In my first episode of Guitar and Video Games, I explored the current phenomena of "guitar games" that has taken the world by storm. I promised to take it back a few years, and show you where the marriage of musicians and video games began, and now I intend to fulfil that promise.
1982 - Journey Escape - (Atari 2600) This is one Atari game that I feel under privileged for never having played. My goodness, who knew that Journey had their own video game? You actually play as all five members of Journey (not simultaneously) trying to escape a gig, attempting to bypass photographers and adoring fans to get to your "escape vehicle". This is the actual concept for the game. I can't imagine a kid not wanting this in 1982. Check out some footage here or I'm sure you can the rom somewhere.
1984 - The Thompson Twins Adventure - (Sinclair ZX Spectrum) A pretty standard, if aimless, graphic adventure game starring pop sensation The Thompson Twins (you remember them, they sang Hold Me Now). It was originally available for the British Sinclair ZX Spectrum, which seems to have been the drug of choice for nerdy Limeys in the eighties. Anyway, I'm sure that everyone reading this at one point in time has wanted to be a Thompson Twin, well I've got good news for you, someone has actually put this game on the net, if you have Java installed you can play it here. How exciting is that?
1985 - Beatle Quest - (Sinclair ZX Spectrum) Another game for the ZX Spectrum, this one is a little different. Beatle Quest is an unlicensed, DIY game made on an at home programming software called The Quill. This was a text adventure that was based on The Beatles songs, created by would be UK developer Garry Marsh. There's an original magazine review for viewing here. The prospect of actually getting bang-banged by Maxwell's silver hammer has me intrigued, but I'd much rather hit up Doctor Robert for some blow or something.
The 16 Bit Age
1990 - Michael Jackson's Moonwalker - (Sega Genesis/Arcade) This one I actually played as a kid, and am a better man for it. That's right, you star as Michael Jackson dressed like in the "Smooth Criminal" video and throw fairy dust or something (you couldn't hit people, that'd be wrong) at bad guys whilst doing dance movies. Every single level it's exactly the same thing. Every. Single. Level. If it weren't for the ability to grab your crotch (really) and the appearance of Bubbles the Chimp after you save all the children from the bad guys. Oh, did I mention that? Yep. You, Michael Jackson, are saving young children through out the game. That's your goal. Saving children. Just check out the video here.
What might be weirder than Moonwalker is the fact that Michael Jackson appeared as a secret character in Ready 2 Rumble Boxing: Round 2 on the Sega Dreamcast. I mean it. Check out that video here.
1992 - Crüe Ball - (Sega Genesis) Ever wanted to play a virtual pinball game that has Mötley Crüe shit in it? Here's your chance, it's Crüe Ball! Originally set to be titled Twisted Flipper, and really only having a few passing references (aside from the menu screen music - which is the Crüe) to the band, leading a lot of people to speculate that perhaps the game didn't begin life with the band in mind. In all honest, the game is pretty much just a straight-forward pinball game that's mediocre at best, really not leaving you without much of an impression at all. Someone call in Dr. Feelgood, cause you'll need a good time after this game lulls you to sleep.
1994 - Aerosmith: Revolution X - (Arade/SNES/Playstation/Sautrn/Genesis) I'm sure everyone remembers this game. Revolution X was a pretty standard rail/light gun shooter in which you had to fight your way through several levels in order to save Aerosmith from terrorist organization NON. You did this by shooting CDs at them. I mean it, there were no bullets, just CDs, totally rad! The game was just the same as say Lethal Enforcers, except with a soundtrack consisting entirely of Aerosmith tunes. What's funny is that producers Midway actually set out to make a game based on Jurassic Park, but lost those rights to Sega and so decided to make a game based on Aerosmith instead. Good call, guys!
1995 - Rap Jam: Volume One - (SNES) Riding high on the coattails of the superior NBA Jam, here comes Rap Jam: Volume One (and, no, there never was a Volume Two). Playable characters included Coolio, House of Pain, Public Enemy, Queen Latifah, Yo-Yo, Warren G, Public Enemy, Naughty by Nature, and Onyx. Not a terrible list of old school rap celebs, but what really hurts the game is the stiff controls. If you really want to toss up a three as Coolio though, you can always download the ROM here.
The Final Batch
1999 - Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style - (Playstation) What an interesting idea this one is. Shaolin Style is a martial arts game featuring the members of the excellent rap group The Wu-Tang Clan. In the game, the Clan's sensai, Master Xin, is captured by the evil Mong Zhu's goons and it's up to GZA, RZA, and the gang to save him. Unfortunately, Mong Zhu ends up cutting the skin off of Xin's chest (because it has a tattoo that reveals the Clan's secrets, natch!) and killing him. This pisses off the Wu-Tang Clan...and they on a swarm. Lots of violence (including fatalities!), FMV, and the inclusion of exclusive Wu songs actually make this one a pretty good buy. I almost forgot to mention, Midway released an exclusive Wu-Tang controller (pictured) with the game!
2000 - Kiss: Psycho Circus: The Nightmare Child - (PC/Dreamcast) The only first-person shooter to make our list, The Nightmare Child is based off of Todd McFarlane's Kiss: Psycho Circus comic book series. The story seems incredibly convoluted, and I'm not sure I understand it, but I believe you start out as a member of a Kiss cover band that receives some kind of super power and spend the game trying to stop the birth of a demon? This may be accurate, if not, who cares? Nobody played this game anyway.
Britney's Dance Beat - (Playstation 2) Very similar to games like Bust-a-Move, but featuring a pop princess, this game has a soundtrack of a whopping five songs by Britney that you have to beat by pressing the series of buttons that appear on the screen. I suppose that you are a dancer auditioning to be Britney's backup tour dancer or some such thing. All I really know is that this is a completely unexciting addition to this list. I remember it came out when I was working at Blockbuster and I don't think it rented out even once, and that was in the day when she and the PS2 were hot commodities.
There are other games that may be the missing link(s) between these games and games like Guitar Hero. Games like Parappa the Rappa, Bust-a-Move, and especially Dance Dance Revolution (thanks to it's massive popularity for a time and being able to make a peripheral a big hit) really foreshadow the "guitar games".
But the real unsung (guitar) hero here is GuitarFreaks, Konami's popular arcade game from 1998 that literally was the inspiration for Guitar Hero. So, there you have it, a rundown of the marriage between legitimate pop stars and home entertainment devices. It and Drum Mania started off a rock n roll revolution in Japan. GuitarFreaks just released their 16th edition last year!
It's safe to say that these games will be sticking around, and I am excited about the upcoming Guitar Hero: Smash Hits which will include 48 masters of songs from GH 1,2,3 and Rocks the Eighties for play in full band mode. Songs will include "Nothin' but a Good Time" by Poison, "Bark at the Moon" by Ozzy Osbourne, "Killer Queen" by Queen, and forty-five more. Gear up and get ready to rock for years to come.