwaves in a rhythmic fashion

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Main / MusicalGameplay

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