Top 10 Musical Moments in Video Games

This week, the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) took place in Los Angeles, drawing fanfare and hype across the gaming world. The three-day trade fair is open to only vendors and developers, but it provokes the kind of suspense Apple fans feel before a major Steve Jobs announcement. OC Weekly's Peter Mai has been reporting from this year's expo, and it looks like there are plenty of new and familiar developments in store for gamers. In celebration of video gaming's slow but determined rise toward becoming an art form, here are ten memorable (and not so memorable) musical moments in video game history.


1. Revolution X (1994)

Midway's Revolution X starred Steven Tyler and Aerosmith in a dystopian world run by an evil corporatized government alliance called the “New Order Nation.” The game begins at an Aerosmith concert in Los Angeles, where government soldiers crash the party and kidnap the band. Up to two players, armed with machine guns, can set off to rescue the band members from distant locales like the Amazon and Middle East. The side-scrolling rail shooter never quite took off, but today it feels like a great distillation of early '90s excess. Players can pick up Laserdiscs as power-ups and rescue exotic dancer hostages for extra points.

2. Michael Jackson's Moonwalker (1990)
Several games comprise the Moonwalker franchise, but the version below is for the Sega Genesis. Based on the 1988 film of the same name, the single-player platformer allows you to play as Michael as he faces off with a child kidnapper named “Mr. Big” and his thuggish cronies. Michael's trademark dance moves become attacks, and 16-bit versions of famous hits like “Smooth Criminal” and “Thriller” make up the game's soundtrack. My favorite attack in the game is the “spin move” that causes enemies to break into dance and die.

3. Wayne's World (1993)
All the games so far on this list have been more or less awful, but this video game adaptation of comedy's most famous metalheads is particularly bad. By the early '90s, video game companies had long been adapting licensed properties to make a quick buck. The game was released in conjunction with the two Wayne's World movies, and like the first film that was shot in 34 days, the game looks and sounds like it was put together in about the same amount of time.

4. PaRappa the Rapper (1996)
Before Dance Dance Revolution or Guitar Hero, a rapping dog named PaRappa took the rhythm genre to a new level in his 1996 PlayStation debut. The game paired a quirky aesthetic and cartoonish premise to earn fans during a time when the only direct precedent for the genre was the '80s memory game Simon. Players take on a series of rhythm-based challenges to help the game's eponymous hero in winning the heart of his crush. In the following video, PaRappa trains with the karate master Chop Chop Master Onion.

5. Def Jam Vendetta (2003)
A lot of rappers like to front and act tough, but how many can actually back up their words with muscle? This well-received fighting game for the PlayStation 2 and GameCube stars several members of the Def Jam lineup, including DMX, Method Man and Ghostface Killah. Electronic Arts, which developed the game, took on the music license after World Championship Wrestling was bought out by rival World Wrestling Federation. Def Jam Vendetta was followed by two successful sequels, Fight for NY and Icon.

6. “Who's That? Brooown!”, Das Racist (2010)
Paying tribute to the beat 'em up games of the '80s, Das Racist's music video features 8-bit versions of the Brooklyn rappers as they traverse the city in search of their hype man, Dap. What's even better about this irreverent take on early console gaming is that the video is a playable online game you can check out here.

7. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998)
Ocarina of Time (Nintendo 64) marked the first 3D installment of the Zelda franchise, but it was also remarkable for its use of music. A flute-like instrument called the ocarina features prominently in the game's storyline as its powers are used to teleport the protagonist across space and time. The player has to learn different arrangements and channel their powers for overcoming the game's obstacles. A previously obscure instrument, the ocarina surged in popularity and sold well after the game's release.

8. Bust a Groove (1998)
This PlayStation game combines the rhythm and fighting genres by allowing players to unleash special attacks to throw opposing players off their rhythm. Characters in the game include a 14-year-old NASA scientist named “Gas-O” (special attack: gas chamber) and an overweight fast food employee named “Hamm” (special attack: giant hamburger).

9. Space Channel 5 (1999)
The Space Channel 5 franchise lasted for two games before declining along with the Sega Dreamcast. A PlayStation 2 port was later released, but the game never matched the popularity of rhythm games like Dance Dance Revolution and Beatmania. At the end of the first game, Michael Jackson guest stars as “Space Michael.” He would later play a larger role in the game's sequel.

10. WarioWare: Smooth Moves (2006)
Out of all the games which have come out for the Nintendo Wii, Smooth Moves perhaps makes the best use of the console's motion sensor technology: humiliating its players. It's also one of the funniest. The non-sequitur story lines and kooky microgames features some of the most unusual cut scenes, and “Feline Fever,” below, is one of the game's best.

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