Just days into 2023, my podcast co-hosts and I fell into a discussion about rhythm games. In talking about the golden age of music games like Guitar Hero, we began to mourn for a genre that had seemingly fallen out of fashion among mainstream audiences. Sure, niche indies like Melatonin still release regularly and Ubisoft’s Rocksmith quietly exists, but we were left to wonder if the genre was long past its peak.
I’ve never seen a video game conversation age so poorly so fast. Now two full months into the year, 2023 has already been a godsend for fans of rhythm games. That was initially thanks to Tango Gameworks’ excellent Hi-Fi Rush, but that’s only the most high-profile example. Between an excellent Final Fantasy title, indie hidden gems, and a wealth of VR music games getting a second life thanks to PlayStation VR2, 2023 is shaping up to be the year of the rhythm game.
Feel the beat
For music game aficionados, 2023 started off on the strongest note possible thanks to Hi-Fi Rush. The Game Pass title is a character-action game, not unlike Devil May Cry, but with a unique musical twist: every action is more effective when performed to the beat of the game’s soundtrack. While music-based action games aren’t new to gaming (see last year’s Metal: Hellsinger), Hi-Fi Rush cracked the genre wide open and discovered mainstream success.
That was no small task. Not every player has a great sense of rhythm, which has placed the genre into a bit of a niche. Part of Hi-Fi Rush’s success comes from the fact that its developers understood that and worked to design around it. When speaking to Digital Trends last month, game director John Johanes emphasized that accessibility was a driving force behind the project. “The right way to do accessibility was actually making a lot of accessibility, and almost more than necessary because there’re so many ways to interpret the melody,” Johanes told Digital Trends.
That philosophy helped the game establish itself as 2023’s first big hit, but it’s not the only music game worth playing this year. Theatrhythm Final Bar Line is another surprising early 2023 release that’s garnered a lot of attention. The traditional rhythm game lets players tap along to a massive collection of songs pulled from Final Fantasy’s 35-year history. It’s currently the secondbest original release of 2023, right next to Hi-Fi Rush, and for good reason: it’s simply fantastic.
I’m no Final Fantasy expert, but even I’ve been addicted to it since it launched. That’s because it acts as an incredible historical document for gaming history buffs, showing the evolution of video game music over decades’ worth of console generations. That alone has made it another rhythm game that I’ve found myself enthusiastically recommending to anyone who likes video games, even if rhythm isn’t their typical genre. It’s an incredible journey through the past told entirely via one series’ evolving soundtrack.
PSVR2 brings rhythm renaissance
While those two games may end up being this year’s most celebrated music games, there are more gems to dig into. For instance, Rhythm Sprout is an adorable music RPG that has players fighting through levels by pressing buttons along to its soundtrack. It’s another easy-to-learn rhythm game for those who aren’t usually comfortable with the genre, with only a few buttons to keep track of.
Though perhaps the most crucial moment for the genre this year has come thanks to the PlayStation VR2. Sony’s new headset aims to make VR even more accessible to console players, iterating on the original PSVR’s user-friendly design. With its release came a slew of excellent VR rhythm games that have had a chance to find a brand new audience outside of PC players and Quest owners. Chief among that list is the excellent Ragnarock, a music game that has players smashing drums along to Viking metal. It’s a fantastic, tactile music game that’s only gotten better thanks to PSVR2’s responsive Sense controllers.
All of this is to say that if you miss the golden age of rhythm games like Guitar Hero, don’t fret because 2023 is proof that the genre is still alive and kicking, offering plenty of creative ways to play along to some music. Whether you want an action game with a musical twist or a straight-up beat-matching game that’ll let you hone your timing, 2023 already has an excellent backlog of games for you to try.