Back when I was a lad, I remember borrowing a SEGA Genesis in order to play Michael Jackson's Moonwalker and thinking there was nothing odd about it in the slightest. It was a tie-in game to a hit film starring one of the greatest American musicians of all time near his critical peak; putting that in a video game is a license to print money.
However, it was nothing new. Musicians have been putting their stamps of approval on video games featuring their likenesses since the medium was founded. It's just that most people never hear about them. For instance, did you know about...
5. Journey: The Escape Depending on your age, Journey was either a megastar of the '80s or the gems in Glee's Infinity Gauntlet. In 1983, th band was coming off the success of Escape and Frontiers and making enough money to fund their own space program. Rather than do that, they lent their likenesses to Bally Midway, who wanted to ride this choo-choo to Cocaine Hooker Island.
The result was Journey: The Escape, a maze platformer where players must reunite each member of Journey with his stolen instrument, then battle back to the scarab vehicle in order to make stage call at Galactic Stadium. Did that make sense? Of course it freakin' didn't, and the game actually tries even less hard to do so than you'd expect.
Rather than make whole new sprites for the five members of Journey, they are each represented by a digital photo grafted onto a generic spaceman so that the whole thing looks like a Dire Straits version of The Island of Dr. Moreau. Then there's the fact that your opponents are groupnoids, robotic screaming groupies who stole your instruments in the first place...because what every superfan wants most to do is remove his or her favorite band's ability to actually play a show.
4. Iron Maiden, Ed Hunter Developed by Synthetic Dimensions to coincide with Maiden's 1999 greatest-hits album and tour of the same name, Ed Hunter was a first-person shooter for PC. Previously, the band had planned another game that fell apart in development called Melt, which vocalist at the time Blaze Bayley said was "crap."
Ed Hunter isn't bad at all, though. Visually, it's a very pretty game that captures all the glory of Maiden's famous album covers as players wander through scenes inspired by those covers in a quest to free their famous mascot "Eddie" from the insane asylum.
There's only one real problem with the game. For the first level you go around shooting a legion of two types of clones (one with a mohawk, the other without) whose only attacks are throwing beer bottles at you. Sure, there are a lot of them, but it seems weird to use assault rifles to mow down people who have to rely on something that pedestrian and rarely fatal.
It's still better than the home ports of Aerosmith's 1994 disaster Revolution X, though.
3. Mike Oldfield, Tres Lunas You might know Mike Oldfield as the man who wrote "Tubular Bells," but he's still out there releasing music that gets more insane as time passes. With 2002's Tres Lunas, he started adding video games to his resume.
It's not much of a game in the traditional sense of the word. You wander through what looks like a Yes album cover searching for gold rings that will react with you to create new tones and melodies. Basically, Oldfield opened up his brain and allowed us to run around like crazy people wondering what the hell was the point of that glass Pegasus and...am I an arrow being shot through space now?
Weird or not, though, it's a fairly clever little supplement to Oldfield's music. He continued his MusicVR series, and allows a multiplayer mode that he sometimes jumps in on himself. He calls it a holistic gaming experience, which I take to mean "It's like acid for people who prefer to shop at Whole Foods." On the other hand, in many ways it's just a less structured version of the indie hit Journey.
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2. Prince Interactive When the '90s came around, any musician with money to burn had the option to put out a vanity-project video game, and many did so. Phil Collins did, but his is more like a Web site than a video game. Prince, though, did the best of these.
It's a Myst-type engine, which is no shame because in the '90s approximately 123 percent of PC games were either Myst or Doom clones. Players walk the halls of Prince's Paisley Park Studios solving puzzles in hopes to unlock five-second interviews with people like Miles Davis and Little Richard, who talk about how mind-blowingly awesome His Royal Badness is.
It's actually a testament to how amazing Prince was that this is surprisingly kind of fun. Please God, no one ever show this idea to Gene Simmons.
1. Queen: The eYe Probably the most ambitious musician video game ever was The eYe. Nominally it only contains the music of Queen and not much of the band themselves...which is weird, because has anyone ever looked at Freddie Mercury and not thought, "That man would make a great video-game hero"? No, The eYe takes place far in the future, where an all-seeing Big Brother type has an iron grip on the world.
It's not until an agent for The eYe discovers an ancient database of forbidden pop music and promptly has to flee for his life as he is sentenced to death for it. Laugh all you want, but Margaret Atwood did the same thing with Twisted Sister in The Handmaid's Tale, so that's a hell of a pedigree.
Unfortunately, the game is complete crap. EA took so long to finish it that by the time it came out in 1998, its rather subpar design, frame-rate, and frustrating aiming mechanics left it far behind other available titles. On the other hand... it's a future where people recognize Queen's music as a threat to all that is evil. It's nice knowing such a future exists.
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