If you've ever found yourself inexplicably compelled to press brightly-colored buttons in time to music while holding a plastic, guitar-shaped object, then you're familiar with the concept of music gaming. Despite becoming hugely popular in the last few years thanks to Guitar Hero and Rock Band, the genre has been around for a long time now, with all the triumphs, tragedies and weird side-missions you'd expect from such an odd mish-mash of concepts. The entire history of the genre is explored in Scott Steinberg's excellent book, Music Games Rock, on sale and available for free download today. The following excerpt covers five of the strangest music-based games ever to hit the game-playing public (or at least, a handful of them. The real, real nerdy ones).
There are often long stretches of pop culture history where most music sounds incredibly manufactured, leaving tunes that stand out as something different to only catch our ears every once in a while. The same can be said for music-based videogames; the likes of Guitar Hero, for instance, may be fun, but it hasn’t exhibited anything truly unique or inspiring for ages. If you peek under the carpet of the music game genre, however, you can find some interesting, clever or just plain weird alternatives nestled amid the dust bunnies…
Beatle Quest (1985, Commodore 64/ZX Spectrum)
This classic (read: ancient) text adventure dishes up a futuristic scenario wherein you, as a keeper of the far future's Archives, suddenly find yourself in a computer-simulated world inspired by the Beatles' best works. You’d better have a good imagination though, as there are no visual aids here - exploring the world wholly relies on navigating roads and environments made entirely out of the Beatles' lyrics.
Prince Interactive (1994, Windows/Mac)
Trust the Artist Formerly Known As The Artist Formerly Known As Prince to come up with a game that’s as pretentious as he is. Prince Interactive is an adventure game in the vein of Myst that also doubles as a kind of virtual tour through Prince's Paisley Park Studios. And, like the man himself, the game is a befuddling jumble of puzzles that few people will truly understand (although to be fair, it’s nowhere near as short).
Peter Gabriel: EVE (1996, Windows/Mac)
EVE represented the second in ultra-prolific songwriter Peter Gabriel’s experimental blends of art and music (with the first being Xplora, more a collection of audio/visual oddities than an actual game). Of course, the game’s vague allusions to comprehending the relationship between man, woman and nature revealed that Gabriel’s pretentious nature wasn’t limited to his musical works alone, since it’s basically an overgrown picture book for 21st century New Age holdouts. Think Myst meets mescaline with spectacular results.
Devo Presents Adventures Of The Smart Patrol (1996, Windows)
Roll up, roll up! Come see the oddity that is '80s new wave music bred with a storyline about the countdown to apocalypse! As surreal as it is almost unplayable, there’s no denying that Devo’s game matches their music perfectly. If you've ever wanted to see what a turkey crossed with a monkey looks like though, play this one long enough to get a good look at the bizarre antagonist of Adventures Of The Smart Patrol. (Warning: Turkey Monkey does not look like a turkey or a monkey and is bound to set you up for disappointment…)
Queen: The eYe (1998, Windows)
While it may have been shipped with five discs of remixed Queen tracks, The eYe was anything but up to the quality of Freddy Mercury’s singing. In fact, the dated visuals and frankly terrible action/adventure gameplay put it as a title that we suspect maker Electronic Arts would like to forget it published. Still, the story – an all-seeing machine called ‘The eYe’ wipes out creative expression, until a secret agent rediscovers rock music and does everything he can to destroy the machine – came in useful, since many of the ideas it delivered appear to have been repurposed to create the hit musical We Will Rock You.