Until Guitar Hero Live and Rock Band 4‘s releases, we had not seen a game from those series since 2010. The genre was stagnant for six complete years, during which Call of Duty has been suffering a sales decline until Call of Duty: Black Ops III broke that trend with phenomenal sales.
I think that shows stark parallels with rhythm games from the 2000s. Both began as fresh new genres that had evolved from earlier ideals held by developers a decade prior. First-person shooters started to follow the Doom philosophy of a fast-paced experience, whilst rhythm games came from an ideal of timing within a game – this ideal is evident with auto-scrolling levels, where meandering leaves you as a pile of bones.
As you can see, both were not cut from the same cloth, but both stemmed from earlier ideas. This sort of repurposing is done all of the time across the world for many different purposes; the key difference is how these things had not been done before to this extent.
Following the sudden success of Guitar Hero, Activision saw great incentive to milk it for all it was worth – Harmonix also decided to leap onto the exact same bandwagon with no differentiation, until we’d all had enough of it. Both had outstayed their welcome by a country mile, we had collectively decided.
When success blows up in a company’s face, they usually follow up with slight revisions to the overall formula. Need for Speed has been trying to reach the magic of Need for Speed: Underground since the developers who actually envisioned that game had left to move on. However, both companies stayed quiet for a period of five years. This has been a widely unprecedented move in the games space before or since. For once, they had figured out when the boundary was stepped over.
Now that both series are back in full swing, we can now look at how both have been altered from their original incarnations. FreeStyle Games is now at the helm of Guitar Hero, with their alterations easily felt in Guitar Hero Live. The iconic coloured five buttons have been swapped out with two sets of three buttons; one set is with white buttons, while the other has black buttons. This means that those who had the button configuration committed to memory now have to start afresh. However, Rock Band 4… is still Rock Band.
The fruits of FreeStyle’s labour have already begun to spring up, too. Their game has been lauded for its reinvention, but Harmonix has been criticised for being stagnant in the wake of Guitar Hero Live.
So, should rhythm games have a resurgence? Of course, if they offer twists to their gameplay, or represent it with a completely different visual style. Compare PaRappa the Rapper with Vib-Ribbon – the former uses buttons at the top of the screen, while the latter shows the buttons as different obstacles for Vib-Ribbon to get past.
It’s important that these games do not end up over-saturating the market, as the speciality will wear thin without being scarce occasions. If they do that, then they will be propelled into the public consciousness once more.