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Five Music Games That Make No Sense
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on June 23, 2017   |   Episode 19 (Show Archive)  

Some things just go together. Like rocking the fake plastic guitar to Deep Purple, dancing to Michael Jackson's greatest hits and laying down wicked loops in Beaterator. But sometimes a great band and a talented development team can't come together to create amazing music, and we're left with games that leave us scratching our heads. Today we're going to be looking at five music games that make no sense. That's not to say these games are bad, but I'm confused by each and every one of them for completely different reasons. Let's rock!

Power Gig: Rise of the SixString
On the surface, Power Gig had a lot of what gamers wanted in 2010. For one thing, it came with a real guitar that you could use to play real songs outside of the game. It also had a killer soundtrack that included exclusives from Eric Clapton, Kid Rock and the Dave Matthews Band. Plus it had a story mode, 70 licensed songs, a weird air drum kit, strange new modes and even downloadable content. I mean, the game was still a dumpster fire, but it's not for the reasons you might expect.

The reason Power Gig is on the list is because I'm still baffled by the miniature guitar that comes with the game. On one hand, it's small and looks like it was designed for young kids to learn how to play guitar. Think of it as a proto-Rocksmith, if you will. But Power Gig makes no attempt to teach you how to play guitar. None. You're not even playing the real chords in the game. If anything, this game might actually make you a worse guitarist. Instead of teaching you the fundamentals, this game fills your head with a bunch of two-finger positions that is absolutely no help in the real world.

What's offensive is that this was being sold under the guise of being a mix of education and fun. Sure, it was a Rock Band clone at its core, but the box wanted to entice clueless parents with the promise that little Johnny or Sally could play a video game and learn guitar at the same time. It says "Learn to Rock" in large letters on the front of the box. They knew exactly what they were doing. I can understand attempting to make a teaching tool and failing miserably; that's at least an honest effort that came from the right place. But to not even try, that makes no sense to me.
Make My Video Series
Hey you. Yes, you. Do you like Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch? What about INXS? C+C Music Factory? And Kriss Kross? Now instead of sitting there and listening to your favorite musicians from the early 1990s, I have a better idea. I want you to stop being so god damn lazy and actually do some work around here. This shitty music video isn't going to make itself!

This seems to be the thinking behind Digital Pictures' Make My Video series that launched with the Sega CD in 1992. These games completely miss the point of what fun is. It's like a nefarious plot concocted by a bunch of old stuffy video editors who wanted to show the world that assembling mindless B-roll and public domain clips is the best part of pop music. That's a hard sell. It would be like me trying to convince you that writing dumb articles is the best part of playing video games. This series actually makes me feel bad for Marky Mark, and that makes no sense.
Crue Ball
In the era of unlimited storage, it's obvious what to do when you license a major rock band. If you're a company like Activision or UbiSoft, then you quickly churn out some sort of dance or guitar game and call it a day. But developers didn't have that luxury in the 16-bit era, back when a cartridge was lucky to have 1 or 2 megabytes to play around with. So when Electronic Arts secured the license to 1980s hair metal stars Motely Crue, they were forced to be a bit creative. The result was Crue Ball, a video pinball game that has surprisingly little to do with the band that introduced us to Dr. Feelgood.

For what it's worth, I'm not opposed to a Motley Crue-inspired pinball table. I mean, some of the greatest rock bands of all time have been turned into real life pinball machines, including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, AC/DC, Metallica, Guns 'n Roses and even Dolly Parton. The reason Crue Ball makes this list is because it's not actually inspired by a band, it's just a video pinball game on the Genesis that just so happens to have chiptune covers of some of your favorite Motley Crue songs.

Unfortunately, there is a pretty obvious reason why. This game started its life long before there was a band or license on board. In fact, the producer initially pursued MTV's Headbanger Ball, which would have opened the game up to multiple heavy metal bands. But even if that deal hadn't fallen through, this pinball game has no relation to heavy metal. The visuals make it look more futuristic than anything, which may have worked better if they had licensed the music of Moby or The Chemical Brothers. It's criminal that they chose not to design pinball tables off of album covers, characters in songs and even the band members. As a Motley Crue game, Crue Ball makes no sense.
Revolution X
With his over-sized mouth and larger-than-life persona, Steven Tyler was a rock star that seemed like he was specifically made to be a video game character. Aerosmith is one of the few bands that managed to have massive success in the 1970s and then come back even bigger in the 1990s, thanks in large part to huge sales of Get a Grip and the Armageddon soundtrack. So if you wanted to tell me that Aerosmith could star in their own video game, I would have had no problem believing you. But you'll never convince me that the band that sang Walk This Way and Livin' on the Edge is part of the resistance against the political tyranny of the new world order.

This is the premise of Revolution X, an on-rails shoot-em-up where you shot CDs at a corporate military force that has taken over the world under the guise of "New Order Nation." You know those guns you've been stockpiling just in case we get into a Red Dawn scenario and have to fight off an invading army? Well, you might as well throw them away, because they are completely useless. This war is going to be won or lost by shooting CDs and listening to Aerosmith, apparently.

Okay, so this is obviously a goofy concept, but I might be willing to go with it if they had simply chosen a more appropriate band. This is a band that plays songs about drugs, sex and dudes looking like ladies. Their music videos are filled with blow job jokes, not politically-savvy commentary. For this idea to work, you need a band like Rage Against the Machine or Public Enemy, groups that are known for their outspoken opinions. Revolution X would have been a much more interesting game with the Dead Kennedys or NWA at the center. Expecting Aerosmith to help lead the resistance against fascism makes absolutely no sense.
The Residents: Bad Day on the Midway
So far we've talked about games that misused their incredible license and developers that fumbled the execution, but for the final game on our list, we're going to take a look at a game that is meant to be a little baffling. That game is Bad Day on the Midway, a Myst-style adventure game from the minds of The Residents. It's a disturbing mix of morose social commentary and David Lynchian nightmare sequences. Yeah, this one is a little weird.

For those uninitiated, The Residents are an avant-garde rock band that has managed to release more than sixty albums since the 1960s. They are probably best known for wearing giant eye balls (and other oversized masks) on their heads to protect their identity. Their lyrics are often scathing and expertly crafted, painting vivid pictures of people you never want to meet. It's this tilted perspective that gives Bad Day on the Midway its charm and character.

This is more of an art piece than a traditional game. You jump between several eccentric stories that center around an old, crumbling amusement park. There's the tattooed lady, the guy who loves rats, the grouchy IRS investigator, a serial killer and even a log lady. We spend our time getting to know these characters and discovering what makes them tick. This is done through a selection of gorgeously realized cinemas designed by a wide variety of well-known comic book artists. The result was so impressive that David Lynch and Ron Howard were set to turn it into a dark and twisted TV series.

While there's still a lot about Bad Day on the Midway that makes no sense to me, I can't help but love it. It's great at subverting cliches, creating a thick atmosphere and coming up with genuinely fascinating characters. It also has an incredible soundtrack, which should go without saying. The Residents have come up with a beautifully nightmarish world that should be celebrated for the chances it takes. The fact that this game is barely remembered makes no sense to me.


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