The seventh in a series of articles I’m writing, looking at all the games available in a particular genre on Vita. The articles will highlight all Vita-native games, as well as any backwards-compatible PSP and PS1 titles which can be downloaded in English (i.e. from the EU or NA stores), as well as some commentary on how well those games run on Vita and whether they fill any missing gaps in the library.
In the grand scheme of videogames, the rhythm genre is relatively new – the quirky PS1 title PaRappa the Rapper is largely seen as the gateway that helped to popularize it and led to a big expansion on Sony’s original console, from which things have continued to go from strength to strength. In particular, rhythm games seemed to gravitate towards unique inputs (for example the Guitar Hero and Rock Band series used peripherals in the form of plastic instruments, something replicated by Bandai-Namco’s Taiko no Tatsujin franchise with drums or Dance Dance Revolution with dance pads) but also unique ways of integrating with other genres – whether it be fighting games (Kickbeat) or roguelikes (Crypt of the Necrodancer).
Handhelds have been a particular hotbed for this as they offer a unique way to play (in the form of short bursts of gaming on the go with headphones in) and PSP was definitely at the forefront of this, being home to multiple successful series including DJMax and Hatsune Miku. Vita has continued this legacy and in writing this article I discovered just how many games with rhythm mechanics are available on it – far more than I expected, meaning it is a great place to start if you’re looking to test both your musicality and your reflexes!
One of the earliest music games to land on Vita in its first year on the market surprisingly ended up being one of its best – the latest entry in the long-running South Korean-made DJMax series entitled DJMax Technika Tune, which released in Japan in September of 2012 and North America in December of the same year.
While DJMax had flourished on the PSP, Technika Tune evolved the franchise in new ways by introducing controls that used all of the Vita’s inputs, including both the front and rear touch – which ensured it has stayed one of the only true Vita exclusive games out there. With 67 tracks included out of the box and a steep learning curve it impressed reviewers, who named it one of the handheld’s best releases – it even spawned a spiritual successor years later in Superbeat: Xonic which was similarly well-received.
Other first-year titles include an up-port of a PSP game from 2010 (Michael Jackson: The Experience) which was definitely only worth it if you’re a massive fan of the king of pop’s music and Orgarhythm, a bizarre mix of rhythm and strategy game where you control armies as the God of Light using rhythmic combat (not dissimilar to Sony’s own Patapon franchise). It received a mixed reception upon its release in October 2012, with some praising its originality and others deriding its repetitive nature.
By far the most noteworthy rhythm game of 2012 to land on Vita was Hatsune Miku: Project Diva f, which was the latest entry in the successful series starring a virtual idol who had enjoyed massive success on the PSP. Its popular mix of challenging gameplay and catchy music helped it shift more than 250k copies in Japan but despite its success in the region we wouldn’t see an overseas release until two years later. Still, it was quickly followed up by two sequels (Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F 2nd and Hatsune Miku: Project Diva X) which means that if you’re a fan of the formula, you’d well served on Sony’s handheld.
Hatsune Miku‘s success led to a number of imitators, although none of them made their way to the west meaning you’d have to import to enjoy them (luckily, titles in this genre tend to be incredibly import-friendly as controller inputs are universal). The main one was from SEGA themselves – Miracle Girls Festival used exactly the same engine as Miku but threw together a number of characters from popular anime series as the idols and was a fairly decent time, but their other attempt at the genre (Uta Kumi 575) was significantly more niche as you also have to match words to the rhythm (which made it difficult to import).
Kadokawa Games also threw their hat in the ring with Love Live! School Idol Paradise – despite being based on a super-popular anime series, the fact that the release was divided into three versions and each contained a poor amount of content meant the game never reached its sales potential (just about topping 100k in Japan). Another virtual idol is available in IA/VT Colorful which released in 2015 and quickly became one of Vita’s most popular imports thanks to its impressive track listing and tight gameplay.
On the topic of popular imports, a series which has been a favourite among western gamers for years but has rarely found its way overseas is Taiko no Tatsujin and Vita got its own bespoke entry in Taiko no Tatsujin: V Version. Including music from popular game series such as Freedom Wars, Ridge Racer and Ys and fitting it to the game’s drum-beat template proved to be a hit, so much so that the game would be re-skinned as a crossover with Idolm@ster later in 2015 (Idolm@ster Must Songs: Blue Board/Red Board, which somewhat made up for the lack of any other Idolm@ster title on Vita).
Another franchise which shifted over from one genre to take a stab at a rhythm game was Persona, initially with the spin-off Persona 4: Dancing All Night, which took the cast of the beloved JRPG and put them in a brand-new setting where they need to dance in order to solve a mystery. It proved to be so popular both in Japan and overseas that it was followed years later by two more spin-offs that hit Vita – Persona 3: Dancing Moon Night and Persona 5: Dancing Star Night, although both of these successors seemed to be less focused than the original by stripping out the story mode and featuring copious amounts of DLC. Thankfully the base gameplay in all three is solid enough to make them worthwhile and sometimes it’s just nice to see your favourite characters chilling out by dancing along to catchy tunes!
Also making the shift into the rhythm genre (this time from a brawler base) was Senran Kagura with the spin-off Senran Kagura: Bon Appetit which was as lewd and silly as fans of the franchise had come to expect, but unfortunately proved to be a bit dull for reviewers. Still, if you’re looking for other representations of the genre in English there’s plenty to choose from – the adorable Deemo: The Last Recital is definitely worth your time (even if it has been usurped by a more content-rich Nintendo Switch version) and Musynx also seems to come highly recommended from those who have played it.
Part of what makes the rhythm genre special is that it doesn’t just include simple action games where you’re keeping up with the beat – it also crosses over with many other things as developers experiment with different styles. For example, the Lumines series mixes music with Tetris in a glorious mash-up of ideas and the latest entry (Lumines: Electronic Symphony) was a key part of the console’s launch, even if sales figures didn’t quite match its achievements.
Other examples of rhythm games crossing over with different genres include the somewhat Lumines-esque game Magical Beat (rhythm x Lumines x Tetris), Crypt of the Necrodancer (rhythm x roguelike), Kickbeat (rhythm x fighting game) and Runner 2 (rhythm x 2D platformer – you can also try out the original version of the game in The Bit.Trip). All of these show just how versatile the genre can be and can provide a nice alternative take on music mechanics.
A couple of final notes regarding what’s available on Vita – oddly, otome games (visual novels aimed at female gamers) seem to employ rhythm mechanics fairly often, meaning if you’re absolutely crazy about the genre you may want to consider importing Bakumatsu Rock: Ultra Soul, IDOLISH7: Twelve Fantasia, Marginal #4: Road to Galaxy or Uta no Prince Sama Music 3 – although I would note that these are definitely more visual novel than rhythm game. The same goes for Hanayamata: Yosakoi Live! which is based on a popular anime series, although all of these may be worth checking out if you want something completely different.
And speaking of things that are completely different – Hideboh: Tap Dance Hero is, like the name suggests, a rhythm game based around tap dancing – you won’t see something like that on any other console!
Backwards-compatible PSP games
Despite the PSP’s otherwise impressive library of rhythm games, the number you can actually get on Vita through backwards-compatibility is fairly minimal – many are either missing from PSN (Lumines) or Japan-only (Hatsune Miku: Project Diva).
With that said, the grand-daddy of the genre is available, at least in North America as PaRappa the Rapper was remastered for Sony’s handheld in time for its 10th anniversary and made available on PSN a few years later. While it still has the same effortless charm and catchy tunes that captivated gamers first time around in 1996, the actual gameplay was way off (inputs didn’t register in time with the music) making progression much harder than it needed to be and thanks to its brief length, the whole package was a bit of a let-down – but at least it’s there if you want to relive your nostalgia.
Clearly using PaRappa as a gateway to bring quirky rhythm games to the PSP, Sony also tried their hand at fusing the genre with strategy in their handheld-only series Patapon, which saw three entries between 2008 and 2011 and all are available on Vita. Using musical inputs to command an army of cyclops warriors as they hunt creatures and attack bases, the series received a large amount of critical acclaim for its unique gameplay ideas and executions – it’s certainly something I can recommend you check out (the second entry is probably the best to dive in if you’re a newcomer).
A small selection of other titles are available – for example you can check out the interesting visualisation software Beats from Sony’s London Studio and there’s also an older version of the DJMax franchise available in DJMax Portable 3 – but sadly, only from the North American store.
Backwards-compatible PS1 games
After kicking off the genre with PaRappa in 1996, developer NanaOn-Sha went on to create a number of different titles which combined their unique visuals with rhythmic gameplay and two of their better efforts are available on Vita through backwards-compatible PS1 Classics – although both suffer from issues that stop them being a fully enjoyable time on the handheld.Um Jammer Lammy was sort of a direct sequel to PaRappa, featuring the same gameplay ideas, graphical style and even some of the same characters, but focusing on a guitar-playing lamb instead. Despite being an emulated PS1 title it features the same input problems that plagued the PSP port of PaRappa meaning again it’s not a title I can really recommend. The quirky musically-generated Vib-Ribbon provides a somewhat successful alternative, challenging you to overcome obstacles that spawn in time with the upcoming notes of a song – but the lack of ability to add new levels via MP3 files mean it becomes boring a little too quickly.
Despite its somewhat anaemic lineup of backwards-compatible titles despite the genre’s strong pedigree on Sony consoles, Vita’s selection of rhythm games is highly impressive in the modern market with genre favourites like DJMax, Hatsune Miku and Taiko no Tatsujin all present and plenty of quirky oddities like Deemo, Love Live & Persona thrown in for good measure. You’re definitely going to need to try your hand at importing to get the most of the genre here, but that shouldn’t be an issue thanks to region-free hardware and easy-to-grasp gameplay.
It’s easy to see why the handheld has done so well in this area too – thanks to its mix of traditional buttons and touch-screen controls, rhythm games managed to find a perfect home where they could experiment with new inputs while continuing to deliver more traditional ways to play. I’m sure it didn’t hurt that many feature colourful visuals that look great on the handheld’s OLED screen and its portable nature works well for quick bursts of gameplay too.
It’s a shame that some of the older titles like PaRappa and Vib-Ribbon suffer from problems that make them less-than-optimal experiences on Vita, but even without these there’s a great number of enjoyable titles here – if you’re looking for a good place to start with rhythm games, Vita is as good a place as any!