Rock Band Review

There are two trains of thought when it comes to Harmonix’ Rock Band: you geeks shouldn’t have so much fun trying to pretend your in a real band, and dude, bang out that solo and save the singer! If a train of cynicism leaves LA headed East at 200 miles per hour, and a train of enthusiasm leaves from New York headed to LA at mach 2, the enthusiastic crowd is going make it to wherever they’re going first.

If these two trains crash, the speed of enthusiasm is going to destroy cynicism and might even quantifically molecularize a few into the enthusiastic crowd!

Yes, I’m not a real drummer. I get it. However, I’m gonna have fun anyway so you can either join me, or just go do something else to someone else. Meanwhile, I’m also learning an appreciation for the drummer’s role and come to understand — even if superficially — the complexity of the job. I know I can’t sing, but now I see how easy they make it seem. The guitar will probably never be one of those things I do well or often as I can barely manage 4 buttons and strum properly. (Don’t even get my started on the orange guitar button.)

More power to us all.

The graphics are very good with Rock Band. The Wii’s power shines for the stage and cast of cartoonish band members in a series of cut scenes that seem to be customized per song. The show is secondary to the note displays, but still gives the people watching something to look at. These audience members are treated to flashes of lip syncing, or guitar chords, or flashing sticks as the drummer on stage wails in time to whomever is trying to emulate the beat track in the family room.

The note displays are bright and clean. I don’t care for the choice to use the Arkanoid pill bars, and I still think a diamond or something with a tad more girth would have been better. These pills roll down the neck of your guitar, or neck of your rhythm bar for the drummer, and you tap away in time.  It’s tempting to look across at the other’s notes, but not so much that you can’t focus on your own. The singer gets his or her own bar across the top with lyrics and level of the voice he or she should be using. The lyrics can either stream right to left or fade in as you prefer. I need to read ahead so scrolling worked best for me.

Each role is displayed prominently, and it’s plenty of fun for everyone else.

The tracks themselves are a mixture of classic and contemporary tunes. We get to play Weezer‘s “Say it Ain’t So” to Faith No More‘s “Epic” to The Rolling Stone‘s “Gimme Shelter.”  Some of the younger population may not ever have heard of The Ramones, but just a few minutes of “Blitzkreig Bop” will let them understand a little bit more about the 1970s.

The music selection is good, and the audience carrying on is a big plus too. What I really enjoyed about the Wii’s Guitar is that when I messed up the Wiimote inside made the noise and not the TV. It was more personable and kept me tuned in better. Frankly, it was a jarring experience so I was happy to avoid them. The drums aren’t so interactive. When I paddle away at the pads I don’t get the different tones between the snare and the bass drum. They all sound like I’m banging away at a rubberized cardboard box. It would have been nice if the pads themselves made different noise; but then again, I suppose it is difficult enough. The Singer just gets a note after each stanza in a song. If you kept the arrow on the level appropriately you get a flash of praise like GREAT or EXCELLENT. If you struggled through it you might get more of an OK note.

Bits of song, guitar, or drums are left out when you miss and the crowd gets on your case in a hurry and these are all very nice effects.

Word to the one trying to be the singer: Use your natural voice. You are not the one that got paid millions of dollars to croon with a unique sound. You are in your living room. Act accordingly. (Read: have fun.)

The controls are straight forward. Other than the microphone not having any buttons on it — so you have to have the Wiimote handy — the guitar does its thing with the Wiimote nestled in the body, and the drums have their own USB interface. The lack of buttons on the mic can be a blessing because that means you can use any USB microphone you like. If you want a headset and try to play the drums and sing at the same time then go for it.

In the beginning there were many issues with quality of construction, but the set I have garnered no such worries. I had many an issue getting notes to work on time, but I’m certain these were all my fault and not of the controls. The drumsticks are a bit skinny for me, but I was able to get over it. I do not care for the mushy strum bar of the guitar, but with a little practice it gets better. The Guitar Hero strum bar is too clicky, and this one is too … umm … non-clicky. There has to be a comfortable middle in there. I do like being able to alter the purpose of the whammy bar in Rock Band’s guitar, but that’s largely cosmetic.

The USB interface of the mic and drums sort of make the whole wireless beauty of the Wii a moot point, but still it’s a great thing to bring this game to the platform so many millions love.

As a party game, I don’t really think this one can be beaten. You may think that Battlefield 2142 or Halo is all that, but upon closer inspection that is a very large niche audience. Rock Band is Universal! Its content is appropriate for teen and older, and on top of that who doesn’t like music? You might not love all the bands that are on the disc, but you’re bound to like a few unless maybe all you can handle is heavy-twang country or Rap.

With 3 instruments in the box, there’s plenty for anyone to find something they like. You can sing to your heart’s content, extend your guitar mastery, or become the ultimate percussionist with the drum kit. Maybe you get a group going and you can mix and match in between songs if someone’s voice is better for a certain song. It’s all possible and it’s all great.

Have a couple different versions of the same instrument (or microphones) then have contests battling against each other! Or with just an extra guitar you have a whole quartet to play to the crowd. Or hey, if it’s just you, there is a ton of things to do, learn, and practice with in the privacy of your own domicile.

The possibiities are endless! Well, not endless, but there are 4 modes if difficulty, 60 some songs, and 3 instruments for each one. That’s a lot of content! The Wii isn’t able to grab downloadable content, but there is to be an add-on pack of songs avaiable on a seperate disc sold seperately. The game weighs in at a hefty just-under-$100, but you get so much with it and it is all so cleverly contained within the box that it takes no time to get into the show.

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming. Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter. Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 21 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).
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