Saturday, 28 February 2015

SPECIAL: Music-themed games!

It seems like such a long time ago already, when I made a comparison of Rock Star Ate My Hamster - one of the best known music management games. So I got around thinking, it's about time that I should take a dive into the deep end of this corner of gaming, and take a quicker look at a bunch of other music-based games. Since there wouldn't be much sense in making this into a Unique Games entry, because there aren't that many either unique or exclusive music-themed games around, we're going to have a look at all the music-themed games that I can find within a reasonable time limit, regardless of their platform and style. Whether the games are management simulators, arcade games, action games or whatever, they will be covered here. Without a doubt, some of them will be left out, because my patience for doing research has some limits, but at least most of the games somehow connected to music from before the age of Guitar Hero and Rock Band games will be featured. If you have any more suggestions for this list, please leave a comment at the bottom of the page. (EDIT: The suggested new additions will be added to the bottom of the list in the order they are given.)


Top Of The Pops
(Sophisticated Games, 1983, C64)

Most of the games in this entry will be heavily text-based, because that is the nature of old manager games. Arguably the oldest game I could find for this lot was this, a very basic management game with the title taken from the famous long-running British music chart television programme, which ran from 1964 to 2006.

Screenshots from Top of the Pops (C64).

Your only job is to release an album by a band or an artist, both of which can be named by the player, and give the release a budget from three choices. The more money you put into the release, the more likely the album will be successful, although it might take some time to do so. Every week, you have the option to release a new album, although logic defies anyone's ability to do such a thing. Top of the Pops doesn't offer any sort of prolonged gameplay value, and the whole game can be experienced pretty much within the first three minutes. Not very recommendable, but it's a place to start.


It's Only Rock 'n' Roll
(K-Tel Productions, 1983 SPE , 1984 C64/COL)

Along with Rock Star Ate My Hamster, this one has long been my favourite rock band management game, and for a good reason. You start by naming your group and selecting your difficulty level, then move on to do what's it all about - making music and touring. Being a songwriter myself, it's fun to see your virtual rock star "get inspired" before randomly generating nonsense pop lyrics, after which the game rates your song with points out of ten. If you're not happy enough with the song, you can sell it for a price of £100 per rating point.

Screenshots from the ZX Spectrum version of It's Only Rock 'n' Roll.

To get anywhere in the game, you're going to need a manager, all of which are lacking in trustworthiness, but that's how it always goes, right? Without a manager, you can't get a loan, which you will need in order go touring, because touring requires a lot of money, and you have next to nothing in the beginning. Also, you can't get financing from a potential record company that you manage to get a deal with, unless you are popular enough. As always, there are randomizing factors in the game, that will occasionally make you want to eat your hair, but that just goes to show that music business is never as easy as it sounds.

Screenshots from the Commodore 64 version of It's Only Rock 'n' Roll.

This game might have deserved its own proper comparison entry, but management games (at least to me) are always so boring to read or write about, so I'll make it quick here. The playability is fairly similar in all three versions - it's mostly a menu-driven game so wherever you need to write anything, the COLECO version feels awkward, due to having no keyboard. Also, in the Coleco version, you already have a manager from the start, so you have no choice there, and you can't tour in Japan, like in the other two versions. The only thing affecting the gameplay fluency is the little bits of music that take time from the game to proceed, and the calculations the processor needs to make for generating good lyrics and all the other random things.

Screenshots from the Colecovision version of It's Only Rock 'n' Roll.

Since it's only about rock 'n' roll, one would hope that the game's soundtrack would reflect the genre even a little bit. On the COLECO and C64, you only get random bits of similar bleepy melodies, which remind you of nothing. On the SPECTRUM at least, you can hear a short bleepy version of Deep Purple's "Black Night", but the rest of it is pretty much the same as it is elsewhere. The basic
graphics are also otherwise quite flashy on the Spectrum, while the other two versions shine more in the performance highlights animations. All things considered, it's a fairly balanced threesome, but I would suggest you go with either C64 or Spectrum version.


(Sunrise Software, 1983, COL/C64)

Screenshots from the Commodore 64
version of Rolloverture.
Our first non-managering game takes the form of a strange notation-based platformer. You control the little hat-creature called Triple-T (how appropriate), whose mission is to control some levers and buttons in order to open passages for the rolling ball coming from the top of the screen, whose mission in life is to bring musical markings onto the notation lines.

It certainly offers an interesting deviation from the norm where music-based games are concerned, but it's also such a tricky one to get your head around, that most gamers will probably steer clear off of it having tried it once. Perhaps it's a musicians' game at heart, but it's also one that might require thorough reading of the manual before you can understand what to actually do. Although it's a bit more difficult to get hold of than your usual Hit Squad game, happily there's a cracked C64 version around, equipped with a digital manual within. Recommended with a bit of caution.


The Biz
(Virgin Games, 1984, SPE)

In the early 80's, Virgin Games was mostly known for its shooters and arcade-adventures such as Falcon Patrol and Sorcery. On the Spectrum, though, the company was known for releasing lots of curious little text-based games, one of the better-regarded ones being The Biz, a music group management simulator.

The game certainly tries its hardest at living up to its name - the attempt to encompass as many sides of the music business as possible is a commendable one, even if a text-based game can only go so far in perfecting the experience. The thing is, The Biz handles just about the area of the business which It's Only Rock 'n' Roll leaves out, but fails to deliver any of the fun side of it. In essence, it's just a bit too realistically conceived idea of a business that most naturally thrives in the unrealistic. If that didn't make sense, here's a brief walkthrough of the game's actions.

Screenshots from The Biz (Spectrum).

First, you need to make yourself a person with a name, location, age, marital status and even a class status. Then, name a couple of "friends" which the game can use later on. Then name your band and the genre you're about to represent, and finally the year in which you wish to start your game. All of this form-filling takes about two minutes to finish, and then the game can actually begin. Already at this point, you would be made well aware of the horrible quality of the game's sounds, which don't really go well together with the game's context. Anyway, doing anything in the main menu will make a long sound effect and randomly allow you to proceed in the game in some way. Anything in the top half of the menu will cost you some money, once you actually get to making anything, and if you want to rehearse or do some gigs, you will need to phone your agent and start off the next week. It's all rather tedious in comparison to most of the other music management games, but it offers a fairly realistic view of things, which is rare in this genre.


Chart Topper
(ZX Computing, 1985, SPE)

Screenshots from Chart Topper (Spectrum)

It just doesn't get much more basic than this. Well, it does - Top of the Pops is a bit more basic in its options, but this one is probably even more basic in execution. Once again, you're the manager of a group you will be naming at the start of the game, and your job is to get the group a successful career, which might be more difficult than it would first appear.

Every week comes in two phases - office work phase and field work phase. On Mondays, you get to deal with advertising and hunting for a recording contract or planning a record release. Here, you can also save the current game on a tape, if you feel like doing so. Tuesday is always a Chart Day, so you will be able to do nothing but to see the charts. On Wednesdays, you get to book a recording studio, a concert hall, a pub/club hall or a holiday, or show the list of all your bookings, if you can't remember everything by heart. The rest of each week gets used for different sorts of gigs and recordings etc. It's an interesting, if a very basic take on the subject, and worth a look, if you're bored with all the other music management games.


(VIFI International, 1986, C64)

This little curiosity is a very curious piece of work indeed. You play as the lovesick silhouette of a French troubadour, playing a set of songs for the fair maiden on the balcony. The idea is, apparently, to successfully woo the lady, but so far I have not managed to get a single song out from any of the four choosable instruments.

Screenshots from Serenade (C64).

I have managed to get to a screen where you can choose a tune to play, but after that, it's all mystery to me. An interesting idea, certainly, but it's made to feel more like a demo than anything else, and it seems to have no playability whatsoever. It doesn't really help that the game is entirely in French, unless you speak French, of course.


(R&R Software, 1986, SPE)

Screenshots from Starmaker (Spectrum).

As boring as it's starting to sound, here's another music management game. At least it's a more graphics based one this time, but I can't say it's any more entertaining than The Biz, for example. There's little in the way of joke value that It's Only Rock 'n' Roll and Rockstar Ate My Hamster offers, but there are still the same possibilities of getting bad deals and sudden bankrupcies as in any other management game. At least there's more of musical beeping than in, say, Chart Topper or The Biz, so it's closer to being thematically correct.


Rik the Roadie
(Alternative Software, 1988, SPE/C64/CPC/BBC)

Here's another one I could well make a full comparison entry of, but I shall not, because it is such an unbelievably bad excuse for a game. The only thing I can say in its defense is, that it's very likely the only game I know of, in which you play as a roadie. In too many ways, it feels like too many other games from Alternative Software, but I realized there's another quite curious point of comparison to this game - A'n'F Software's Wibstars. Both of them have an arcade-action sort of take on a part of business you would normally not consider being an integral bit, although it certainly is.

Screenshots from the ZX Spectrum version of Rik the Roadie.

Unfortunately, it doesn't really bring out the essence of being a roadie as well as one would wish to, not even as well as Wibstars did to game distribution. What it has done, though, is got me thinking about how to make a good game about being a roadie, but alas, I'm not a programmer. But at least this game is played in three very different parts, which is a good start.

Screenshots from the Amstrad CPC version of Rik the Roadie.

In the first bit, you need to drive an endless motorway and zig-zag between other cars in high speeds to get the band's equipment to the venue in time. The level is basically just an avoid-em-up, but to think that you would need to complete 200 miles within 6 minutes in real life is a bit unrealistic, don't you think? Then again, it's even more unrealistic that if you manage to complete the section with no collisions whatsoever, you will have 4 minutes to spare at the end of it.

Screenshots from the Commodore 64 version of Rik the Roadie.

Next, you need to carry all the heavy equipment all by yourself inside the venue. This one is a furious joystick waggler, which is able to break your equipment. The final level requires you to adjust the volume levels, so instead of just being a roadie, you're also required to dabble with the mixing table as well. If only mixing an actual live show would be so easy.

Screenshots from the Acorn BBC Micro version of Rik the Roadie.

I have spoken at length with some of my musician friends about how would a proper musician simulator play like, if you would take all the more banal aspects of it into the game. Even if you only consider a roadie simulator, Rik the Roadie would be far from fulfilling the requirements, and you get no fun factor of any kind with this one, unless you have a bad game fetish or something. If you want to have a good go at a roadie simulator, try these games in a sequence: Tetris, Hard Truck, It's A Knockout!, Rock Band, Bozo's Night Out, Deja Vu. Or go to a proper school for roadies. Avoid this, unless you think you are paying some sort of respect for the late Rik Mayall, which would be stretching it quite a bit. If you really, REALLY want to experience the game at its most playable, I'd suggest you go with the BBC Micro version, which, apart from the most difficult level 1, still is on the whole the least worst. The Amstrad is the worst, and the other two fall nicely between.


(Wizard Games, 1989, DOS)

Again, we have a music management game on our hands here, but happily this time, it's got some humour in it, as well as some fantastically trippy ASCII art. Sadly, it's the only properly known game from a rather interesting developer team, who would hone their talents of creating management games with soccer managers, which is an even more overused concept in the manager games genre. The only non-management game Wizard Games ever released was a rather trippy maze-action game called Amaze, later re-released as Insanity.

Screenshots from Rockstar! (DOS).

Rockstar! follows your rockstar alter ego in a world of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll to such an extent that no other management game has ever or since done before. You do get to do the regular management business while at it, but keeping your rockstar alive and well is something that you haven't had to focus on in any other music management game. Of course, like in every other music management game, you start from the dregs and gradually move up, recording and releasing new singles and albums, while touring the UK, Europe and North America. Although you can - and will - indulge in the usual pleasures of a rockstar, becoming a proper megastar requires some actual work from you, and death will await you at every turn. It's one of the better manager games out there, and it's almost a pity that it's only available for DOS compatibles.


Rock Star
(16/32 Diffusion, 1989, AMIGA/ST)

Boy, these rockstar management games sure have imaginative names. This here is a French music management game, and from the little I got myself to try it out, it seemed entirely mouse-driven. But it's entirely in French as well, so I couldn't understand much of it, and it takes 4 entire floppy disks, so it's a painfully slow game to play. From the little I managed to decipher of it, it's one of those management games that like to take themselves rather seriously, although I could be wrong here too. But I base this assumption on the fact that you can use the phone to ring such a vast cast of characters connected to the business, such as graphicians, agents, publicists etc. The beginning of the game seemed to somehow deal with making contracts and doing auditions, but I couldn't get anywhere in it.

Screenshots from Rock Star (Amiga).
Yes, it felt just as exciting as it looks here, even though I deliberately arranged the above collage to make it look even more boring than normal. Strangely enough, one of the leading Amiga databases, Hall of Light, was able to tell that the game is extremely rare and it's also available for the Atari ST, but there were no more screenshots at HOL than I was able to grab. Well, I took a look at the game's page at Atarimania, and unfortunately, the game is only available in French for the ST as well. However, if you want to have a closer look at this game, there are more screenshots available at Atarimania. I can't say it's one of the more particularly intriguing titles in the already overdone genre.


The Blues Brothers

Here's another game I could easily make a comparison of, but since it fits so nicely with the current theme, I shall make it relatively brief here. And to be honest, I'm not much of a fan of this game. Perhaps I expected too much of it originally, having been a big fan of the original movie as a kid - particularly the car chase bits. I sort of expected to see that sort of action in the game. However, it is fun to see cartoonized Jake and Elwood running around, collecting vinyl records and instruments while avoiding police officers and whatnot. It's a fairly simple platformer mixed strangely with the world of the Blues Brothers, and it's definitely worth a look, but just don't expect too much from it.

Screenshots from The Blues Brothers. Top row: Commodore Amiga.
Bottom row, left to right: Nintendo Game Boy, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, Nintendo Entertainment System.
The game plays something like Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers on the NES, and there's a bluesy soundtrack to go with all the action. You get to play as either Jake or Elwood, whose only weapon will be their ability to pick up items and throw them at their enemies. Collecting an unimaginative number of records will award you an extra energy heart, which equals one hit, and hearts can also be collected as themselves, but they are more seldomly found. Question marks (or boxes in some versions) will either give you some extra points or take them away, and sometimes you will be halted by a trap within the said items. The idea of the game is to collect a special item from each level so you'll be able to perform a big show after having completed the mission.

The only thing that makes The Blues Brothers slightly more interesting and gives it just an inch of depth more to it, is that you can go inside buildings and see if there's anything to collect in them - at least in its original form. For some reason, the Nintendo and Amstrad conversions dropped this element and added some completely new gameplay elements along with radically different level layouts. The game is easily the most enjoyable on the 16-bits, particularly on the Amiga, but it's not horribly bad on any platform. It's just a bit boring and mediocre, and doesn't offer enough elements from the movies for its fans to remain entertained further than the first level. For a better entertainment value with a band tie-in licence, you'd be better off with something like...


(Virgin Games, 1992, AMIGA/ST)

...this, for example. A game where you control a pixelated Lemmy Kilmister caricature, whose job is to walk around in non-rock territories and beat the crap out of every representative of every other style of music or derivated culture. What's not to like?

Screenshots from Motörhead (Amiga).

Brawler games like this would be the most natural to play on consoles with more than one button on their controllers, such as SNES or Sega Megadrive. On an Amiga or ST, a single-button joystick slightly brings the experience down a bit, although you can still have a good laugh at Lemmy stunning his enemies by burping on them, drinking beer or whiskey to get energy or do some of his other special moves. The bonus rounds are also a bit hilarious on their own right. To top this off, the game's music was done by none other than Ben Daglish! It's all good fun for a go or two, but by no means could it be considered a classic.


Music Biz
(Sleepwalker PD, 1993, CPC)

The only Amstrad-exclusive music-based title that I could find was this - surprisingly, yet another management game, but even more surprisingly, one that was released well into the 90's.

Screenshots from Music Biz (Amstrad).

Basically, Music Biz is nothing more than a Rock Star Ate My Hamster clone without the graphics, and with less stars to choose from and less actions to do. There is some music in it, though, which is a nice bonus compared to many other basic music management games, so it's definitely more recommendable than about 75% of all the other 8-bit music management games, and a good option for the Amstrad owners who have no intention of paying too much for a copy of the original this game is based upon.


Quest For Fame
(IBM/SCEI, 1995, WIN/PS1/MacOS/Arcade)

Screenshots from Quest For Fame (Windows).
This one's a bit difficult to talk about, since I have no way of playing this game with proper equipment, and have no desire to acquire the full original package. Quest For Fame is an early music simulation game where your controller is tailor-made for the game, and for very good reasons, it failed to have any greater success. Having a full Aerosmith soundtrack was initially a great inducement to play the game more, but the V-Pick controller was an utterly unusable device, which relied on the force of movement by the user's hand, and it didn't feel much like a real pick at all. I know this, because I tried to play it a few times in 1995 - one of my friends had it. Happily, you can still listen to Aerosmith without any connection to the game.

The idea was to play with the V-Pick to the given rhythms for each accompanied song, and the plot would take you from rags to riches, if successful. The finale would apparently take place at a stadium gig with Aerosmith. But at least the game proved its point - you couldn't play music without a proper instrument. Of course, later on we were given the plastic guitar controllers and drum controllers with games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band, which further proved the point that plastic instruments would only make plastic noises. Quest For Fame was the first one to utilise the idea of having an instrument-related controller, and if nothing else, it showed that some more thought had to be put into making a music-driven game, and more to the point, a playable one. Still, there's always more reward in actually learning to play a proper instrument properly.


Rockstar: Never Trust Rotten Tangerines
(Mirage, 1996, AMIGA)

One of the rare commercial games released so late in the life of the Amiga comes from a Polish publisher called Mirage. Unfortunately, like the earlier Rock Star from 16/32 Diffusion, this game is also only available in the developers' native language.

The title screen, which is as far as I got with it.

Apparently, the game starts at some sort of music school, where your musicians learn their trade - songwriting and all - and from there your road towards stardom begins. The game comes on 3 floppy disks, and seasoned googlers can find the game easily enough on the internet, but the score of 4 out of 10 at LemonAmiga doesn't really give much hope of it actually being much of worth the bother. Even less hopefully, the copy I came across only managed to load up as far as just past the intro sequence and onto a screen saying "Please insert volume disk 2 in any drive", after which nothing happened. Well, somehow, someone has gotten some more screenshots of the game for the Hall of Light archive, so click this link to see some in-game shots.


Chart Run + Metal Star
(B-Soft PD, 1995/96, C64)

A German diskmagazine called B-Soft released diskmags from 1991 to 1999, during which the disks would feature 40 basic games in total, most of them German text-based games. Two of these games I found to be music management games, so I clumped them together.

Screenshots from Chart Run (top row) and Metal Star (bottom row).

The first one is a more basic pop/rockband managing game called Chart Run, in which you need to create a proper band with optional extra musicians, and bring them success like in any other basic managing game, but this one is so basic you can't really do much else than decide after every turn, what sort of a combo you will manage for the duration of the current turn. There's not much to manage, really, so I can't recommend it at all. The latter one takes a more focused theme in the world of heavy metal bands, and gives you to pick the sub-genre and the personality of the band, as well as release an LP at the end of each turn and see how things turn out. Still very basic, but good for a laugh, if you speak any German at all.


Down By The Laituri
(Skitso Productions, 1997, DOS)

One of my all time favourite music business games is a Finnish shareware production, which I originally found on one of the annual CD-ROMs on a Finnish computing magazine. From the makers of Mine Bombers and Pac Brothers came a rather unique management simulation game, in which you would take the role of an event manager building a festival around the whole city of Turku. The game was made to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Down By The Laituri festival, and did it surprisingly well.

Screenshots from Down By The Laituri (DOS).

Unfortunately for most of you readers, the game is entirely in Finnish, so you won't understand much of it. The game is entirely mouse-driven, and the way the game is played is entirely through the manager's office. The city map will allow you to book bands into venues for all four days of the festival, and the price tag shown at the top left corner of the band icon when placed on an open venue will give you an idea whether the show will have any chance of success (blue) or will it bomb with a certainty (red). The list of available bands and artists are shown at the right edge of the screen and the time of week can be changed from the top panel. The office phone has speed dials for the sponsors manager, the weather station, the advertising office and the stage rentals office, all of which are important in the process of deciding what sort of acts to book for what day and time of day, and for which venue. Skitso's DBTL is truly one of the best music-themed management games out there, and it's a great pity that it's only available in Finnish. Of course, it could be a good excuse for any of you out there to finally start learning some...


Rock Manager
(DreamCatcher Interactive, 2002, WIN)

I remember this one got some minor hype in some magazines, although I can't remember if it was music related or gaming related. I also remember being mildly interested about it back then, because it had been a long time since a proper music management game was released for any machine, but I only got around to seeing it in any game store when someone had offered it for the second-hand section of our local gaming store. So, naturally, I bought it... and was severely disappointed in it. At least I got it for cheap.

The game looks a bit like it was made by the same team who worked on the Neighbors From Hell games, but no - Rock Manager is the sole effort from a collective called Monsterland Produktion AB, a decidedly Swedish group of game developers. Most of the people involved in the making of Rock Manager had only done some rather obscure Swedish titles before this one and since, so I suppose this is their big attempt at getting some worldwide recognition.

Screenshots from Rock Manager (Windows).

So anyway, after about 10 years of collecting dust on my shelf, I took the game and installed it again to see if my opinion about it could be changed. And to my surprise, it's honestly not a bad game at all, it's just difficult to navigate. The main menu is a skyline sort of a view of the city the game takes place in, and you will need to click on different buildings that have their signs lit (open for business) in order to get anywhere. The great thing about this game is, when you have a band ready for work, you might have to get them into boot camps to hone their skills, buy song licences to get them recording, and you have to actually work on the songs' mixing yourself, which is really the most genious bit of the whole game. Sure, it's still far from being a proper musician/band manager simulator, but it's the most evolved one yet. Too bad it doesn't offer a similar sort of humour that games like It's Only Rock'n'Roll, Rockstar! and Rock Star Ate My Hamster do, because 3D-rendered cartoony graphics combined with a rather serious take on the business and everything connected to it don't really mix too well, which is pretty much why I couldn't be bothered with it on my first attempt. Once you get past the awkward combination of graphics and content, and have gotten used to the rather bothersome city map menu system, you will find a surprisingly playable and even enjoyable music management game. That said, it would be nice to get an updated version of it, because on any more recent Windows platform than XP, you will need to run the game as an administrator with a compatibility mode.


The Group Construction Kit
(, 200? C64)

And here we have yet another basic music management game for the C64. The origins of this game are slightly in the dark, but based on the information given for the other games in the GB64, this very basic game was also made sometime during the starting decade of this millennium... which is pretty much the only mentionworthy thing about this game.

Screenshots from the Group Construction Kit (C64).

Once again, you will get to control a self-named band built from a group of musicians you will get to select before the game begins. I haven't really found out with what sort of logic the game actually works, but being a very basic one, I haven't even bothered to find out. If I hadn't gone through about a dozen music management games before this one, I might have been more interested about this one, but all in all, it's just another brick in the wall. (Okay, I can say this much: it's not nearly as bad as those German B-Soft PD games.)



(Synthetic Dreams, 2008, C64)

I couldn't think of any reason not to include this one as the final title for this list, so here we go. Of course you probably already know all about this, but if you don't, Shredz64 is basically a Guitar Hero equivalent for the C64 that utilises SID files as game levels, and an interface called PSX64, with which you can connect any PlayStation controller to your C64, although for this game, a proper Guitar Hero guitar controller is recommended.

Screenshots from Shredz64 (C64).

As such, it is a rather interesting piece of software, and an achievement on its own right, but it's only recommendable to those willing to get themselves both the interface and a Guitar Hero controller, but it does offer the additional point of interest for SID music fans who want to get more interactive with SID music without getting into the creational part of the deal.



--14th of April, 2015--

Since I finally got around to updating this entry with the first additions that have been suggested a while ago, I might as well do it properly. Mind you, the updates will be added to the bottom of the list, since it would be too much of a hassle recolouring everything in the article.
(Taskset, 1983, C64 / Amsoft, 1985, CPC)

C64-based retrogamers will know that Taskset games always offer something unexpected and utterly different from all the other games. I mentioned Bozo's Night Out to prove the point in an earlier Unique Games entry, which actually could as well be considered something of a musician simulator, where the action takes place after a gig. Or perhaps an average music consumer simulator. Anyway, this time we've got a game that has taken its title from a Bob Marley song (or Stevie Wonder song, which itself has taken influence from Bob Marley), and is very much connected to music.

Screenshots from Jammin' (C64).
Jammin' is a strange arcade maze sort of a game, which is a bit difficult to describe. From what I could gather, the idea of the game is to move around a moving board game sort of an area consisting of four differently coloured fields scattered around the screen, pick up instruments and bring them to their appointed places in the middle of the screen. While you're moving with an instrument in hand, the game plays a melody over the otherwise lonesome rhythm, and if your enemy takes hold of the instrument, he will run around with it and play an out-of-tune song. The game features 20 increasingly difficult levels, nice colourful graphics, and great use of music. But that's not all - the game even had a sequel...

Screenshots from Jammin' (Amstrad CPC).


Beat It! - Jammin' II
(Mastertronic, 1987, C64)

Screenshots from Beat It! (C64)
And it's pretty much more of the same, but in a slightly simplified setting. Now, you're just collecting notes from similarly colourful screens with conveyor belts and enemies popping up every now and then. This time, music has less actual meaning in the game, but it's included in the basic theme of the game, and the title is again taken from a pop song. If you enjoyed the first game, this is still worth having a go, but also if you thought the first game was too confusing, this one might be more to your liking. In any case, worth a try.


(Virgin Games, 1985, C64)

This one here's another curious attempt at creating a music business game in a competely unexpected manner. Your mission is to run around the city streets, fetching tapes from houses with flashing doors and blasting the music from the tapes to people on the street from your ghettoblaster with the purpose of getting people dancing. Once you have gotten enough people dancing, you can take the tapes to Interdisc, who will then distribute the music. You can only do one tape at a time, though, which makes sense, since you can't really play two songs at a time, can you?

Screenshots from Ghettoblaster (C64).
Every game has to have something to make your process more difficult, and this game has some tone-deaf hooligans and police officers who can either break your ghettoblaster or force you to turn the music off. The gameplay is quite reminiscent of a later Gremlin Graphics movie licence game, Death Wish III, as both games require you to run around town and shoot people with something, this time the thing being musical notes. While blasting out the music, you can turn the volume up and down to keep the non-musical people at bay, or in turn, make people dance more easily. It's a great little action game, and is definitely worth a look if you're looking for something different and music-based. In the light of the previous two items here, it might not come as much of a surprise that Ghettoblaster was also written by two people who formerly worked at Taskset. On a final note, it was also released in the U.S. as "Street Beat".


Popstar Maker
(Eidos Interactive, 2001, PS1)

Screenshots from Popstar Maker (PS1).
Another title thrown in by one of the readers here was this utterly bonkers music management game for the first Playstation console. To be honest, after having watched a couple of videos from YouTube, I just couldn't be bothered to dig the game out for myself, and I can only suggest you do exactly the same. That said, it does appear to be a needlessly thorough simulation, if that's what you could call it. Take a look at this video, for example, from which the screenshots above have been taken. Just do yourself a favour and stick to the good old management games like Rock Star Ate My Hamster and Wizard Games' Rockstar!, or if you really want to do some proper music from bits and pieces of samples, try FastTracker or something similar.


Tracker Hero
Screenshot from Tracker Hero AGA (Amiga).
(Gus Entertainment, 2010, Amiga AGA)

The April 14th update ends with a very brief description of Tracker Hero, since it doesn't really necessitate anything more elaborate. It's basically an Amiga version of Guitar Hero, much like Shredz!64 is for the Commodore 64, and it utilises a similar (or the same) peripheral, and instead of playing SID files, the Amiga version plays MOD files. And it looks pretty damn good. It should be available for download at, if your interest got piqued.


To Be On Top
(Rainbow Arts, 1987, C64 / 1988, Atari ST)

Our latest update (14th of September, 2015) is this single title brought to my attention by Gerry in the comments section. This one is a relatively obscure title from the same company that brought us such classics as The Great Giana Sisters, the Turrican games, Katakis, X-Out and Grand Monster Slam. This time, the same man is responsible for the conception of this game, who made the soundtrack for Giana Sisters: Chris Hülsbeck.

Screenshots from the Commodore 64 version of To Be On Top.
His first go at programming a game (albeit with a little help from his friends Matthias Sykosch and Uwe Meier) is an interesting attempt at creating something completely different. To Be On Top is primarily an arcade-adventure in the style of Bozo's Night Out (of all things), but features strange thematically ill-fitting mini-games and interesting music-sequencing mixing stations disguised as synthesizers and all that sort. There are plenty of interesting ideas here; too bad it's not a particularly player-friendly, because if you happen to accidentally peek inside the door of a TV-station or a recording studio without requirements fulfilled, it's an instant Game Over for you.

Screenshots from the Atari ST version of To Be On Top.
The ST conversion plays notably differently, but then it wasn't made by Hülsbeck. Walking, for example, on the streets is faster than on the C64, but inside buildings, it is slower. Also, making any sort of progress seems to be more related to luck than puzzle-solving. But both versions have a very nice sample-rich soundtrack, which plays a big part in how the game actually works as you make progress. Jochen Kippel has certainly made the Atari ST sound more like an Amiga here, but then Hülsbeck made the C64 do that already in the original. I have a hard time deciding on whether I think this is a good game or not, but at least I'm convinced that it's a good attempt at creating something very different.


I think that's enough for now, but do leave a comment if you can think of something more for the list, unless it's yet another basic manager game. It's a shame that such a rarely explored topic in the realm of computer and video games has been too often used for an already overused genre. Music would easily offer much more ways to make interesting gameplay mechanics, as they've tried to do for Rolloverture and Serenade, for example. And I know I have mentioned some peculiar music-themed games in some parts of my Unique Games series (such as Brain Strainers in #2 and Snoopy Concert in #6), which is why I left them out of this entry. Seeing as the C64 seems to have had so much of music-based games in the past, there is no reason why there shouldn't be more of it in the future - hopefully with some imagination put into it.

Well, I hope this one opened up some of your eyes, if you ever even wondered about what sort of music-themed games are there, and how many. If you have anything to offer in the subject, please do leave a comment. Next time, back to normal service again.


  1. Nice :)

    Hm, if I remember correctly there is some PlayStation game called Popstar Maker


    1. Ooh that looks like a proper classic! XD Thanks for the input!

  2. Maybe I'm missing something obvious, but where is Taskset's Jammin' for the C64? Would Ghettoblaster qualify as a music themed game?

    On the modern front, there is Tracker Hero for the Amiga, using the same PSX64 interface as Shredz.

    1. Oh, you must have missed that part where I said that even I have limited amount of patience for doing research on one subject. =D I completely forgot about those two games, since I focused my research on management games and added in everything else that I could think of from the top of my head. I can't remember whether either of the C64 games you mentioned can be qualified for the list, but I'll take a look at them later on. I'll be updating some entries that require updating within the next couple of months, this being one of them. Thanks for the input, though, I'll put this stuff on my soon-to-do list! =)

  3. I'd suggest "To be on Top" - released by Rainbow Arts for C64 and Atari ST.

    1. Good call, I'll add it as soon as I have the time. Thanks for the input!

    2. Thanks for adding the game :-).

      "Also, making any sort of progress seems to be more related to luck than puzzle-solving."

      I got this feeling while playing the Atari ST-version, too.