It came out of nowhere, shocking us. Thrilling us. Uniting us. And the idea took off like wildfire, dominating the industry, firmly implanting itself into the pop culture subconscious. It burned brightly, breathing new life into the video game industry like no one had seen before, forging an alliance between the two warring camps of Casual and Hardcore gamers. But its star burned too fast, and companies tried too hard to milk its seemingly neverending teat, until nothing new could be drawn from it. And now, the beast is dying.
I speak of course, of the music/rhythm game genre.
The genre is not dead, but at this point it may as well be. What started in Japan with Dance Dance Revolution and Gitaroo Man exploded in the US with the release of a little game with a cheesy plastic instrument, Guitar Hero. With Guitar Hero II, the genre found enormous success in college dorms, and then spread into homes across the country. It was a bit pricey, but it was unlike any video game we'd played at home.
The company that had created Guitar Hero split. Some stayed to make Guitar Hero III, while others created Rock Band. Rock Band upped the ante by adding not only guitars, but a drum kit and a microphone, as well as four-player co-op. You could gather your friends and start an actual BAND. The consequences would never be the same. Guitar Hero followed suit with World Tour, introducing their own drums and mic. In retrospect, this could be considered the high point of the genre...sadly it was all downhill from there. We just didn't see it at the time.
I put the blame squarely at Guitar Hero's feet, honestly. They churned out sequels and spinoffs every three months. World Tour was already the fourth game. We also got Guitar Hero 5, Guitar Hero Aerosmith, Van Halen, and Metallica. Guitar Hero Rocks The 80s. Warriors Of Rock. Then came Band Hero, which...no one's really sure why. And then the disastrous DJ Hero, which stores couldn't get rid of to save their lives. I worked for Best Buy when it was released; no matter how much we dropped the price on DJ Hero, we couldn't move them. We had piles and piles of them. Now you can find the Special Edition, which comes with two DJ decks instead of just one, for $19.99 at Big Lots or any kind of overstock store. It oversaturated the market, and people stopped caring.
Rock Band played it smart, for the most part. They released Rock Band 2, which was pretty much perfection in every way for the genre. They tried their hand at band-centric kits, with Rock Band: The Beatles and Rock Band: Green Day (which nobody understood). Then there was Lego Rock Band, but we kind of ignore that one. For the most part, however, they just kept adding DLC to their online market. Honestly, that's all anyone wanted anyway: more music. The Rock Band catalog online was 3-4 times the size of Guitar Hero's. It was far more convenient to buy the songs you wanted for $2 a pop rather than shell out $150 for a whole new game that had 60 new songs, only about 20 of which you actually liked.
Rock Band dealt the final blow, really. In Oct 2010, they released Rock Band 3. It added a whole new instrument to the repertoire; a keyboard. People were excited, until they got their hands on the small, boxy, uncomfortable little device. And millions of Rock Band 2 fans were a little insulted that from that moment on, all new DLC songs would only be compatible with Rock Band 3. Rock Band 3 wasn't bad, necessarily. Critics absolutely adored it, and it shows that Harmonix listened to their fans' feedback. Most of the new features were geared toward the hardcore players, and the genuine musicians. Unfortunately, it tried too hard to tinker with perfection, and crammed far too much in for the average casual Rock Band player. The new career mode was a bit confusing, and band customization had been seriously limited. Rather than being slightly cartoonish yet fairly realistic, the new character customizations looked over-the-top and silly, much more like Guitar Hero's signature style. The game really split the fans in half.
That was a year and a half ago, and while Rock Band continues to put out great new DLC into their stores, they have focused more on their new rhythm game, Dance Central. Activision has officially put the final nail in the coffin of Guitar Hero, stating that they were halting all production of the series. The market was flooded, and then ran dry quickly thereafter.
I write this more as a dirge and a retrospective, not as any kind of plea. It's obvious why the genre collapsed. It can't be stopped. There's nothing left to do with it. What further innovations could really be made, at this point? I think my only regret is that the genre had the potential to have a much longer lifespan, but rather than draw it out slowly, the companies that produced the game tried far too hard to get it all RIGHT NOW. It is the end of a brief yet powerful era in video game history, and I am simply mourning its loss.
Sure as hell enjoyed that ride, though.