11 more creative and unusual music based games

Music has always been a vital part of gaming – setting the atmosphere, warning you a boss is approaching and giving you anxiety when you’re running out of Oxygen (damn you Sonic!). Sometimes though it stops just being the soundtrack and becomes the game itself . Back in 2008, I took a look at some of the best examples of music based games but the genre has come a long way since then so this time I’m taking it up to 11!

Audiosurf 2 (PC)

Audiosurf 1 was my top pick the last time I looked at music based games and 9 years (eek!) on, it’s still one of my favourites. The addictive wipeout meets columns gameplay, trippy visuals and superb track analysis algorithm turns your music collection into a whole world of awesome levels.
The sequel builds on the same great gameplay adding better graphics, new modes, soundcloud integration, new skins and a healthy steam workshop community to keep things fresh. More of an evolution than a revolution but if you’ve come up with such a great formula first time, why would you radically change it? If you own the first one, its definitely worth the money to upgrade however if you don’t have either, you’ll have a great time with 1 or 2.

Symphony (PC)

Symphony is fundamentally an old school scrolling shm’up with a distinctly newschool twist. It analyses music cleverly making the intensity of the enemies match the intensity of the music . Playing levels unlocks new parts to customise your ship with which allows you to tackle higher difficulty levels. It even has a (truly odd) plot about how a demon has taken possession of your music library and you need to fight bosses (that turn up randomly like above) to liberate the souls of dead composers… I mean, of course!!
Some people have noted that its sometimes a bit difficult to see what is going on on screen at any given moment, an issue that affects a lot of these neon style shooters but I personally think that its unique features, customisation and general quirkiness make it a stand out in the the genre, even ignoring the fact that it is a great music game. There is also a sequal (same plot radically different action-RTS-esque gameplay) that has been in development for some time now. Hopefully it will come out soon, there’s too much vapourware in the world

Rez VR/Child of Eden (PC/XB360/XBone/PS3)

OK 2 games – but I’m considering them together because they both are and are not sequels of the original Rez, they both build upon its DNA to create a truly great experience as well as showcasing technology . The core concept of Rez was a rail shooter set inside a virtual (think Tron 2.0) world where shooting in time with the (banging) soundtrack nets you extra points. Rez VR is an HD rerelease of this classic with an additional episode, this might sound like another lazy VR port but given it’s virtual world aesthetic and combat system that always required you to look around to see where the enemies were, it feels like a perfect fit. If you ever watched Johnny Mnemonic and wanted to ‘hack into the mainframe’ the same way that they seemed to, this is about as close as you’re going to get (cybernetic dolphin not included).
Child of Eden is an evolution of the original Rez and technically a prequel plot wise. It is also the only game that ever makes me tempted to reconnect my Kinect, waving your right arms about to tag enemies before flicking it to shoot and then switching to your left hand for some rapid fire action feels so satisfying (it is also fun with a controller if you don’t have a kinect or are just feeling lazy). The visuals and the soundtrack are also completely on point (again) and the boss battles have a real epic quality to them.

Beatbuddy (PC/Wii U)

Take cute hand drawn graphics, floating platform/bullet hell style gameplay and a great soundtrack and you get Beatbuddy. A game where you have to traverse levels avoiding traps that pulsate in time with the music. As you move through each level the track builds and evolves in relation to what’s on screen, making the music feel integral not just like a metronome for the level timing.
While the soundtrack is awesome , and I’m not just saying that because I love electroswing, it does feel a little limited as you use the same track all the way each playthrough. The first time being a bespoke track by Parov Stelar (impressive that they got him on board) and the other unlockable tracks vary from more electro-swing to house and funk. It’s definitely a good laugh and a fresh take on rhythm based gameplay.

Riff racer (PC)

Conceptually simply but really compelling – Riff Racer turns your music tracks into race tracks and then challenges you to ‘keep up’ with the song, the close you are to the target line the more you will score. Add drifting and jump launchers to bump your score and an 80s neon aesthetic, you’ve got a really fun game. If you pick a popular song or one of its included ones then you may see ghosts of other players who have attempted that track to spur you on.
I’d really like to see them open up steam workshop for this one as I think people could make some really cool mods for it too. All in all, a unique game and a really fun one to boot.


Beathazard (PC/iOS/Android/XB360/PS3)

Beathazard/Beathazard Ultra (delete as appropriate) is a twin stick shooter where you blast away waves of enemies that attack you in time with your music. The waves are well synced with the arrangement of a track, when a drop hits, a boss appears etc. It has some very entertaining gameplay and a leveling up system that lets you become progressively more powerful and gun for really high scores. The enemies feel varied and the controls feel tight and the graphics are pretty – everything you’d want from a twin stick shooter with the added advantage that it has the best soundtrack ever… because you’ve provided it yourself.
I do have one gripe (and this is probably so petty, free to just skip right on to the next entry) – One of the powerups you collect controls the track volume, which starts at the beginning of the level at 1/5 which makes it sound so weak in the background. One of the upgrades you can buy spawns those powerups at the beginning of the level so you can start at full volume but if you die, you still go back to 1/5. I totally see why they’ve done this from a gameplay perspective but when I listen to music, I want to hear it at a consistent volume – this may not worry you at all, thank you for letting me get that off my chest.


Space invaders – infinity gene (iOS/Android/XB360/PS3)

This is a great game in its own right taking a good dollop of nostalgia from the classic version and turning it into a very contemporary feeling game. You could quite happily play this and never realise that it lets you use your MP3 collection to create new levels.
The generation algorithm creates great levels that do seem to match well with whatever tracks you have used but there is a fatal flaw… the number of lives you begin the level with do not scale with the length of the track you are using. If you put on a 6:00 long track, expect a very hard slog to survive until the end, especially as some elements in these procedurally generated levels will come out of nowhere and kill you dead. Still for all of £0.89 for the mobile version, it is hard to complain 🙂

Aaero (PC)

Aaero is an interesting one, taking the lock on rail shooter element from Rez and adding ship control, letting you dodge obstacles and projectiles and riding along lines that ‘play’ the synth parts as you go. Each level has been crafted well to the track and flying through their otherworldy landscapes is immensely satisfying. The soundtrack is strong with artists like Noisia, Flux Pavilion and Katy B contributing and more packs available as DLC.
It is not an easy game though, the line riding segments are particularly hard as it is very easy to stray off the path and often you have to dodge last minute for an obstacle as well which could easily take away one of your previous (limited) lives. I like games with a real challenge to them but as you need to get a pretty high star rating on all of your previous tracks to progress, it’s quite easy to get stuck relatively near the beginning. This seems to be a bit of a design flaw as the learning curve this imposes is pretty steep.

The Metronomicon (PC/PS4/XBone)

I would have loved to be in the the meeting where they came up with this one. A parody high fantasy low brow RPG where all the fights are in fact tracks and all the combat is controlled by dance dance revolution style arrows. Sounds like its going to be ridiculous and yes, it is… however the self-aware zaniness, colourful visuals and completely inappropriate music for the setting (indie pop, EDM and several others) just give it an overall sense of fun… this is not a game that wants you to take it seriously and that’s actually pretty refreshing these days. That’s not to see its not a serious game, it has an intriguing customisation system and good level of challenge, if anything the learning curve is a little on the steep side.

The PC version even lets you plug in a dance mat and do it properly, in fact it lets you plug in 4 dance mats and really create some insanity with your friends. Technically it supports new tracks as well although you have to provide your own DDR files to use with it, great if you want to play some classic BeMani tracks but unless someone has made a file for your favourite jam it would be a lot of effort to get it in there. The console version is less full featured but you can use a guitar hero controller.

Crypt of Necrodancer (PC/iOS/PS4/PSvita)

If you can make a dancing based action RPG, the why not a roguelike? Crypt of the Necrodancer makes you delve into randomly generated dungeons that you explore in time to the beat. You build up a combo by moving, attacking or otherwise interacting with the world on each beat, miss a beat and its back to 0. This gives a real energy to a genre where traditionally the turn based gameplay lets players go entirely at their own pace.

As the dungeons are randomly generated and you choose your own route, there is not the link between a tracks progression and the level progression that you might find in some of these other games. The music acts more like a metronome but by making you stay in time you do still feel like you’re involved with the track that you’re playing. It also supports using your own music but I’m not sure if I’d recommended doing so, hit one of the speed up/speed down pickups (like I did at 1:30 above) and you may not enjoy hearing that effect happen to your favourite track. Original soundtrack or your own though, it is certainly a good laugh to play.

There you go, 11 creative, unusual and different music games… solid proof (if needed) that there really is more to the genre than Guitar Hero 😉




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