Video games and music have shared history – they’re both (broadly) trying to appeal to a similar market with money to spend on entertainment. Bands will often look to expand their reach through featuring in games. 30 years before Glee gave Journey a reboot, they starred in not one, but two games – 1982’s Journey Escape on the Atari 2600 and the 1983 Williams coin-op title Journey where the player flew round in a spaceship trying to retrieve the band’s instruments (why their kit was in space was never quite explained – perhaps a considerate time traveler was trying to save generations future from “Don’t Stop Believin’” and launched it?).
These days both publishers and performers are a little more savvy. Post-punkers Yard Act had their “Overload” featured in FIFA 2022, which introduced them to a much more globalized audience than their somewhat anachronistically English sound would pick up on overseas radio playlists. From putting together soundtracks featuring legendary tracks (see the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and Grand Theft Auto franchises), developers are now commissioning artists to write full scores. No Man’s Sky boasts a full soundtrack by Sheffield noiseniks 65daysofstatic, which the band released as an LP in its own right and have played live as a complete set (including at Barcelona’s world famous Sónar dance music festival). Still, there’s been some great games dedicated to real bands, both past and present. Let’s take a look at a Fab Four.
Judas Priest: Road To Valhalla
The 1980’s saw a slew of songsmiths in video games – alongside the aforementioned Journey titles, there was Dio’s Holy Diver, Paul McCartney’s Give My Regards To Broad Street and Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker – but it took until 2017 for Judas Priest to have their own game. Arguably that could have been wise, given the ridiculous attention they were attracting from the PMRC at the time. Road To Valhalla for iOS fuses Guitar Hero style mechanics into a top-down 2D motorbike game. The draw for diehards is the inclusion of exclusive live snippets of Priest classics like “Breaking The Law” and “Painkiller,” alongside the title track the game is named after.
KISS: Rock City
With Gene Simmons slapping his band’s branding on merchandise from condoms to coffins, it’s little surprise there’s been no fewer than three KISS video games. KISS Psycho Circus came out in 2000 for PC and Dreamcast and was a perfectly acceptable, if somewhat generic Doom-style first person shooter. KISS Pinball came and went on the PlayStation without many noticing. If you don’t want to dust off old devices, but still want to play as the band, KISS: Rock City on iOS and Android might be your ticket to crazy, crazy nights. The game is a rock band management simulator where members of KISS offer help to get your garage band all the way to the arenas.
Guns N’ Roses
Axl and company have also been willing to license tracks and images – perhaps more strategically than KISS (although that wouldn’t be hard) – and it’s worked well for them. Just when everyone was starting to lose their patience with the interminable delays on the Use Your Illusion LPs, they roared back into view with “You Could Be Mine” for Terminator 2: Judgment Day. By far the biggest movie of 1991, the June single had fans frothing for the release of the two Illusion albums, which went on to sell 1.3 million copies between the first week of their September release. They’re no stranger to games, having licensed tracks for both the Grand Theft Auto and Madden franchises. Recently, they’ve become the latest metal band to embrace online slots, following in the footsteps of Twisted Sister and Megadeth. Their game is part of the online slot games from Coral and features imagery and songs from their 35 year reign at the top of rock.
The Beatles: Rock Band
Moving away from mobile, while the Fab Four’s game was released under the Rock Band banner, it was a standalone title, rather than one of the seemingly endless series of updates for the original. You can still use all your Rock Band peripherals – guitars, mics, drums – but John, Paul, George and Ringo’s game introduced new features relevant to the band – three part vocal harmonies for one. With 45 songs on the game disc for Wii, PlayStation 3 and XBox 360 and another 34 available for download, the 2009 release made a fantastic companion piece to the Beatles’ remastered album issues of that year.