There’s something endlessly appealing about tapping buttons or busting out dance moves to a catchy song or phat beat. Throughout the years and decades, various games have taken advantage of this very primal desire to move that body and feel the rhythm.
This is part of the reason why this genre of video games has such a wide appeal. People from all walks of life – even those who may have never picked up a controller – have found themselves rocking a plastic guitar or hopping around a dance pad.
Despite the rhythm, dance, and music craze somewhat fizzling out lately, thanks to the decline of megahits Guitar Hero and DDR, this genre will always endure with their intuitive, addictive gameplay. Even with the lull in these types of games, there are a plethora of music titles to choose from.
So let’s hit tap our feet and hit that dance floor as we break down some of the best rhythm and dance games ever made.
Updated January 15th, 2021 by Stephen LaGioia: After a fairly “stagnant” 2020, gamers and non-gamers alike are looking to get active; and perhaps meet some new year’s resolutions by breaking a sweat. Given these factors, and the release of some solid new titles, it seems appropriate to update this list with even more enjoyable dancing, music, and rhythm games that offer a fun way to get moving.
15 Dance Central 2
Following the success of Guitar Hero and the motion-centric Wii, it seemed almost inevitable that a dance title for Microsoft’s then-new motion camera peripheral would be released. And who better to release it than GH’s own developer, Harmonix?
2011’s Dance Central 2 managed to smooth out some of the rough edges and scantness of its predecessor – featuring more solid motion controls, more songs, and the welcome addition of a (true) multiplayer mode.
14 Rez Infinite
Much like another recent hit by Monstars Inc. and Reonair, Tetris Effect, Rez Infinite takes players on an exhilarating ride with its smooth blend of music and action-packed gameplay.
Players will fly through abstract, polygonal environments while aiming and shooting projectiles, either with a joystick or head turns via VR headset. The bombardment of action, vibrant, retro-future visuals, and thumping techno music contributes to a journey that’s both exciting and hypnotic.
Yes, those who fancied playing amateur DJ in their bedroom can now live out their fantasies in the virtual realm.
With this enjoyable rhythm romp, Harmonix proves they still have some music magic left after all these years. 2020’s Fuser has players take on the exhilarating role of a DJ, who’s job is to raise the roof and provide the remixed soundtracks to concerts of thousands.
You’ll be tasked with intermixing and swapping between various pre-selected tracks, which make up your fusion of on-the-fly medleys. Alterations like audio filters and instrument loops can also be tossed in for some personal flair and wrack up more points.
12 Rock Band 3
After getting in some playing time for a few years, Harmonix largely perfected their craft with what’s largely considered the peak of the Rock Band franchise. 2010’s Rock Band 3 rolls with the solid formula of its predecessors while amping up the content and fine-tuning certain areas.
A fleshed-out career mode is added, along with three-part vocal harmonies, and a detailed “Pro” Mode – meant to simulate the playing of real instruments. The welcome addition of a keyboard adds some variety and color to the mix.
A whopping 83 songs are available, which span from classics like Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” to more recent hits like The White Stripes’ “The Hardest Button to Button.”
11 Donkey Konga
Rhythm and dance games are known for their weird accessories, which help to augment the experience and act as a tool to help break it down. But unlike a typical dance pad or plastic guitar, Nintendo managed to push boundaries with its pair of plastic bongo drums.
While there were a few other obscure games that used this peripheral – even a Donkey Kong platformer – the Donkey Konga games were the main focus, and it worked marvelously.
The game managed to simplify the idea of the rhythm game by boiling down the inputs to only a handful of commands – hit the left, right, or both bongos to the rhythmic cues, and throw in a clap every now and then. The premise is basic but delightfully appealing, and the setlist offers a diverse lineup of enjoyable tunes. These range from various kids songs to Nintendo hits like the Pokemon Theme to Blink 182.
10 Parappa The Rapper
Younger gamers might only recognize this quirky PlayStation game from a cheeky Robot Chicken spoof. Yet, back in the ’90s, this was one of the go-to rhythm-based hits for those who didn’t want to work up a sweat in DDR.
The game contains some cute cell-shaded graphics and a simple-but-engaging narrative about a dog who wants to become a rapper – because why not? During the rapping romps, the player will train with “Master Onion” and face off against a diverse array of opponents which include a chicken man.
It’ll be tough to hold back a smile as you rap your way through some crazy scenarios and rattle off cheesy lines. Though the actual mechanics boil down to hitting the right buttons at the right time, the presentation is uniquely enjoyable and the gameplay is appealing.
9 Just Dance 2020
Whether one is waggling with the Wii remote, or dancing with the Kinect’s full-body motion sensor, the Just Dance series by Ubisoft has proven a fun way to get fit and get dancing. Considering the series has become the gaming equivalent of “Now That’s What I Call Music,” cranking out release after release, pinpointing a definitive “best” is an exercise in futility.
Still, this 2020 rendition certainly stands as a high watermark in the series, proving this established franchise still has some moves left.
The game features a robust setlist ranging from Panic! at the Disco’s “High Hopes” to Skrillex’s “Bangarang.” This is enhanced by some lively, vibrant backgrounds, improved controls, fun new modes, and plenty of unlockables. It also has the distinction of being the final Wii game ever released.
8 Elite Beat Agents
The Nintendo DS would seem to be an ideal machine for creative rhythm-based games, given its unique ability to recognize touch input. iNiS’ Elite Beat Agents was certainly on a mission to prove this to be the case, and they’ve succeeded.
The game contains a laughably goofy premise, even by the standards of rhythm games, in which one must bust out dance moves to appease a trio of sharply-dressed agents. The player is prompted with a variety of inputs to tap, slide, and hold down with the stylus, which is decorated with some amusing cutscenes in the background.
The versatility of the touch screen adds an interesting dynamic that allows the game to break the shackles of the more straightforward rhythm games.
7 Space Channel 5
One of the few notable rhythm titles for Sega’s short-lived Dreamcast, Space Channel 5 makes a name for itself with its zany premise and unique sci-fi set designs. You take the role of a slender, sparsely dressed reporter named Ulala.
The mission? Dance your way to victory against an invading force of aliens who have forced Ulala and her fellow humans to dance the night away.
The game mixes rhythmic directional movements with button pushes, which must be hit in a sequence rattled off by the aliens. This trigger’s Ulala’s zapper to shoot (or “chu,” as the aliens cutely chirp) at these little guys each time the player taps a button. Despite – or perhaps partly because of the bizarre presentation – Space Channel 5 proves a fun little rhythmic romp.
6 Cadence Of Hyrule: Crypt Of The DecroDancer Featuring The Legend Of Zelda
This odd musical adventure blends the concept of Brace Yourself Games’ Crypt of the NecroDancer with Zelda themes and sensibilities. Cadence Of Hyrule contains the enriching atmosphere of Hyrule, which is further enhanced by some ear-candy remixes from gems like Ocarina Of Time.
The rhythmic-based gameplay – which translates to Link trekking along, slashing baddies and nabbing rupees – is simple, intuitive, and satisfying. Cadence melds action, time-based movement, and a tinge of tactical gameplay, making for a uniquely memorable journey.
5 Rhythm Heaven Fever
Nintendo’s Rhythm Heaven Fever reminds us that simplicity is often part of the draw of this genre. This charmingly cute and goofy rhythm game puts the player in a number of random rapid-fire scenarios that force them to peck the A and or B buttons on their Wii Remote to the varying rhythms.
The game lives up to its title – as gunning for perfect scores becomes feverishly addictive and intense once the player gets into the swing of things. This sequel to the breakout DS hit takes things up a notch, with a more robust, more inventive lineup of scenarios.
There are even competitive and co-op multiplayer missions, which include having to work in harmony with a friend as one navigates a rowboat through treacherous waters.
4 Guitar Hero 2
While the original Guitar Hero quickly gained a following with its appealing music gameplay, this refined and robust sequel really dialed up its popularity to “11.” Much is fine-tuned here, from the visuals to the interface and intuitive controls.
The fun, customizable multiplayer face-offs ensure you and your friends will be rocking out until the wee hours of the night.
While most of the tracks are covers, it’s tough to deny the immense appeal of the game’s setlist, which features some bigger names and more rocking tunes than its predecessor. Players can jam to everything from Pearl Jam and Primus to Black Sabbath and Megadeth; even the guys from the mockumentary Spinal Tap.
The PC and Steam service don’t get a ton of love when it comes to rhythm games, partly thanks to the accessories and multiplayer focus that lends itself to home consoles. Yet, Audiosurf shows that awesome rhythm-based games can and do exist for the computer as well.
The rhythmic elements of the game are fairly straightforward, yet appealing with the array of color-coordinated blocks flung at the player. The mechanics feel like a satisfying blend of Guitar Hero and F-Zero. Audiosurf’s strengths lie mainly in the hypnotically trippy visuals, enticing leaderboards, and the cool ability to insert their own songs into the game.
2 Guitar Hero 3: Legends Of Rock
Though its time in the spotlight has largely ended, the Guitar Hero series was once synonymous with music-based games. And there was a good reason for this, as the games – with their fun and intuitive plastic guitar peripherals – made for endlessly enjoyable multiplayer escapades.
The breadth and strength of the tracklist in this 3rd game really puts it over the top. Not only is the diversity of material better than ever, but most of the tracks are the real renditions rather than the more tepid covers of its predecessors.
Even the campaign mode is more fleshed-out, with unique scenarios as well as epic boss face-offs.
1 Dance Dance Revolution
The famed Dance Dance Revolution has become a sort of timeless activity to engage in when visiting the local arcade – and for good reason. Its exciting and interactive nature makes it more of an experience than a mere game.
While Konami has cranked out a number of renditions over the years – which even included a Mario version – the original arcade and PS1 hits were never quite matched. The adrenaline-pumping J-Pop tracks are bangin’, the controls are solid, and the multiplayer features make for a great time.
NEXT: 10 Best Music And Rhythm Games On Switch (According To Metacritic)
- Guitar Hero
Stephen is an avid Nintendo, Indie, and retro gamer who dabbles in Xbox on occasion, mainly in the form of binge sessions of Overwatch. He’s a history buff, an aspiring writer of short fiction, and a devout metalhead who enjoys poorly drumming along to Black Sabbath on his cheap drum set. When his beloved Chicago Cubs or Bulls are not playing, he typically likes to watch random documentaries or campy horror films.
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