At a Guitar Hero tournament a few months back, one kid complained to me that Expert Mode is too easy. Then he demonstrated the games secret Hyper Speed mode. My pupils nearly ruptured at the sight of him as he navigated the light-speed stream of colored notes; it looked like the trippy ending to 2001: A Space Odyssey. The dexterous moppet didnt even break a sweat.
"You must play real guitar, right?" I asked in awe.
He smiled wide. "Nope."
Publisher: MTV Games
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, PS2
Price: $169.99 (bundle), $59.99 (game)
ESRB Rating: T (for Teen)
Score: 8 (out of 10)
Music purists may wince and grumble, but its a fact: Plastic guitars are here to stay, and instant guitar-god gratification trumps stumbling through Smoke on the Water in the garage. But these incredible rhythm-based titles also represent a new golden age of play for gaming purists. Rock Band, the highly anticipated game from MTV that lets you play guitar and handle vocals, bass, and drums, has upped the ante in its bid to supplant Guitar Hero as the faux-music experience. Sure enough, Rock Band will have you grinning like an idiot before you even strum a note: The $165 bundle comes complete with rubber drum kit, drumsticks, Fender replica guitar, microphone, and USB hub to plug it all in. (If you dream of getting your Phil Collins on, theres even a headset adapter for simultaneous drumming and singing.)
If youve seen Guitar Hero in action, the game play here will be familiar. This time, however, there are three vertical sets of scrolling notes (read: colored buttons) for drums, guitar, and bassinstead of one, and a scrolling ticker of lyrics at the top of the screen straight out of Karaoke Revolution. You can start a solo career, but going it alone is about as exciting as James Taylor by candlelight. Rock Band was designed for pals.
That kid from the Guitar Hero tourney surely will roll his eyes at the games guitar licks, which are fairly easy even on Expert mode. But those who thought Guitar Hero IIIs insane difficulty was a sick joke will enjoy Rock Bands relative accessibility.
The drum kit lacks Blue Öyster Cults all-important cowbell, but it otherwise feels incredibly authentic, right down to the kick-pedal. And unlike playing a fake guitar, banging the drums actually makes a skinsman out of you as you gonever mind that youll be flailing like Animal from The Muppet Show at first. The games greatest moment comes when youre allowed to freestyle your own impromptu drum fills (douche-baggy Lars Ulrich facial expressions optional).
But for all of Rock Bands triumphs, you dont need Ray Davies to notice the kinks here. The game slips out of tune in its song selectionand in the sheer number of times youll be forced to play them. Only 45 tracks are included, and 6 of those, disappointingly, are also found in Guitar Hero III.
Downloadable tracks should remedy this problem, but youll still have to play some songs multiple times before unlocking new music. And no person should be subjected to Garbages I Think Im Paranoid more than two times in a row.
Despite Rock Bands hiccupsincluding the fact that its essential mode, the four-player simultaneous Band World Tour, isnt available in online playit makes for an astonishing warm-up act for the series. It wont squash Guitar Hero, but a rumble between the two should translate to bigger and better music games for everyone. Even if nobody actually starts a band because of them.
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