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The Rhythm Game genre is a Video Game Genre that challenges the player's sense of rhythm. Boiled down to a fundemental mechanical level, a rhythm game is in many ways just a fancy chain of Simon Says and Quick Time Event prompts: the game will display timed commands in a sequence that the player must input accordingly and on time.note  Here's where the Rhythm comes in: the commands needs to be synced with the background music in order for the game to be a true rhythm game.

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The core mechanics of a rhythm game can be dissected further to show the ways rhythm games innovate and differ from each other.

  • Interface: Traditionally, the commands on the screen are represented with markers, such as arrows or gems, which move towards a target zone, typically by scrolling over a clearly displayed set route. The moment when the marker hits the target zone is when the player has to perform the correct input.
    • If the correct input is hit with good timing as the marker passes by the target zone, the marker disappears or blows up indicating success. Missing is usually represented by the marker drifting past the target zone unharmed.
    • Dancing games typically have no markers at all, instead providing flashcards and animations to cue the player on what to do.
    • Singing games usually use lines that go up and down with pitch, with the goal of singing with the same pitch as the line passes through the target zone.
  • Input: The actions that the player must input varies greatly depending on the medium of the game.
    • Arcade Rhythm Games following in the footsteps of the famous beatmania typically features a series of buttons that the player uses for input. Aside from a few odd cases of analogue inputs (like Sound Voltex's knobs) or the arcade machines that employ motion sensors, most of the input methods are just alternate forms of buttons; Dance Dance Revolution's famous Dance Pad are just buttons for the feet, while beatmania's turntable is a button that you press by spinning it.
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    • Console Rhythm Games typically just use the buttons on their controllers, or employ special instrument-shaped controllers (like on the famous Guitar Hero) for the same button inputs.
    • Mobile Rhythm Games uses their touch screen for inputs. Some arcade rhythm games also use touch screens to supplement their buttons.
    • Dancing games like Just Dance uses full-motion cameras, with making dance moves being the equivalent of a "button pressing" action.
    • Singing games rather obviously use a microphone for their inputs.
  • Scoring: The vast majority of rhythm games employ scoring to provide rewarding feedback to the players. Typically, the commands have a certain timing window around the moment of their input. If the player's input is made outside of the timing window, the player misses and does not receive the action's score. This means that hitting all the buttons as fast as you can is a surefire way to fail as fast or faster than doing nothing.
    • Many games employ grading within the "hit/miss" timing window to further differentiate the scoring. The player will receive a different score depending on their action's timing accuracy. The closer the action is to the perfect timing, the higher score is.

This highly involved game of Simon saw a particular boom in the late Oughties, which subsequently faded early into The New '10s, especially in regards to rock-band-in-a-box games Guitar Hero and Rock Band. Earlier, around the year 2000, Dance Dance Revolution and its ilk became well-known through Popcultural Osmosis and it still appears in the occasional movie with varying degrees of accuracy.

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As a game style, they're similar to Bullet Hell, in that they are very much about practice, and often feature extreme difficulty curves with very high skill ceilings, so a wide range of difficulties spanning from Easier Than Easy to Harder Than Hard is the norm. Similarly, Gameplay Grading exists in almost every rhythm game alongside the conventional Life Meter, so perfectionists can differentiate themselves from those with looser playstyles. Like bullet hell, there are (at higher difficulties) countless things flying around the screen in a manner that looks like chaos to the uninitiated. Unlike a Bullet Hell, in which the object is to avoid all those things, you have to catch them all here.

Most full rhythm games (as opposed to Unexpected Gameplay Change rhythm minigames) feature licensed soundtracks. Most companies apply Cultural Translation when bringing the games to the US, serving up a soundtrack of mostly popular hits. Licensing popular music can cost a non-trivial chunk of a game's budget, and in some unfortunate cases, a publisher will try to sell a substandard game based on the song list alone. Other ways to build up a songlist are to commission third-party artists to produce music for the game and to have in-house talent make it (which is extremely rare amongst small development studios due to requiring proficiency in two entirely different fields, and even amongst commercial studios; you'll rarely see in-house music in games not by Konami or Taito).

In rhythm games, Syncing the audio, video, and gameplay altogether is very important, and lag in either the audio or video is very noticeable to long-time rhythm game players, and can frustrate new players as well. Fortunately, modern games have calibration control to make up for this. The small downside to calibration for experienced players is that the TV still won't know if you were successful in hitting a marker until after the fact, so the marker will explode too late and past the target zone, but at least it'll give full points. The downside for casual players is that setting it up is hard, though some games like Rock Band have controllers that have light and sound sensors that attempt to find the calibration for you (fan opinions vary wildly on how accurate these methods are, but for casual play it's usually good enough). Older CRT setups with built-in speakers (or simple speakers with no middle-man device) are the best in this regard, though most don't go so far as to Break Out the Museum Piece since the audio-visual quality is generally lower.

Compare and contrast with Music Player Game, a game genre about procedurally generating levels and actions in sync with the music. Unlike rhythm games, music player games is a genre "modifier" typically applied to a more mainstream game genre like Shoot 'em Up or Endless Running Game (which serves as the base game mechanic). Music player games that are also rhythm games are surprisingly rare.

Compare Exergaming. For other interactions between music and gameplay, see Musical Gameplay and the video game section of Mickey Mousing.

Because Rhythm Games often have large varieties of songs, there's bound to be at least one song you really like in many of these sorts of games.


Traditional Rhythm Games

These games are the traditional "pure" rhythm games where the core gameplay exclusively focuses on hitting notes that are timed with the music. They're also known as rhythm action games or rhythm-matching games.

Non-Traditional Rhythm Games

Hybrid Rhythm-Matching Games

These games feature a hybrid of other gameplay mechanics with rhythm-matching mechanics as their central gameplay.

Games with Rhythm Game Mini Games

In these games, the core gameplay mechanic is not related to rhythm games, but these games feature minigames that play like traditional rhythm games.

To aid with documentation, please also at least identify the name of the rhythm game minigame when adding examples to this section. Please also make sure that musical rhythm plays a part in the minigame, and that the minigame isn't just a series of QTEs unrelated to the music.


 
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