Michael Jackson's Moonwalker (Sega)
1990's Moonwalker is the paragon of what pop star licensing should be. Michael Jackson appears in his iconic "Smooth Criminal" panama hat, white suit and lean-heel shoes. He uses sparkly magic dance attacks against the ultimate bad guy and his henchmen--a child-napping drug overlord with a doomsday moon-mounted laser canon. Even Bubbles the chimpanzee gets in on the action (he turns Michael into a dancing robot).
Years after Jackson's decline, Moonwalker has developed a tang of dramatic irony not lost on modern-day players. M.J.'s primary objective in this game is collecting children, after all. But, more innocently, before Jacko became the butt of too many late-night talk show monologues, he was Jesus for the Pepsi generation—a softspoken Disney messiah with a positive, universal message for mankind. Heal the world. Free Willy. In Moonwalker's halcyon world, a thick black line separates the heroes from the villains. It's a nice escape from ours.
Guitar Hero II (RedOctane)
I have an embarrassing admission to make ... I've never played Guitar Hero. But judging from the enthusiasm of everyone I know, or don't know for that matter, this game rocks. With a controller that looks like a smallish Gibson SG, how could it not? Fans of the series already know that Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the '80s hits shelves this month for PS2, while a third game, Guitar Hero III, will be released in the fall for PS2, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii.
Def Jam Fight for New York (Electronic Arts)
Like cheddar cheese and apple pie, this is one of those oddball combinations that works magically in the end. The industry's top hip-hop stars and a few musical underdogs (Snoop Dogg freely grapples with Henry Rollins) blaze up this brutal mixed-fighting game. Whether you're in it for the hip-hop references or the fighting, you'll be impressed.
PaRappa the Rappa (SCEI)
Played on: Sony PlayStation
PaRappa, a rapping cartoon dog, will make you feel like you're on drugs, and rhythmically flicking buttons in the right order is like a more engaging version of Simon. Kooky graphics and trippy, scrambled egg raps like "Cheep Cheep Cooking Chicken's Rap" make this game memorable and addictive. Fans take note: A United States PlayStation Portable remake of PaRappa the Rappa is supposedly in the works.
The Residents Bad Day on the Midway (inSCAPE)
The Residents were a weird lo-fi art band whose members embraced complete anonymity—essentially, the least likely band you can think of to be immortalized in pixels. But their 1992 CD-ROM is an amazing graphic adventure that paved the way for games like Myst. The carnival-themed Bad Day on the Midway spent two years in talks for a TV show directed by David Lynch. Sadly, it never materialized.
Karaoke Revolution Party (Konami Digital Entertainment)
The ultimate party game for musicians (at last, you're the star!) with a microphone headset that keeps your hands mercifully free for beer bottles. Hit the right notes in time with the music or crumple into a pile of self-disgust. While you're at it, don't miss CMT Presents: Karaoke Revolution Country and Karaoke Revolution presents American Idol (featuring the pithy one-liners of a computerized Simon Cowell and a mystery judge named Laura ... hmmm).
KISS: Psycho Circus—The Nightmare Child (Gathering of Developers)
If a wispy-edged first-person shooter seems like an odd format to party with Gene, Paul, Ace and Peter, it is. This game is so weird it uses techno versions of KISS songs for background music. But it's a must for any legionnaire in the KISS Army.
Get on Da Mic (Eidos)
Aside from pretending to be Biggie Smalls (just breathe really heavily on "Hypnotize"), this game straight-up sucks. It does, however, build a worthwhile bridge between rapping and karaoke videogames. I hereby call this new genre karapoke ("care-a-pokey"). What say you, developers? Up to the challenge?
Backyard Wrestling 2: There Goes the Neighborhood (Eidos Interactive)
Insane Clown Posse members use a slew of household items (folding chairs, weed whackers, fluorescent light tubes) to beat the shit out of other "wicked clowns," "hardcore" wrestlers and porn stars (female ones). There are music videos hidden as Easter eggs, which will be the least of your troubles.
Journey (Bally Midway)
Played on: Bally Midway Arcade
This 1983 arcade game is a cornerstone in ghetto, poorly executed licensing. The men of Journey (represented by static black-and-white photo faces affixed to jerky cartoon bodies), travel through space, battle for instruments, then stage a concert (which consists of a cassette player lodged inside the machine looping "Separate Ways"). It's so bad it's awesome.