|Punch the Monkey |
|Planet Dob |
|Planet Dob |
|Great Hits |
|Great Hits |
|Jung Rhythm |
|Jung Rhythm |
|Super Tempo |
|Super Tempo |
|Vib Ribbon |
|Baby Universe |
|Beat Planet Music |
|Beat Planet Music |
|iS: internal section |
|iS: internal section |
Ask most gamers to name a favorite music-themed game on a home console, and you'll more than likely hear familiar titles like Dance Dance Revolution, Bust A Groove, or Parappa the Rapper. Some will offer up the two MTV Music Generator programs, along with a shoe box full of memory cards or a PC hard drive full of their own tunes created and saved for that big record deal or their next house party mix tape. Others will add the niche games Guitaroo Man and Mad Maestro, and the more import savvy fans can add unique titles like Para Para Paradise, any of Konami's peripheral dependent Bemani games, and character-based oddities like Cool Cool Toon. As popular as these games have become here in the states, in Japan there have been dozens more musical titles released that will send just about anyone into a sonic orbit of aural delight.
As for myself, I'll be the first to confess that I'm one of those folks who has a much rhythm as a boulder on a coffee table. So I tend to shy away from anything that would force me to move my hips in anything other than my regular walking motion. But some music-based games have managed to dance their way into my collection, and I submit a few of those here for your listening (and playing) pleasure. All these games listed don't require you to buy any special controllers to play them, which is probably good for those of you out there just getting into collecting and don't want to go broke after one or two purchases. Here are ten imports (and one domestic release) that'll have you either pulling the drapes or inviting friends over to check out in one way or another:
1) Punch The Monkey! Game Edition (Bandai, Playstation/Saturn)
If you're a fan of older anime, you'll recognize Lupin the 3rd and company right away. If you've never heard of him, lately he's been appearing on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim, so you can go immerse yourself and come away hooked. The game is a Bemani-style game (played without a dance pad or keyboard) featuring remixes and covers of music from the series. You "shoot" notes as they scroll across the bottom of the screen and the trippy visuals do their best to make you screw up. It's all quite funny at first, as some of the arrangements will have you laughing out loud or scratching your head until you get the beat down, but Bemani veterans should be able to jump in and not break too much of a sweat. Oh, and before you animal rights folks get heated about the title, it's just a variation on the name of the manga the series appeared in.
2) Planet Dob (Hudson, Playstation)
Get this: an alien flying above Earth gets knocked unconscious after his ship crashes while avoiding a giant net. Scientists strap his passed out frame on a table and send a very unwilling subject (his glasses are shaped in the letters Y-O-U) into his mind to see what makes him tick. The absolutely whacked-out result is Planet Dob, one of the strangest and coolest games on any console. Part adventure, part puzzle, part music, and completely inspired musically, PD would most likely have gathered its own eclectic fan base, had it been released here. The visuals mix pre-rendered backgrounds, 3D elements, and CG characters, and are full of vibrant colors that pop, swirl and spin. The "plot" spells itself out as you play in loads of Japanese text, but there are so many visual cues and English signage that it's not too difficult to play. The "Super Lounging Music" is almost too relaxing;"Oh yes, It's like no gravity, dippily, Super relaxing and Lounging kind of sound", according to one of the two fold out manuals included. But the frantic, hysterical urgency of some of the mini-games and the "Mixing Hour" stages (where you play around with music from the game) will keep you glued to your tee vee for days.
3) Great Hits (Enix, Playstation)
On the other hand, here's one of those games that bends over backward and touches its chin to its ankles trying to do something different, and rolls straight into the loony bin. Great Hits is a RPG where you pick a character and attempt to make him/her a star by creating a series of hit video clips. It's also a collection of some of the most bizarre songs in a game and oddball character designs highly inspired by Tim Burton (although they don't look all that cool in polygon form). The clip making feature is pretty easy to use, but a good deal of the music will make you wonder what was being passed around during programming. If you think you can put up with songs titled Cheap Bicycle, dA!gA!dA!, Scottiy Pizza, and Bad Ending, this is definitely up your alley. I think someone should send a copy to that Simon cat from American Idol, and let him say "That sounds worse than a bag of weasels delivered into the sun by an arthritic pelican", or words to that effect. Anyway, the menus and some of the interface are in English, and the truly brave will no doubt venture forth and seek out this one- everyone else, steer clear.
4) Jung Rhythm (Altron, Sega Saturn)
Sony has Parappa- Sega has...this? While Jung Rhythm was obviously rushed out to capitalize on Sony's successful game, it's cute enough in its own right to be worth a playthrough. You play as a little girl just going about her daily life (with musical accompaniment) as she deals with stuff like eating breakfast, grade-school rivalry, and meeting her rock-n-roll hero. Unlike the rap beats throughout Parappa, all of the songs here are unapologetically Japanese reworkings of popular music styles sprinkled with bits of English. One song, Rock'n Ecology, even swipes the "You gotta believe" line, but as the song here is about recycling, it comes off as a big in-joke rather than outright plagiarism. The Samba de Oekaki and Soul Moc(donald) sequences will make you crack up, and the game's big, blocky, colorful polygon visuals only add to the charm. "S to the O to the U to the L, M to the O to the C" indeed...
5) Super Tempo (Media Quest, Sega Saturn)
Far better than the 32x game that proceeded it, Super Tempo expands on the first game in every aspect, and is well worth checking out if you like really wacky 2D platformers. Visually, ST is Ub Iwerks meets Ralph Bakshi via time machine with booze and pharmaceuticals along for the ride, and the excellent and varied music styles will have you tapping your toes in time with the beats. "Who's Ub Iwerks?", you ask? well, a trip to Google for you if you don't know. The inclusion of some eyebrow-raising content meant that Sega of America was easily going to pass on localizing this one, but this is one import well-worth tracking down whether you played the first game or not. Besides, it's a hell of a lot better than those two Bug! games we got here.
6) vib-ribbon (Sony Playstation)
If you haven't heard of this one yet, it's a game you'll either love madly or hate dearly, depending on your willingness to free yourself from the conventions of what a game should look like and how it should play. So much has been written about this simple vector graphics masterpiece that I can only add the following: I discovered while doing screenshots that the game becomes easier to play without music! Once you memorize the 4 key commands and their variations, it's all a matter of being quick enough to avoid the ever-changing terrain without the bizarre score to assist in tripping you up. Pop in your own CD, and turn down the sound on your set, and it's the same thing. Of course, that doesn't mean the game is a cakewalk without sound- it's just a lot less work. Maybe one day, Sony will see fit to drop this on the public as a budget game, just so that the mystique (and the sometimes high price it fetches on ebay) vanishes.
7) Depth (Sony Playstation)
This aptly titled "Music Adventure Game" is more or less Aquanaut's Holiday crossed with a MTV Music Generator-style "Groove Editor" that gives the disc endless replay value. There are 12 huge areas to swim about as a dolphin, and they'll draw you in with some really beautiful visuals and fairly simple, yet unique gameplay. Think of a kinder, friendlier, new age-ier Ecco the Dolphin, and you've got a tiny idea of what's here. Did well enough in Japan to spawn a sequel, also on the PS, and since there's no breasts a-bouncing, big explosions, or blood galore, the chances of a PS2 sequel hitting the good ol' U.S. of A. are slimmer than Cameron Diaz under a steamroller.
8) Baby Universe (Sony Playstation)
Sony improves greatly on 3DO's earlier video kaleidoscope function with this amazing stand-alone mixture of tech demo/program. I remember being sick with the flu a few years back, and spending an entire day with my PS and a huge stack of CD's swapping discs out and coughing up various colored fluids as I played around with the trippy, swirly shapes on my TV screen. Your experience may vary, but it's also a great instant party device and instant hands-on conversation piece. If you bought a Playstation a few years back and actually read the instruction manual, you'd have found that a truncated version of this program was included in the hardware for your viewing enjoyment. But just how many of you use your PS as a music CD player, anyway?
9) Beat Planet Music (Sony, Playstation)
About 2 years ago, a friend of mine sent me some PS demo discs from Japan, and one had the first two areas of this game on it. I played it, and was impressed enough to track down the final version around the time that screenshots of Sony's PS2 game, Frequency were published. It didn't hit me until comparing the two games a bit later that BPM is pretty much the exact same game, from the controls to the song editor function. The only thing that stands out as disappointing here are the goofy-looking CG "pilots" that show up in still-frame cutscenes. While it's great that Sony did something with this cool idea on the PS2, it's equally disappointing that the original game got swept under the rug in the process. BPM is about as easy to pick up and play as Frequency was, and it's almost entirely in English, so it's a must buy title, especially if you're interested in seeing how a game goes from one console to another.
10) iS: internal section (Squaresoft/positron, Playstation)
If you're a fan of games like N2O, and Rez, this cool shooter (published by the folks who bring you the Final Fantasy games) is well worth scouring a couple of import game emporiums for. The phenomenal avex trax tunes actually make some of the background elements seem to come alive, and you can play iS to the CD of your choice each time you clear a level and save data to a memory card. Visually, it's all floating and pulsating polygons of the flat-shaded variety and some lighting effects, but that's part of what makes it so unique. Like Rez, it's one of those games you'll "get" more if you don't try to spend a lot of time explaining what it is or isn't...
11) Sid Meier's CPU Bach (Microprose, 3DO)
This one's here, simply because it's a great idea that can and should have been published on every 32-bit and above console.Whether you're a fan of classical music or not, CPU Bach is still an amazing piece of software for something almost 10 years old. Not a game, but an absolutely delightful program that generates millions (or is it billions?) of Baroque tunes on the fly. Perfect for relaxation, it also makes bad cooking somehow tastier, and otherwise questionable romantic dalliances seem as carefree as a spring breeze.Well alright, not really on those last 2, but it IS a damn good idea that, as the manual says, begs to be explored further. As far as new music by GOOD living and deceased artists, that is. I'd hate to see a CPU Fat Elvis or CPU P. Diddy (although he's been doing that act for years anyway)...
Well, that's pretty much it for this month- I hope that your curiousity has been piqued just enough to want to go and track down some of these games, or even add to this list on the DP boards. Next month, I'm sort of leaning toward writing about some cool import racing games, but there's a stack of RPGs and flying games you've probably never heard of that are looking at me funny, so we'll see what happens...