VidRhythm isn't a game per se; it's an app that allows users to quickly assemble custom-made music videos. But given that it's made by Harmonix, the creators of Guitar Hero and Rock Band, we're gonna go ahead and call it a game just so we can write about it. One of my favorite things about the Rock Band games was how it allowed musicians and non-musicians alike to share music in a new way. There was nothing quite like sitting down with my non-musician friends and sharing music in a new way. VidRhythm offers an evolution of that same inclusive spirit, and opens musical performance up to an ever greater audience.
One of the great strengths of portable devices like the iPhone and iPad is their portability and accessibility, and the ways they bring people together—it's all well and good to play Cannabalt or Gravity Hook by yourself on the bus, but sitting down with a friend for a match of Ascension or a versus-mode Plants vs. Zombies is a whole other kind of fun. And while that big Rock Band drum kit eventually became too much of a hassle to cart out, an iPhone is always within reach, and so too is VidRhythm.
Upon opening the app, users are prompted to choose a song from a list of 20 templates—mostly original compositions by the staff at Harmonix, no doubt due to licensing issues. There are also a couple of classics—Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag," Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee"—all of which offer welcome familiarity. All the options are goofy fun, from "D-O-G-S" and "Say my Saxy Name" to "Miami," a sultry jam that certainly made me remember my time in steamy south Florida. (...well, sort of.)
After choosing a song, users are then prompted to choose from a list of ten video templates; these govern how the resulting music video will look, and run the gamut from "70's Disco Party" to "Hellish Cat-Nightmare."
Then it's time to perform. Depending on the song, you'll be prompted to record video of yourself performing a combination of instrument sounds, notes, and sound effects. Once you've created six samples, it's simply a matter of pressing play and the app quantizes and auto-tunes your performance, spitting it out according to the song template.
So here's the fun part - inevitably, the songs that VidRhythm assembles are bizarre and totally hilarious. It gets even better when a group of people gets involved; for a case in point, see the Hamilton family rendition of Steve Pardo's "D-O-G-S" up above.
Of course, no one says you have to record the sound effects with your voice; real instruments can be used as well, and the truly creative can repurpose whole templates to their own musical ends. (The truly subversive can re-do "D-O-G-S" as "C-A-T-S"). In the second video off to the side, the folks at Harmonix used real instruments to create a charming acoustic take on Beethoven's Fifth.
The audio plug-ins that VidRhythm uses to bend and twist your out-of-tune singing into recognizable melodies can go overboard from time to time, but that winds up being part of the fun. There's nothing quite like carefully recording a vocal take only to hear playback that sounds like a kazoo orchestra accompanied by a sack of flaming chipmunks.
Re-editing samples and sharing finished videos couldn't be easier, and the general experience of using the app is wonderfully seamless. In fact, VidRhythm's biggest triumph is how quickly it gets out of the way of its users' creativity.
Harmonix assures us that in the Rock Band Network tradition, the app will be supporting user-generated content in the future, which will allow fans to make new song templates of their own. No doubt the available song library will expand far beyond those initial 20 songs.