Busy Gamer Review - Rock Band

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Busy Gamer Review

Too busy to devote 12+ hours a day to your gaming habit? Here's a review that's sensitive to your needs: Short and focused on just the things that a busy gamer like you really needs to know.


Busy Gamer Review-
Rock Band


Reviewed On: Xbox 360. Also available for PS2 and PS3.

Rock Band: Vocals, drums and guitar
Perform vocals, drums and guitar in Rock Band
In a Nutshell: Rock Band is a music rhythm game that extends the Guitar Hero game mechanic to drums and vocals. The Special Edition comes with a dual-fret guitar, microphone and drum kit with pedal. In solo career, you pick an instrument (except bass guitar) and play through about 60 songs in the usual Easy, Medium, Hard and Expert skill level categories (actually, Easy has about half the songs - it's that easy).

The real action is in the Band World Tour local multiplayer, where two or more band members jam and earn scores to unlock new venues and try to achieve the killer Platinum Artist rating by powering through all of the game's default songs on Expert - a 5+ hour task! There are also some tug-of-war and head-to-head modes, minus the gimmicky battle power-ups of Guitar Hero III.

The songs span a wide range of tastes from classic rock and metal to punk, alternative and indy. You probably won't love every song (we adore "Maps" and the new Oasis tracks though there are plenty who scorn them) but with such a wide range of music, you're liable to like much of it. The game has added life through weekly downloads offered via Xbox Live Marketplace and the PlayStation Store for $2 per song (a little less in bundles or for specially priced tracks).

The drums play like real drums
Rock Band drums play like real drums
Learning Curve: This game is easy to pick up and hard to master. If this sounds like the definition for a casual game, you're right - this is the ultimate casual game. Non-gamers can quickly learn three-note guitar licks, simple drum patterns and crooning to match a voice modulation meter. Practice, like any band should, and you'll get better and hunger to master more advanced techniques and unlock deeper parts of the game.

It's worth noting that while playing a plastic 5-button guitar and modulating your voice correctly probably won't help you become a great musician, the drum portion of the game might. Real drummers report that in Expert mode you are essentially drumming like a pro. Harmonix or a third party should come out with a game that lets you practice like a real drum student (how about Drum School taught by Dave Grohl?!).

The Save Game: The game saves automatically after every song and when you change an option, purchase an item, change your outfit, etc. You won't lose any progress unless you corrupt your save file by shutting down your console in the middle of a save.

Family Factor: A few questionable lyrics aside (e.g., "Sell the kids for food," "Hooker/waitress"), the game is the ultimate family friendly game. Our 5-year-old sings along and occasionally pounds on the drums or finishes a vocal flourish with a shout. It's worth noting that there are options to select skimpy outfits and tattoos. You can wear whatever you like, but your randomly selected AI bandmates (if you're not playing all of the parts) might wear something risqué. Of course if you're seriously considering this game, this probably won't bother you.

The mike is optional
The mike is optional; a headset works too
Buy, Rent or Skip? This is a buy, with a few caveats. First, you can’t really rent it unless you have a compatible guitar (the Xbox 360 Xplorer and Les Paul from the Guitar Hero series will work, but their PS3 counterparts will NOT). Vocalists can make due with a compatible headset and use a controller button for the rhythm sections. So if all you want to do is sing and/or play with a compatible guitar, you could opt to pick up just the game for $60 (possibly less used).

At this writing, standalone instruments from Harmonix are not available. When they do arrive, they're gonna be pricey: $80 for drums, $60 for guitar and $30 for the mike, plus the game itself. That's $230 vs. $160 for the bundle. If you only plan to ever play one instrument, that's still $120-140 (or $90 for vocalists, but remember you can always use a standard headset).

All in all, you'll have more fun with the bundle. Once you get some friends or family members hooked, you can play Band World Tour. If you're lucky enough to have a second guitar that works, give it to the bass player.

A quick note about guitars: The Rock Band pack-in Stratocaster is by far the smoothest axe I've played to date, and the most comfortable. It’s also larger than the Guitar Hero models, but compensates by offering a second set of frets near the strum bar for small hands and solos. The Xplorer (from Guitar Hero II) feels much clunkier and hurts my fingers to play for long periods. The Les Paul (from Guitar Hero III) is a good compromise between the two: The strum bar has the rhythm-keeping thunk of the Xplorer but with better size, plus it's wireless. Still, after playing the Les Paul for a few days, switching back to the Strat was instant relief to my fingers.

On a Personal Note: I tried to enjoy Guitar Hero - the original on the PS2 and the sequel on the Xbox 360 - but found them more punishing than rewarding and ultimately set them aside. So I was a little on the fence about Rock Band, but decided to give it a chance after hearing so much great buzz. I'm so glad that I did. Rock Band is much more fun to play. For guitar, Easy mode is the ultimate in relaxation for me. Very few songs present much difficulty once you calibrate the game to match your TV and master the three-finger technique (hold down greens and reds while hitting yellows). Medium takes a bit more practice, but can ultimately be just as satisfying. Just zoning out to a song on Easy (and now, sometimes, Medium) melts the day's pressures away.

I suspect the same will be true for Hard and Expert eventually, as I continue to practice and improve - but I could be happy continuing to play at the Easy and Medium skill levels. Except for the difficulty caps of the Band World Tour. And this is the one place the game lacks some balance. To progress in multiplayer as a band and unlock new venues and challenges, you need to earn a certain number of fans. Once you exceed the fan limit for the Easy skill level (which happens pretty fast), everyone in the band needs to move to Medium or better. The same happens later in the game for Hard and, I suspect eventually, Expert. It would be great if most of the Band World Tour was accessible to Medium players and a bit more of the game opened up in Easy.

It seems like you hit a difficulty wall pretty fast unless you're already an Expert at an instrument. This does force you to practice the higher skill levels to move forward with the game so you don't stall your band - or get replaced! So in some ways, this mirrors the real life band experience. Also, your superior bandmates can save your bacon up to three times, so it may be possible to squeak through a rough song that way.

The Harmonix Guitar
The Harmonix Guitar is smooth
GrrlGotGame has a great voice and loves to sing, and she's doing great as a Rock Band vocalist except for the occasional song designed for a male singer ("Orange Crush," I'm looking at you). So we've been enjoying Band World Tour almost every night and hope to unlock the Big in Seattle achievement soon. Alas, doing so requires passing some Hard difficulty songs, and so I'm working hard to make the transition to 5-note streams and "cheating" on occasion by playing the bass, which is on the whole easier than lead guitar at the higher skill levels.

The key to preparing for Hard on guitar seems to be learning to play Medium with three-fingers (red-yellow-blue starting position) so the pinky is reserved for the orange notes later. Using this technique to replay the Medium songs a second time, I'm finding that the note streams are inherently easier to hit and my scores are consistently one star better (songs I previously max'd at 3 stars are 4s and my 4 stars are 5s). To be clear (since I had a difficult time grasping this myself): Except in rare cases when the note chart dictates otherwise, your index finger always hits green and red, your middle finger sticks to yellow, and your ring finger plays blue. Your pinky generally stays out of it; you'll need that for orange (and maybe the occasional blue, if the song requires quick changes or chords involving green and blue) when you move to Hard and Expert. Hope this helps someone. I've posted more Rock Band tips if you're interested.

I've also tried the drums, going as far as to mod a real drum pedal to make those bass notes easier to hit. It's fun and I expect to spend more time on it after I've mastered the guitar. Vocals are fun too, although I tend to play this mode when no one else is around since my voice wasn't made to be shared.

If you like rock music and rhythm play, this is arguably the best game out there right now.

-=Gamewatcher

1 Comment

1.

I can't ever think about going back to Guitar Hero after playing the first Rock Band. Not only is the interface better in Rock Band, but the song selection is unparalleled.

I agree with your description of the difficulty. On Guitar Hero 3, I couldn't really go past the Hard difficulty. In Rock Band, I can sometimes play the Expert guitar.

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This page contains a single entry by Gamewatcher published on January 23, 2008 4:13 PM.

Coolness - Play Rock Band drums on your PC was the previous entry in this blog.

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