Music and games. Two great tastes that taste better together.

I have been thinking about and playing a lot of games lately, moreso than I really should be considering my plate is full to begin with. But, as we all know, the best work is that which is done at the last minute, so thus far I feel quite free to continue procrastinating. Also, after the sadistic auctioneer taught kickboxing class last night, all I could bring myself to do afterward was lie on the coach, play games, and moan.

The other day in the interview, I surprised even myself by saying that I liked Amplitude better than Guitar Hero–really? The precursor to one of the most popular and best-selling games of all time? WHY?

It’s not that I dislike Guitar Hero; I think it’s a lot of fun. I think that its very accessibility is a huge boon to the game industry as a whole as it has attracted many new players, and being able to posture with the guitar clearly taps into very primal centers. However, as a self-proclaimed snotty know-it-all about the rhythm-action genre, it’s a step back. How so? Here’s a run-down of the most widely-recognized, groundbreaking R-A games:

Parappa the Rapper (PS1, 1996) is, essentially, the first widely-recognized rhythm-action game, and its gameplay is akin to Simon Says: a series of button-actions are shown onscreen, and you mimic them. Its spin-off UmJammer Lammy (PS1, 1999), was much the same, though it included one of the first guitar-shaped peripherals. Parappa the Rapper 2 (PS2, 2002) is clearly in the same style. (As Guitar Freaks was/is primarily an arcade game, I will disregard it here. Dance Dance Revolution will be similarly disregarded.)

Released around the same time as UmJammer Lammy was Space Channel 5 (DC, 2000) and gameplay was nearly identical, though the stylization of Space Channel 5 made it wildly more successful.

Changing things up was Samba De Amigo (DC, 1999), which, like UmJammer, also included peripherals–a floor mat and two maracas; the sombrero and fringed jacket were your own responsibility. Gameplay, however, was concurrent with what appeared onscreen, instead of the call-and-response of PaRappa, UmJammer, and Space Channel. This concurrency has been a mainstay of rhythm-action games since that point, speeding up gameplay significantly.

Gitaroo Man (PS2, 2001), though a cult hit and never a commercial success, improved on Samba’s concurrency with the addition of the analog stick, which aided immersion, as it involved the player in more aspects of the song than a singular beat.

Also in 2001, Harmonix released FreQuency, which split songs up into drum, bass, guitar, keys, and vocals onto separate ‘tracks’–when you played through two full bars, that track would auto-play for a time, and you could move onto the next track, the goal being to get the entire song playing concurrently for as long as possible. FreQuency’s musical focus was primarily electronica; its sequel, Amplitude, was released in 2003, and included a much broader range of songs; gameplay remained very similar.

Harmonix is also responsible for the first two iterations of the Guitar Hero series, which I imagine most game-players on my list are familiar with. The game is played using a guitar-shaped peripheral, the left hand controlling neck buttons, and the right in charge of the strum bar and whammy; gameplay is straightforward and concurrent.

What makes Guitar Hero a step back? Its very straightforwardness. In FreQuency and especially in Amplitude, the path you chose to move through the song determined your score, determined your completion percentage, determined what powerups (if any) you’d get, and ultimately determined whether you’d make it through the song or not. There was always a way through that led to maximum points/completion, but it wasn’t obvious. It required a greater level of dedication, and the flexibility to approach the same level many, many different ways. In Guitar Hero, for the same song, you press the same buttons in the same pattern every single time. Thus, after a couple of play-throughs, I was done with it. Amplitude has tapped into my domination-seeking lizard brain, and consequently, I’ve played each level one hundred times or more in order to truly master the game.

And that’s why I think Amplitude is, like, the greatest rhythm-action game ever. The only thing that would make it better is a ship shaped like a pony that shoots lasers from its eyes.


Mellzah, age 8.

P.S. I want to love Elite Beat Agents, but the songs make me hate it. So. Much.

37 Comments Music and games. Two great tastes that taste better together.

  1. leighhyphenanne March 28, 2008 at 6:14 pm

    I wasn’t allowed to play video games when I was little 🙁

    1. admin March 28, 2008 at 6:29 pm

      That might be the saddest thing I’ve ever read. 🙁

      My mom limited the amount of time my brother and I could play to an hour a day, however, if she was playing and needed help, we could theoretically play longer.

      1. leighhyphenanne March 28, 2008 at 6:32 pm

        haha!!! My mother had issues with “preserving our childhood” something about not keeping too many things that could he pawned for coke money for my dad… or something like that.

        You were wrong. THATS the saddest thing in the world.


        1. admin March 28, 2008 at 6:42 pm

          Your dad was blowing money on coke?


          That’s the saddest thing in the world.

          1. leighhyphenanne March 28, 2008 at 6:44 pm


            He isn’t jewish. my mom is. That’s why we never got toys… (at least that’s what she told us)

            She did get the guilt thing down though. “You see what i put up with for you, aren’t you glad we’re safe now?”


            You should have divorced him 20 years ago and called it a day then. But nooooo. idiot. hah

          2. admin March 28, 2008 at 7:30 pm

            No toys at all?

            THAT is the saddest thing in the world. 🙁

          3. leighhyphenanne March 28, 2008 at 9:17 pm

            we got some from my grandma… usually to the tune of unnecessary barbie accessories.

          4. admin March 28, 2008 at 10:30 pm

            I DARE you to name me ONE necessary barbie accessory.

          5. leighhyphenanne March 28, 2008 at 10:58 pm

            exactly. Which is exactly why I actually (believe it or not) relished our move from Orlando (where my dad was thoroughly entrenched in the 80’s miami coke scene) to Spokane, where we had a huge yard and *gasp* no crack dealers waiting at our bus stop. That’s precisely why, folks, spokane never shames me.

          6. admin March 28, 2008 at 11:22 pm

            Can I still call it ‘Spoklahoma’ in front of you?

          7. leighhyphenanne March 29, 2008 at 12:07 am


            they have this store called “Boo Radley’s” Comparable to Archie McPhee (only because about 75% of merchandise carried is Acoutrements brand) and they have a bunch of “spokane themed shirts”

            with slogans such as “Little town of Methlahem”
            “Spokanistan” as well as other gems.


          8. admin March 29, 2008 at 5:08 am

            OH MAN. I want a ‘little town of methlahem’ shirt. Or need it.

          9. leighhyphenanne March 29, 2008 at 5:06 pm

            Done. If I go to Spo-can’t before your birthday I’ll get one for you… if not… you’ll have to wait… but i’ll still get one for you. 🙂

  2. mike8787 March 28, 2008 at 6:33 pm

    Also, after the sadistic auctioneer taught kickboxing class last night, all I could bring myself to do afterward was lie on the coach, play games, and moan.

    XD I hear those kickboxing coaches are pretty versatile.

    1. admin March 28, 2008 at 6:41 pm

      Don’t forget ‘evil’. There are only so many times I can be almost roundhouse-kicked in the face before I realize that shit’s intentional.

  3. princessgeek March 28, 2008 at 7:06 pm


    1. admin March 28, 2008 at 7:31 pm

      When I grow up, I want to be Ulala. If I’m ever thin, I’m totally being Ulala for halloween.

      1. shadowstitch March 28, 2008 at 11:02 pm

        You just wanna hang with Space Michael. I know you.

        1. admin March 28, 2008 at 11:21 pm

          Gotta get me some’a that!

  4. shadowstitch March 28, 2008 at 9:34 pm

    What, no Bust a Groove love??

    Also, did you ever play Slap Happy Rhythm Busters, for PSX? 3d Fighting game crossed with DDR!

    1. admin March 28, 2008 at 10:32 pm

      If I was going to go into all of the rhythm games, I’d have been writing all day and I’m far, far too lazy for that. I also would’ve mentioned that playing the Donkey Konga bongos irrevocably makes you feel like the biggest dipshit on the planet.

      As a self-proclaimed snotty know-it-all about the rhythm-action genre….no, I haven’t played Slap Happy Rhythm Busters. 🙁

      1. shadowstitch March 28, 2008 at 10:59 pm

        Bah! Bust a Groove was my favorite, even moreso than Parappa!

        SHRB was kind of a weak, glitchy 2d on 3d polygon fighter from the era When Toshinden Ruled The Earth, and whenever you’d pull off a super combo, the game would switch to a sort of Parappa style button mash, to determine exactly what quantity of beatdown should be delivered.

        Not EXACTLY a rhythm game, but tangential!

        1. admin March 28, 2008 at 11:21 pm

          You just gotta believe!

          I HATED Parappa. HATE. The only reason I mentioned it at all is because it’s widely considered to be the forerunner to all of the other games.

          1. mastergode March 29, 2008 at 4:23 am

            Re: You just gotta believe!

            Dude, Parappa is total and utter win. Umjammer Lammy is probably the best game of its type ever made.

            Kats didn’t like Parappa, either… She loved Vib-ribbon during that time period, instead. If you’ve played Vib-ribbon, I’ll be impressed with you!

          2. admin March 29, 2008 at 5:08 am

            Re: You just gotta believe!

            Prepare to be impressed with me:

            I’ve played Vib-ribbon, and I did like it much better than Parappa.

          3. mastergode March 29, 2008 at 3:13 pm

            Re: You just gotta believe!

            I am impressed with you!

            I dunno, I have to say that I didn’t really like Vib-ribbon. I half believe that Kats likes it mostly for its obscurity, because she’s one of those people who generally dislike things that are popular.

            I just had a much better time with Parappa, because the game was more dynamic.

      2. benzarius March 28, 2008 at 10:38 pm

        Hehe…I like the bongos game. Theres a Taiko drum game down at Game works, and it’s a blast. It was all the rage when I was in Japan a few years back, and now it’s (finally) over here.

        1. admin March 28, 2008 at 10:51 pm

          I think Taiko Drum Master is way easier to deal with than Donkey Konga, but that could be my searing hatred of the B52’s talking.

  5. suspiciouskay March 28, 2008 at 6:25 pm

    Have you tried Audiosurf? It’s only $10, and you can download the demo from Steam for free…

    1. admin March 28, 2008 at 6:39 pm

      Not yet. 🙂

  6. benzarius March 28, 2008 at 7:51 pm

    Hehe. If you ever wanna throw down on some Amplitude, You’re more than welcome to swing by. I’m pretty good at it, and Jen is no slouch either. 😉

    1. admin March 28, 2008 at 8:05 pm

      I dunno, are you ready to be utterly dominated? 😉

      1. benzarius March 28, 2008 at 10:37 pm

        Oh, I’m ready. I don’t doubt that you’re the better player. Maybe you can help me unlock some new stuff. 😀

        I’m almost tempted to pick up a PSP just so I can get “Patapon”

        1. admin March 28, 2008 at 10:50 pm

          You could also pick up the PSP port of ‘Gitaroo Man’ if you can’t find it for PS2 (though I think it was re-released, so it’s not so rare anymore).

          When we have your PJ party, there should be some Amplitudin’.

  7. mastergode March 29, 2008 at 4:31 am

    I have one word for you. Okay, actually I have a lot more than one word for you. But that one word, for reference, is ‘Beatmania’.

    Guitar Hero isn’t exactly a step backward when compared to games like Amplitude and Frequency, because it’s entirely different than them. It’s more appropriate compared to games like Beatmania or Popnmusic, of which it is a giant step backward. Guitar Hero, as you well know, has five buttons and a strum bar. Beatmania has 7 buttons and a turntable, and Popn has 9 buttons. They also scale up the difficulty IMMENSELY. If you try to play the hardest song on Beatmania you’ll be confronted with a literal wall of button inputs, whereas in Guitar Hero, the same thing can’t be said.

    So, you’re right, but I thought that your comparison wasn’t as apt as it could have been.

    1. admin March 29, 2008 at 5:07 am

      Should I have changed that to ‘a step back for Harmonix’?

      1. mastergode March 29, 2008 at 3:20 pm

        Okay, I’ll buy that. 😉

        Because really, when you look at it, Amplitude and Frequency are also steps back in the music game genre when you compare them to Beatmania. I think Popn came after Frequency, but don’t quote me on that, because I’m unsure of the Japanese release dates.

        But while Frequency had more dynamic gameplay due to giving the player the choice of tracks to play and forcing them to evolve the skillset of choosing tracks to keep the combo going, it still required nowhere NEAR the skill level that Beatmania did. Learning to play Beatmania is seriously like learning how to play a real musical instrument, whereas Frequency was a more casual rhythm game.

        Just sayin’. 😉

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