10 of the best clubs in gaming history

From the Berghain-inspired dance floor of Hitman 3, to the disco balls of Mario Kart 8, Tom Faber explores ten of the best gaming dance floors.

Content warning: Violence, drug use. 

Things you do in real clubs: dance, drink, talk to friends, lose your phone, spend too much money. Enjoy the music. Don’t enjoy the music.

Things you do in video game clubs: dive through a glass window in slow-motion while taking out bad guys with twin glocks. Cross-dress in an acrobatic dance-off to save your girlfriend’s life. Use a high-tech drug that lets you experience other people’s memories. Assassinate the DJ then take his place just as the beat drops and the crowd goes wild.

In the virtual spaces of gaming, anything goes and your actions have no consequences. Your wildest impulses can run riot; you can create chaos just to see what happens. Game designers are always seeking exciting locations to let players run amok, and the sensory overload of the club has proven an irresistible lure dozens of times.

For decades, club music featured in games has been a gateway to real-life culture, from the pumping rave music that soundtracked 1990s racing games Wipeout and Ridge Racer to the Grand Theft Auto series, whose radio stations boast expert selections of house, techno and soulful club classics. 

Early depictions of clubs in games were fairly ropey—characters danced jerkily to braindead disco loops, only ever waiting for shootouts to kick off. These clubs were the stomping grounds of hedonists, cultists, henchmen and ruling elites, all of them cannon fodder.

Yet as the medium has matured, clubs in games have become increasingly sophisticated, developers’ imaginations running wild to build discos on the far side of the galaxy or metaphoric dance floors deep inside the human psyche. They are often home to compelling gameplay and brilliant narrative sequences.

Here are ten of the best clubs in gaming history.

Lizzie’s Bar – Cyberpunk 2077

Deep in the Watson district of Night City is this neon-lit sci-fi club run by the Moxes, an all-female street gang. Cyberpunk 2077 acquired notoriety in 2020 for its major bugs, and while it has been updated since, it never shook the reputation of being a broken game. This is unfortunate because despite the flaws, it boasts brilliant writing and several unforgettable locations, like Lizzie’s Bar.

The door is guarded by a muscled woman sporting violet pigtails, matching razor-sharp nails and a baseball bat lazily slung over one shoulder. The Moxes are sex workers who look after their own. Inside everybody is smoking and sleazy synth pop soundtracks. You might opt for a “braindance,” a techno-drug that allows you to relive someone else’s memories—a new form of entertainment as alluring as it is dangerously addictive. This is where you meet femme fatale Evelyn Parker, who promises to show your protagonist, V, a braindance that will change everything they know about Night City.

If Lizzie’s isn’t your bag, Night City has other clubs: there’s Totentanz, home of the bionically-enhanced Maelstrom gang who mosh to pounding techno, or Afterlife, a swish cocktail bar for the suits where naked dancers swim hypnotically in huge tubes of water.

Honey Bee Inn – FFVII Remake

Video game clubs seem to have a thing about bees. Deus Ex: Human Revolution has a trendy yellow-and-black club called The Hive with rooms arranged in a honeycomb shape, while Japanese roleplaying game FFVII Remake has the Honey Bee Inn, where glamorous women dressed as bees welcome visitors to a buzzy burlesque performance.

Your reason for visiting is somewhat convoluted: Cloud, the game’s reserved hero, is trying to rescue his friend and fellow eco-warrior Tifa, who has been kidnapped by Don Corneo, de facto leader of a lawless fantasy twist on Las Vegas called Wall Market. In order to get an audience with the Don, Cloud needs to impress Andrea Rhodea, the seductive lead dancer of the inn, who he battles in a dazzling rhythm-action cutscene with acrobatic choreography and a soundtrack of cabaret, techno and funk. 

Cloud’s reward for winning is to get put in drag by Andrea, the long-running series’ most joyously queer episode. “True beauty is an expression of the heart,” he tells Cloud, now wearing makeup and a gorgeous dress, “a thing without shame, to which notions of gender don’t apply.”

Club Hölle – Hitman 3

The gaming club that most closely resembles the real thing? There’s no competition. The third mission of assassination simulator Hitman 3 takes place in a fictional nightclub on the outskirts of Berlin whose name translates as “Club Hell.” It bears a striking resemblance to a certain legendary club, right down to the spider-web face tattoos of the bouncer, who puts a sticker over your phone’s camera as you enter.

Seriously, developers IO Interactive did their research on this one. The industrial club space is housed in a decommissioned nuclear power station, with brutalist concrete halls, moody neon striplights and a sunken dance floor set in a great rectangular hall. The soundtrack of proper techno by series composer Niels Bye Nielsen puts the Skrillex tracks used in Call of Duty in the shade, while the dancers’ movements are synced perfectly to the beat (except the one guy who appears to be drifting into a K-hole).

This being a Hitman game, you can subdue anybody and put on their clothes to assume different roles in the elegant clockwork simulation. You can become a raver, a member of a biker gang or even sneak into the booth, take out the DJ and don his boiler suit before stepping up to the decks—this cues a huge trance build up and a moment of genuine euphoria as the beat drops and the crowd goes wild.

Rock Solid – Conker’s Bad Fur Day

We now dip into gaming history for a uniquely anarchic platform game released for the Nintendo 64 in 2001. While this genre was mostly known for the child-friendly adventures of Mario and Banjo-Kazooie, Conker’s Bad Fur Day was an adult spin on the formula that followed a foul-mouthed alcoholic squirrel looking for his girlfriend, Berri, who disturbingly resembled a sexy Bugs Bunny in a blonde wig.

On his travels through the prehistoric-themed world of the Uga Buga cavemen, Conker ends up at Rock Solid, a nightclub where they party like it’s 1999 BCE. Everything is made of stone, including the dancers, who have to be rolled around onto switches to rescue Berri, who is locked in a cage dangling above the dance floor. 

As he navigates the club’s platforming puzzles, Conker bops to a decent soundtrack of trance-inflected techno, while red and green lights strobe over the flagstone dance floor. In keeping with the game’s crass sensibilities, Conker has to drink from a keg to build up enough urine in his body to spray the baddies away. He arrives drunkenly to a showdown with the club’s owner, the nefarious weasel mafia boss Don Weaso. In a game overflowing with innuendo and scatological references, this was a rare location that showed real imaginative flair.

Afterlife Club – Mass Effect 2

Clubs in sci-fi often miss a trick by looking so shiny and clean that it’s hard to imagine anyone actually partying there. Not the case with Afterlife Club, the seedy home of space pirates and criminals in 2010’s sequel to the sci-fi space opera Mass Effect.

The club is located on an asteroid named Omega Space Station, a lawless place loosely inspired by the Mos Eisley cantina in Star Wars. It spreads over several floors and a VIP area, adorned by a huge purple hologram of a dancing alien above the dance floor. The club’s varied soundtrack proved a cult hit with fans, particularly a ravey trance track called “Techno Madness,” which spawned a number of fan remixes. 

You can wordlessly order a fluorescent blue drink or try to impress the locals with your devastatingly bad dance moves, but the real reason for visiting is to meet Aria T’Loak, the pirate queen of Omega. In a game with many great locations, this was the most memorable, to the extent that the game’s director, Casey Hudson, would later say it’s the one location in his game he’d most like to visit.

Push It – Hotline Miami

The call comes in: “We want you to DJ tonight. You’re free to play any kind of music you want. Beer is one the house! We’re on 212 NE 24th street. Dress to kill.”

In cult top-down shooter Hotline Miami, you’re always dressed to kill. This game, a key part of the explosion of indie games in the early 2010s, tells the trippy tale of a hitman in 1980s Miami tasked with taking out the Russian mafia. It gained acclaim for tight gameplay, a brilliantly pulsating soundtrack—this would undeniably go off in a club—and its surreal approach to ultraviolence that recalled David Lynch more than Quentin Tarantino.

You couldn’t set a game in ‘80s Miami without a club setting, and level eight, “Push It”, sets you on a killing spree across a multi-storey discotheque soundtracked by a bouncy house jam. Armed bouncers in sharp white suits patrol a dance floor of wheeling pink and green lights that strobe ceaselessly above the bloodbath. The DJ looks on, unconcerned, just doing his job. At the end of each level the music screeches to a halt and you exit over the bloody corpses, the game’s subversive invitation to reflect on the violence you so eagerly committed.

Hercules – Grand Theft Auto IV

In Rockstar’s series of enormously popular open-world crime games, clubs are a natural haunt for any self-respecting denizen of the criminal underworld. The latest instalment, GTA V, featured an update where you could run a nightclub empire featuring digital avatars of The Blessed Madonna, Solomun, Dixon and Tale of Us, who all contributed bespoke recorded mixes. Another section features Moodymann as underground racing don Kenny, referencing the DJ’s real-life love of cars.

Yet none of the actual venues in that game charmed quite like Hercules, the tiny gay bar run by club kingpin Gay Tony in an expansion to GTA IV. Modelled after historic New York haunt Julius’, Hercules has an unassuming entrance, indicated only by a glowing street sign of a man flexing muscles almost as impressive as those on the shirtless Adonis who works behind the bar.

This is an unpretentious place that you might genuinely want to visit in real life, where people are actually talking and having fun. The decor is all you need: red walls, gold fittings and a mirror ball, while the soundtrack is a slamming selection of soulful house and disco. Nothing nails it more concisely than the game’s own description: “a final bastion of hotness in these tepid times.”

Electrodrome – Mario Kart 8

What if Studio 54 was a go-kart course for sugar-addled tweens? Mario Kart imagines this with the Electrodrome, one of almost a hundred courses that Nintendo’s colourful cast speed around in the beloved multiplayer racing game. 

If you can take your eyes off the road during the high-octane race, you’ll see classic Super Mario enemies all raving together on the sidelines, from Shy Guys and Koopa Troopas to ravenous Piranha Plants. Though he’s only visible as a silhouette on the Jumbotron, eagle-eyed Nintendo fans have worked out that the DJ behind the soundtrack is the blue-haired secondary villain Larry Koopa, whose music selection is passable at best.

While this is a traditional Mario Kart level where you smash through question-mark boxes, batter enemies then overtake them across gravity-defying racecourses, the developers added subtle nods to the musical theme, including visualisers that bounce along to the music, a section of the track that is divided into a musical stave, and some stairs that play an ascending melody when you drive down them. Not the trendiest club in the world, but a damn sight better than the Boom-Boom Dance bar where Mario looks for a meteorite in 1993’s dreadful live-action Mario film.

Maharaja – Yakuza 0

When the Japanese crime saga Yakuza became popular in the West, audiences were at first confused by the game’s stately pacing. It turned out being a Tokyo gangster entailed a few fistfights, sure, but also countless side hustles to while away the hours, from karaoke to fishing, cat cafes to real estate.

You can also run a number of clubs, and Maharaja, named after a real venue in Tokyo’s Roppongi, is the best, all gaudy red carpets and golden statues. Protagonist Kiryu arrives looking for Miracle Johnson, a thinly-veiled imitation of Michael Jackson in a white trilby and ludicrous pink sunglasses who, naturally, challenges you to a tightly-choreographed battle on the glowing dance floor. 

No matter how well you perform in the ensuing rhythm-action minigame, you can’t beat the self-proclaimed “king of dance.” However he is impressed by your moves, especially the slow-motion breakdancing that results from a combo, and so he decides to join your team as an advisor. After that you can revisit the club to try your luck in dance challenges set to bright club tracks inspired by MJ himself alongside Bananarama or David Bowie.

Milla’s Dance Party – Psychonauts

In 2005 the brilliant minds behind classic adventure games like Grim Fandango and Monkey Island gave us Psychonauts, a highly original platformer that follows Raz, a gifted hero who runs away from the circus to join a summer camp for kids with psychic powers. There he learns to travel inside people’s minds to help them break free of destructive mental cycles. 

Each world is wildly different, from the security guard’s paranoid psycho-topography of hidden cameras and G-men, to a grand theatre where every performance is torn apart by a resident inner critic. Most memorable is Milla’s Dance Party, an homage to the golden age of disco that shows your respected teacher and psychic agent, Milla Vodello, is perhaps not as carefree as she seems.

Her entire mental world is one big party, which you ascend by leaping across levitating speaker systems like the insides of a giant lava lamp. But every club—just like every mind—contains a dark secret, and you might happen across a hidden room that educates players about the orphanage fire that traumatised young Milla.

Luckily Raz is able to help her work through it while enjoying the music—he’ll even bop to the beat if you leave him idle on this level. It may look like a video game interpretation of the “Groove Is In The Heart” video, but Milla’s imaginary party shows how far the concept of the nightclub can stretch when game developers show ambition in both their technology and their imagination.

Words: Tom Faber

Hitman 3 image credit:  IO Interactive

Mario Kart 8 image credit: Nintendo