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The 20 greatest rhythm games we've ever played

Because gaming isn't all about guns n cars

The 20 greatest rhythm games we've ever played

By Jack Yarwood

Admit it - you love a good rhythm game. You went mad for them as a kid, and their absence from your week has made your life considerably duller.

The rhythm genre is absolutely stacked with fantastic games; from guitar shredders to body poppers, they hold the power to unite a room; they’re some of the most engaging games to play locally with your friends, and also pack a significant challenge on single-player.

But which rhythm games are the best of the bunch? These are. 

Guitar Hero

Guitar Hero brought the rhythm game genre to dizzying new heights when it was first released in Europe back in 2006.

Becoming the party game of choice, it was celebrated for its impressive library of songs, gradual learning curve, and great guitar peripheral. It also spawned multiple sequels and proved that rhythm games could be financially success.

If it wasn’t for Guitar Hero, it’s likely many of the more recent games on this list simply wouldn’t exist. 


Perhaps the most ingenious game to ever grace the PlayStation, Vib-Ribbon permitted players to use their own music to play along to by inserting a CD into the disk drive.

Your choice of music would be responsible for changing the landscape of the game, giving you new obstacles to overcome with the lead character, a female rabbit called Vibri.

Remarkably clever, it’s one on a small list of games that have been displayed in New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

Parappa the Rapper

Creative, strange, stylish, Parappa the Rapper charmed players when it was first released on PlayStation back in 1997.

Playing as Parappa, a love-struck rapping dog, it has players practicing kung fu with an onion, applying for a driving license, and selling items at a flea market, with success contingent on their ability to rap. It’s exactly as odd and as wonderful as it sounds. 

Dance Dance Revolution

A fixture of any respectable arcade establishment, Dance Dance Revolution introduced many to the concept of rhythm games.

Played out on a dance mat or on an illuminated stage containing directional buttons, the goal is to stamp on the arrows corresponding to those that appear on screen in front of you. It's hard work, but should you master the basics you'll become the envy of your mates. Well, the ones who weren't laughing at you.

Amplitude (2003)

Before Guitar Hero, Harmonix worked on another well-received rhythm game called Amplitude. In the game, you took control of a ship known as the “Beat Blaster” moving along a path with six separate lanes all representing different instruments.

Difficult and effortlessly cool, the game established many of the design tenets that would later go on to make Guitar Hero a hit with players.  

Elite Beat Agents

The Nintendo DS had its fair share of great rhythm games, with Elite Beat Agents being one that’s worthy of this designation.

In the game, you play as members of a fictional government agency named the Elite Beat Agents, whose job it is to assist people in times of need. Genius, right?

Along the way, you’ll find yourself helping bankrupt oil barons, disgraced baseball players, and love-struck babysitters. This is achieved by tapping the numbered icons on the DS screen in time to the beat. It’s weird, inventive, and frequently hilarious.

Rhythm Paradise

Another fantastic rhythm title for the Nintendo DS, Rhythm Paradise shares Elite Beat Agents' preoccupation with the bizarre. However, this time around you’re tasked with mastering a collection of mini-games.

These require you to possess excellent timing and dexterity, and include games centred on table tennis, space soccer, and synchronized swimming. 

Beat Sneak Bandit

Simogo’s rhythm and stealth hybrid Beat Sneak Bandit puts you in the role of a bandit trying to recover the world’s clocks from the villain Duke Clockface’s mansion. Success in this endeavour entails careful planning, to avoid the mansion’s many security devices, and a good sense of rhythm, as you can only move on the beat. It’s a refreshing take on a genre often marred by a lack of new ideas. 

Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call

The sequel to the 2012 game Theatrhythm (you know the one), Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call for the Nintendo 3DS is a remarkable title that gives you the opportunity to revisit the soundtracks for the Final Fantasy games inside one game.

The goal is to assemble a party of past Final Fantasy heroes in order to play through different songs from the series’ history. It's better than it sounds, honest. But that’s not all. You can also level up your team, go on quests, and fight other players. This sets it apart from other games in the rhythm genre, giving it plenty of depth.

DJ Hero

Hitting the market in 2009, when interest in the rhythm genre had started to wane, DJ Hero sold disappointingly for Activision, despite receiving strong reviews from the media.

Nevertheless, those who have played it can attest to its brilliance, with the unanimous highlight being its spectacular playlists that feature the likes of the Beastie Boys, Grandmaster Flash, and 2Pac.

Rock Band

Following the release of Guitar Hero and Guitar Hero 2, the developer of the Guitar Hero games Harmonix and their distributer RedOctane parted company. This led to Harmonix creating a new rhythm-based franchise entitled Rock Band, which expanded upon the Guitar Hero formula by adding both drums and vocals.

The resulting game encouraged players to develop their skills alongside a bunch of friends, making it a more intimate experience than other rhythm games that had come before. 


One recurring criticism of both the Guitar Hero and Rock Band games was that they couldn’t actually teach you how to play guitar.

Seeing an opportunity to capitalize on this, developer and publisher Ubisoft set out to build its own rhythm game that could do just that. It would be called Rocksmith, giving players the chance to plug in their own guitars to play along with a rhythm game format.

The idea was that any progression you made inside of the game would automatically be transferred into skills that were applicable outside of it. This made Rocksmith one of the few games to realize the educational potential of the genre.

Donkey Konga

Have you ever wanted to play Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now on a plastic set of bongos? If you answered no, then you’re lying.

Donkey Konga for the Gamecube let players slam and clap their way through over 30 classic songs, including video game tracks and classic rock staples.

Fun and infectious, it was radically different from what many people expected a Donkey Kong game to be, but that didn’t stop it from winning them over with its responsive controls and entertaining mini-games.

Samba De Amigo

Anyone that owned a Dreamcast can tell you that it was a hub for weird Japanese games. One title to fit this description was the colourful rhythm game Samba De Amigo, created by Sonic Team and published by Sega.

Containing primarily Latin music, the game was played with a controller shaped like maracas. It was vibrant, silly, and brimming with charisma. 

Bust A Groove

Bust A Groove was a deliriously fun rhythm game that was available for the original PlayStation, and developed by Metro Graphics.

It might not have aged that gracefully in terms of its visuals, with its early 3D models appearing out-dated, but it still makes for an incredibly amusing game to pick up and play. 

Dance Central 3

There’s loads of dancing games out there, with a fair few of them being underwhelming and unworthy of your time. Dance Central 3, on the other hand, is a genuinely well crafted title, offering you some of the biggest chart hits of the last few decades to dance your way through in a convoluted plot about time travel.

Whether you’re just messing about with friends or are actually interested in learning how to dance, it’s the perfect game to get you moving.


Incredibly moving and with a beautiful overall art style, Deemo focuses on the plight of a mysterious figure who’s helping a girl to return home by growing a tree out of his piano.

This might seem like an unusual premise, but trust me it’s expertly executed and may even cause you to shed a tear or two. 


Obviously drawing influence from Harmonix’s Amplitude and the Dreamcast title Rez, Audiosurf puts the player in a vehicle travelling along a multi-lane highway, with the environment and obstacles determined by the user’s choice of music.

It’s fast, thrilling, and requires immaculate reflexes in order to be conquered. 

Crypt of the NecroDancer

Mixing genres doesn’t always pay off, but when it does it can be astonishing to see. Crypt of the NecroDancer is a testament to this.

It combines rogue-like dungeon exploration with rhythm elements, and requires a tactical outlook from the player. This makes it a pleasant change from more mainstream rhythm crowd.


Available on the PlayStation Portable, Patapon is a music game where you lead a tribe of warriors by inputting different button combinations. These combinations have different effects, causing the warriors to attack, defend, advance, and more.

Surprisingly charming, if you own a PlayStation portable and don’t already have a copy, you should definitely think about tracking it down. You won’t regret it.