Post-apocalyptic first person shooter this, randomly generated 3D alien planets that, do video games really need all this modern flash to hit us in the heart? Let me start getting where I’m going with this rant by bringing up rhythm games. Most people are familiar with at least one rhythm game, be it good old Dance Dance Revolution, Guitar Hero, or more modern entries into the genre like Beat Saber or Audiosurf. Rhythm games are pretty simple concepts, music plays, and you hit the buttons to the beat. You get combos and the patterns get harder and faster and mix the inputs you need to press on time with the song. Muscle memory, practice, high score. Some say they’re absentminded and have no real heart, but I’d argue that some hidden masterpieces in the video game design world fall in the rhythm game category, and they don’t really need to be complex visually at all.
The game I’m (mostly) referring to? Vib-Ribbon, the 1999 Playstation rhythm game developed by Nana-OnSha and published by Sony Computer Entertainment. This game has a simple but unique black-and-white line art style, and is a 2D journey across a thin-line, while Vibri, the rabbit main character, is challenged to overcome obstacles generated by the song playing. The game also had a very unique feature that set it way ahead of its time - players could insert CDs with whatever songs they wanted, and the game would generate levels based on the music. I assume a lot of people have not heard of it considering how long ago it was released, and that it was only originally released in Japan and Europe, but it did captivate crowds with nothing but a short clip of gameplay on the giant screens of E3 2014. This was something that unintentionally angered fans, as they saw the 15 year old masterpiece that was Vib-Ribbon on the screens and expected an announcement of an American release, or at least something pertaining to it. Instead, Shawn Layden, the brand new president and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment America and the man responsible for referencing Vib-Ribbon in front of the E3 crowd, continued on to introduce the worldwide premiere of gameplay footage for… Mortal Kombat X? Oof. (no offense to Mortal Kombat fans)
So, Twitter exploded twice that night, once in excitement at the mention of Vib-Ribbon, a game that was a cult classic, but was never so much as mentioned in fifteen years of Playstation Press conferences. The second explosion was in anger, at the fact that the conversation was rerouted to a game that the crowds didn’t expect to hear about after they had gotten their hopes up. Layden could not believe the internet outcry that immediately followed, and it took him until that moment to even realize that Sony Computer Entertainment America had never actually released Vib-Ribbon. The reason for this was a combination of Sony Computer Entertainment America (SCEA) thinking the graphics were unique but not technologically impressive, and that games with 2D sprites instead of 3D polygons had no market, and therefore there was no point in localizing it from its original Japanese.
Layden, with his newfound power as the president of SCEA, got things into motion to release Vib-Ribbon in America. A few months after E3 in the summer of 2014, he hinted toward the new release by wearing a Vib-Ribbon T-shirt while doing the then-viral ALS ice bucket challenge. Toward the end of that summer, Vib-Ribbon was officially released to the American crowds, just 15 short years after the initial release.
Now that I’ve introduced Vib-Ribbon and why it’s so unique as a pioneer of the rhythm game genre - you might ask, why are rhythm games special? What makes them worth playing over any other genre of game on the market, especially the ones with flashy graphics? I would say to you that first of all, rhythm games offer cognitive benefits. Like other types of video games, rhythm games can improve players’ hand-eye coordination and motor skills, although tapping and moving to the beats of music can make it seem more enjoyable than without music, and can improve a player’s musical timing for playing instruments and even for just keeping a beat. Rapid decision making like for the ones made in rhythm games enhances reflexes and quick-thinking skills, and challenges players to memorize complex patterns, which leads to memory enhancement and better spatial awareness. A study published in a journal entitled, “Psychomusicology: Music, Mind, and Brain” revealed that regular players of rhythm games actually demonstrated increased attention spans, improved concentration and better problem-solving skills.
While some rhythm games only require the tapping of fingers or pressing of buttons, some, especially more modern virtual reality games like Beat Saber, can be fantastic ways to make exercise fun. My middle school gym class had entire class periods where we’d just play Dance Dance Revolution as a way to keep us fit. The last time I tried a similar game as a pretty out-of-shape adult, I was out of breath and wheezing by the end of one song. For those who play these games regularly, instead of a once-every-few-months disheartening reminder of my lack of endurance, these fun workouts improve cardiovascular health, flexibility, stamina, and eventually, self-esteem. Music by itself is known to release and express emotions and reduce stress, but paired with an interactive game, these benefits can be multiplied. Players can get fully immersed in the world of upbeat music, fun graphics and matching animations and escape temporarily from everyday stressors.
Vib-Ribbon has a simple art style, but that makes its unique design stand out more so than in a fully 3D game. 2D games are quicker to build and cheaper to make for game companies, and can completely embrace creative designs and themes (i.e. Cuphead, Skullgirls). 2D games also have lower software and hardware requirements and are therefore more compatible and perform better with various devices. And finally, to get off my soapbox and conclude, Vib-Ribbon is an absolute masterpiece and pioneer of the rhythm game genre, and is now available in America for various versions of the Playstation. Go get it and try it out if you fancy, and make Shawn Laydens efforts to please the rabid internet Vib-Ribbon fans worth it.
Kohler, C. (2014, November 18). How Sony’s blunder revived Vib-Ribbon, a long-lost classic. Wired. https://www.wired.com/2014/11/shawn-layden-vib-ribbon-playstation-4/
Wikia, C. to V.-R. (n.d.). Vib-Ribbon. Fandom.com. https://vibribbon.fandom.com/wiki/Vib-Ribbon
Are rhythm games good for you?: STL Rock School. STL Rock School - St. Louis Area - Olivette, MO. (n.d.). https://www.stlrockschool.com/are-rhythm-games-good-for-you/#:~:text=Even%20games%20that%20don%27t,and%20hand%2Deye%20coordination%20too.