Rhythm Games and Why I Love Them

By Bunni Smith

I play a lot of video games - honestly more than I should. It’s a hobby I’ve been nursing since the tender age of seven, around the time I got my first Nintendo DS lite. The genre has evolved much since then, obviously, with some games being so immersive that one could dedicate full days without rest to exploring and leveling up and still not discover every secret a game has to offer. I like those kinds of games… fine, in fact I think they’re great - it’s like playing the main character in your own personal movie. And yet, I don’t always have the ability to stomach seven plus hours worth of dialogue and twenty some plot-relevant DLCs. At times, one wants for something simple.

And that leads me to rhythm games - a genre I’ve fallen in love with over the past four years. First off, what constitutes a rhythm game?

Well, in the usual format, a rhythm game involves a series of beats moving across the screen to the rhythm of a song - think Guitar Hero. Unlike playing an actual instrument, you aren’t presented with the sheet music beforehand; the sheet music is coming at you as you play. This sort of format favors accuracy and attention, and has the potential to be quite challenging if you wish it to be - and yet, it’s an endearingly simple concept that caters to players of varying skill levels. And not just players - composers as well.

Think I sound a bit overly passionate? Let’s take this Osu! gameplay footage then.

This is a beatmap (quite literally a user-made map of beats) of The Quick Brown Fox’s song, The Big Black.

Osu! is an example of a more involved rhythm game community and gameplay wise. What you might see is a bunch of flashing lights and loud music, but get this: there is an actual human being playing these notes! This playthrough was done by Cookiezi, a rather famous player. This is the result of hundreds if not thousands of hours spent practicing and perfecting what I consider to be a gift. And that’s not all, the map itself was painstakingly made by someone out there, just like you or me. Someone determined the tempo, the beats per minute, then set each note out by hand in the hopes that an Osu! player would take the challenge and play their map. That’s the beauty of Osu!, is that it’s constantly fostering new groups of players to learn a skill in either music playing or music production, or to just have fun! It’s the first rhythm game I was introduced to, and what made me so fond of the genre.

Of course, not all rhythm games are so intense. Take Namco’s Taiko no Tatsujin for example. I had the great pleasure of snagging a Nintendo Switch copy of the latest game just last week. Taiko no Tatsujin happens to be a popular arcade game in Japan, based off of the ancient Japanese instrument, the Taiko drum. These drums were originally used for festivals, as well as communication and military action. In Taiko no Tatsujin, the point is simply to keep your combo going. Though not as skill-based as Osu!, I find this game to be just as fun, as it encourages a relaxed playstyle.

So why do I like these games so much? Well, without going into too much detail, I have some learning and social problems. I get burnt out by just talking to people, so a day at school can be especially rough for me - it’s loud, and you’re overloaded by all sorts of information. This makes rhythm games perfect for me. Once you warm up a bit, it’s easy to let yourself fall into the rhythm and just relax. The note sequences come easy to me, and I’ve often been playing a song one minute only to wake up half an hour later and realize I’ve completed five more. All the while, I’m not simply zoning out. My brain is processing information. I’ll recall all the things I learned that day, ponder how to tackle a life problem, and when I’m done, I’ll be able to put that knowledge to use without getting burnt out.

To sum up, rhythm games are great because of what they provide us - a new way to play, a platform for musical expression, and, at least to me, a medium for relaxation and fun.