Hello, folks. It’s been a while! I’ve been chronicling some of the issues we’ve been facing here on gaming.moe over the past couple months over on Patreon and a bit on Twitter, but we’re almost, almost in the clear now! Older pieces may be looking strange for a while until I get all the kinks ironed out, but thus far, our move to a different image server is going well. Nothing can put a stop to true gaming love. Nothing!
I have a ton of stuff in the backlog that I’m going to trickle out over the next couple weeks (including one fantastic interview I’m super hyped for), but I feel like the best way to get the ball rolling again is with the kind of utterly weird stuff this site is (somewhat) known for. Brace yourselves, folks — this one’s a doozy.
The other day, I was chatting with LordBBH about videogaming stuff, as I tend to do. I forget what the subject we were originally on was, but eventually conversation turned to a particular song from a music game called NeonFM.
I actually wasn’t aware of NeonFM until BBH told me about it, but as I’m prone to do once some random game catches my interest, I began to research the hell out of this thing. As it turns out, NeonFM is game with a long and interesting history. See, back in the early 2000s, hype for all things Bemani was at a fever pitch and arcades were overrun with groups of players who loitered around to play whatever versions of Dance Dance Revolution and Pump It Up were available to them. Dance Dance Revolution was the game that would help keep arcades on life support for a few more years: it was a tremendous hit in North America and drove a lot of interest in early music games, even inspiring people to import other Bemani titles that hadn’t been released Stateside.
There was a lull, however, between 2002 and 2006, with no new versions of DDR hitting arcades as Konami’s Bemani team focused on games that were doing better in their Asian markets: Pop’n Music, Beatmania IIDX, and GuitarFreaks/DrumMania. Seeing an opening in the market for a new arcade dance game, a group of rhythm game fans got together under the name Pop’nko (later changed to Unit-e Technologies), planned out a new dance game called NeonFM, and attracted investors and distributors to help finance and manufacture the game.
Of course, you can’t have a music game without music, can you? Well, the NeonFM team had a few connections throughout the rhythm game community, and they managed to put together a bunch of original songs to feature in the game. There’s one song in particular, however, that I think deserves to be highlighted, because its very existence baffles me.
I’m warning you now, readers: there’s no going back from this point.
If you’re prepared to experience real music gaming tunes, then click below.
Dearest readers, I present to you a true masterwork of rhythm game composition: a song called GIRLZ BUTTZ.
From the moment things start up, this song is an assault on the senses. Here is a song about, as the title suggest, GIRLZ BUTTZ (with Zs, this is very important) being sung by a man whose voice sounds like a 90s cartoon villain’s obnoxious sidekick and his painfully white pal who still really, really want to try his hand at busting out a rap beat.
Then there’s the lyrics, which start off with “Wanna know what I did today? I was looking at GIRLZ BUTTZ” and somehow, somehow still manages to go downhill from there. This man can’t decide whether he wants to brag about his profound fascination with GIRLZ BUTTZ or if he should be worried about the judgement of peers and society (“Wonder if it is a crime, looking at GIRLZ BUTTZ”). He just can’t help it, though, those thighs are just such a profound draw, and he is consistently drawn to the unspeakable beauty of “those moon pies.” (I wonder if the official Moon Pies Twitter account is aware of this?)
But if those amazing lyrics aren’t enough, we also have a rap solo that further elaborates on this attraction to girls’ behinds. Alas, try as he might, this lyricist is no Sir Mix-A-Lot, and he winds up sounding like one of those nerds online who just won’t ever, ever shut up about their particular fetish. (“Can you friggin’ shut up about asses for ONE MINUTE, John, we’re TRYING to smash some arrows on DDR here!”)
Yes, GIRLZ BUTTZ is a truly… special… song. But who exactly are the people behind this musical tour de force? Well, the main vocalist is Thomas Howard Lichtenstein, who has quite a background in music games. He’s the announcer in the early GuitarFreaks/DrumMania games, and has also done lyrics and vocals for numerous songs across the Bemani series. He hasn’t been doing much recently — his last composition was in 2011, it seems — and honestly, from what I’ve heard of his Bemani-related works, they’re… not really memorable. Most of the songs he’s worked with are basically just trying to imitate a particular style and/or era of music. There is one, however, from the extremely obscure red-headed stepchild of Bemani, Mambo A Go Go, that’s pretty friggin’ wild, and listening to this gives us a good idea of what this man can create when he is truly set free:
Also, according to that wiki linked above., he has written children’s books. I really don’t know what to think of the lyricist behind GIRLZ BUTTZ writing things for six-year-olds.
The rapper is “DJ Potatoe,” who is an actual game developer by the name of Eric Ruth. He’s made some fairly high-profile “demakes” like Pixel Force Halo, Team Fortress Arcade, and even an early Angry Video Game Nerd game. He was also one of the early supporters of the Neon FM project, contributing to its development in its earliest incarnation. I’m not sure if he’s still active, since the website of his company, Eric Ruth Games, just points to a domain squatter page. He was also apparently involved as a musician in the early days of MAGfest, and since Neon-FM developer Unit-e Technologies is based in Maryland, that’s probably where he first made a name for himself.
If you are morbidly curious and want to see what these two look like in the flesh, here’s a video of them playing GIRLZ BUTTZ live at the “launch party” for NeonFM, which apparently took place in a warehouse with horrendous acoustics. They also have to make do with what sounds like someone’s little brother’s Casio for the backing music, but dangit, nothing’s going stop this dynamic duo from declaring their love for GIRLZ BUTTZ.
Unfortunately, this awkward video is also tragic. Konami was neglecting the dance game market at the time, but that didn’t stop them for being very, very litigious, going after arcade operators who were importing machines and patent-trolling the hell out of other companies attempting to make arcade music games for the North American market. NeonFM, in the dance game form you see it in this video, never released because Konami strongarmed the company set to manufacture and distribute the game, basically saying if they went ahead with it, they were going to have a legal battle ahead of them. The distributor dropped the game, and the people who put a ton of blood, sweat, and tears into NeonFM were left with nothing to show for their hard work.
Well, not until years later, anyway. Eventually, NeonFM was resurrected as a completely different type of music game that involves tapping light pads to a rhythm. This version of the game was unveiled in 2014, and finally made it to market not long after. More recently, a free-to-play mobile version of NeonFM was made available for Android and iOS. There are more details about the long, hard road NeonFM took to reach its eventual release as an arcade and mobile game on Unit-e Technologies’ official website, which I suggest reading if you’re curious. It’s really admirable how long these guys stuck with this game. And if you’re wondering — yes, GIRLZ BUTTZ is, in fact, on the setlist of both the arcade and mobile versions. Why wouldn’t it be?
So there you go. I used a bizarre, extremely awkward song as a springboard to research and talk a bit about an indie music game that was years in the making and faced a ton of hardships on its road to becoming a real product. I don’t want to rag on Eric and the Unit-e crew too much, since they really did put a lot into Neon FM. At the same time, though, GIRLZ BUTTZ is just one of those wonderfully bizarre videogame things that deserves to be discussed. Yes, it’s sexist and objectifying, but it’s also so stupid and profoundly strange that any capability it might have to offend is basically nullified the moment Thomas croons in the most nasally tone possible about GIRLZ BUTTZ coming “in every shape and size.”
Honestly, there’s a little part of me that’s glad this awful song exists. Thank you, Unit-e and NeonFM, for giving us all a chance to bask in the glory of GIRLZ BUTTZ.