Harmonix Games has a long history in the industry, particularly in the rhythm game genre. It’s fair to say that the company has drawn influence from Japanese rhythm games, such as Parappa the Rapper, BeatMania, Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Freaks, but they have taken some ideas from those games and improved upon them significantly. A lot has happened since Harmonix was founded in 1995 (they were purchased by Viacom later on, sold to another company and they eventually became an independent developer,) but its work has remained consistent ever since. As a fan of rhythm games, it’s hard to ignore the work Harmonix has brought to the genre and the industry at large. As a way to celebrate the company’s 20th anniversary and the release of Rock Band 4, here are the best games developed by Harmonix.
10. EyeToy: Anti Grav
Not a lot of people remember the EyeToy, a camera peripheral for the PlayStation 2. AntiGrav was one of the first games developed exclusively to be used with the EyeToy which is why it was supported by Sony. This was a hoverboard game where players moved their bodies to control the characters and avoid obstacles. Although the game wasn’t as well received as most of the other titles on this list, I decided to include it for two reasons: it showed Harominx’s interest in peripherals (something that we’d see again with the Dance Central series) and a lot of effort was put into the music and sound effects which proved that the company always had its priorities in check.
9. Karaoke Revolution
Karaoke, one of humanity’s greatest inventions. There have been numerous releases as part of the Karaoke Revolution series, including one dedicated to country music and a spin-off based on the American Idol format, but the original Karaoke Revolution still remains one of the best. Although there hasn’t been a new entry in the series for years (to be fair, the game has been superseded by the terrific Singstar,) Karaoke Revolution remains one of the best karaoke titles ever made. If you’re into singing covers of pop hits, this game’s definitely for you. It’s worth mentioning that there hasn’t been a new game in the series for years because the karaoke part of the game was incorporated into the Rock Band series.
Frequency was the game that started it all. It may not have sold very well, its visual style may not have been very appealing, but if it wasn’t for Frequency, the video game industry would be completely different. So for those of you who have never heard of it, Frequency puts you in the shoes of a virtual avatar that travels down an octagonal tunnel shooting sequences of notes to form songs. Frequency innovated in aspects other than music, since this was one of the first PS2 games to support online play.
Like its predecessor Frequency, Amplitude was a critically acclaimed and financial failure music game where players controlled a ship that shot incoming notes to form songs. There were new songs, an improved visual style and an entertaining online mode. There’s going to be a new Amplitude in 2016 thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign that was supported by thousands of players. Hopefully, the game will finally get the recognition it deserves in terms of sales.
6. Fantasia: Music Evolved
Another motion-controlled music game, Fantasia is unlike any other game you’ve played before. Presented as an interactive successor to the Fantasia and Fantasia 2000 animated films, Music Evolved encourages you to move in rhythm to some licensed songs that include hits such as Bohemian Rhapsody, Ziggy Stardust, Superbass, Seven Nation Army and some classical pieces from Tchaikovsky and Mozart. Although definitely an acquired taste, Music Evolved is also a charming and unique music game.
Although it has Rock Band in the game, Blitz was an arcade game with an intricate social aspect and there was no way to cooperate with other players. In fact, the game shared more similarities with Amplitude and Frequency than with Rock Band and this throwback made a lot of older players happy. In the game you play the notes from individual lanes to clear notes and then move on to other lanes to multiply your score. Building Blitz meter, using different power-ups and competing against Facebook friends was really entertaining. It’s worth pointing out that the game supports pretty much all the DLC you had, so if you bought Rock Band songs for years, this is a must-have digital game.
4. The Beatles Rock Band
I debated for a while to include this game or not, but its release was so important and so many people were so into it that I finally went for it. The Beatles Rock Band may sound like the most self-explanatory game (and to a certain extent it is,) but apart from featuring songs from the English rock band with the gameplay we know and love, it had so much more. There were lavishly crafted animated scenes, depictions of famous live performances, dreamscape sequences, an extensive soundtrack most people are going to love and more. I may not be a fan of the Beatles, but this game deserves as spot on the list regardless.
3. Dance Central 3
In Dance Central, players follow the dance moves shown on-screen and they are tracked by the Kinect Sensor. That’s the premise that all the games in the series follow, but the third entry was included for different reasons, it featured new modes such as Crew Throwdown, Beginner and Party, new characters, new music and DLC and a convoluted storyline that has time travel and other nonsense that didn’t make a lot of sense, but was certainly refreshingly unique at the time. Also, it convinced a lot of people who dancing is a fun form of expressing themselves, which is something other games in the genre had certainly struggled with before.
2. Guitar Hero 2
The original Guitar Hero was a fantastic video game that started a trend that went on for years and changed the look of living rooms all over the world. But its first sequel took most of the ideas introduced in Guitar Hero and improved upon them. There were new multiplayer and practice modes, more plastic guitars to choose from and more licensed songs. There was still room for improvement, but Guitar Hero 2 was arguably, the best game in the series.
1. Rock Band 3
Rock Band 3 wasn’t an accident, this was the culmination of hard work and trial-and-error, something that took years for Hamonix to perfect. Usually remembered as one of the best games of its generation and one of the best games of all time, Rock Band 3 was the title that you had to own if you were into Rock Band, music of simply video games. It looked amazing, you could import DLC from other games, you could choose from five instruments, you could play pro mode and the game had an amazing soundtrack . It remains to be seen if the rhythm genre can become as big as it was when this game came out, but in the meantime, Rock Band 3 remains as one of the best games of its kind and something you simply must own.