Wednesday, July 23, 2008
This Wii version of Rock Band is a little late to the party, and comes at a hefty price tag, but Rock Band is still one of the premier games to bring out when you've got company. It's impossible to not have a good time after having a few drinks and watching your friends try to sing through "Wanted Dead or Alive". This game is essentially Guitar Hero, a great Karaoke machine, and a sort of "Drum Hero" when taken individually. Put together, it becomes Rock Band, and it's the biggest and best thing in music gaming today.
Like Guitar Hero, this can be played by both hardcore and casual gamers. It doesn't matter if you've never touched a controller in your life. If you're capable of karaoke, you can at least do the vocal part. If you're a Guitar Hero virtuoso, you can crank it up to Expert and even try singing while playing guitar.
You may be adept at Guitar Hero or karaoke, but everyone is going to be new to the drums unless they played the 360 or PS3 versions. Even on Easy, it takes some getting used to thanks to the bass pedal. It's not just a matter of hitting the four top drums at the right time, you have to press down on the bass pedal with your foot when an orange line goes across the screen. I thought I'd be alright starting out on Medium, but started faltering about 15 songs into the song list. A Metallica song on Medium drums is actually harder than most guitar songs on Expert.
Each of the three instruments can be enjoyed by themselves, but the real fun of Rock Band comes when you get some friends together. It encourages a lot of teamwork, as a member that fails out can be saved by another if "Overdrive is kicked in. This is essentially the same thing as Guitar Hero's "star power", but with one added bonus. If more than one member uses Overdrive at the same time, you'll get an additional multiplier to your overall score.
This Wii version is somewhat castrated in terms of modes offered, however. It's a port of the stripped-down PS2 version, which means you won't find the robust Band World Tour mode, downloadable content, customizable characters, or online play. The latter two features aren't necessarily huge losses, but the omission of Band World Tour and DLC are a huge negative.
There's a distinct difference between Rock Band's setlist and Guitar Hero's. Whereas the latter specifically features guitar-intensive songs, Rock Band features more balanced selections. Something like the Red Hot Chili Pepper's "Dani California" may not feature a blistering guitar solo, but it's balanced so that all four players can enjoy themselves.
The songs range from the 60s to the 2000s, and many different styles are represented. You've got the indie Yeah Yeah Yeah's, the rap-rock Beastie Boys, punk pioneers The Clash and The Ramones, and best-song-of-all-time contender "Gimme Shelter" by the Rolling Stones. It's just a shame the setlist can't be expanded via downloaded content. Harmonix has been fantastic about offering plenty of new songs and albums, and this will all be missed in the Rock Band "Special Edition".
My one big complaint with the peripherals is with the actual guitar controller. It seems solid at first when playing through easier songs, although I haven't talked to anyone that likes the lower five frets. The problems arise when you get to some of the faster, more difficult songs. The strum bar lacks any kind of "click" when you play a note, which is awkward when playing fast sections of notes.
As a single-player game, Rock Band is enjoyable. As a party game, it's one of the most entertaining gaming experiences you can have. Get some friends together (and a couple 30-packs of Milwaukee's Best) and have a blast.
First Play: 9.0
Replay Value: 7.5