Holiday Video Game Buying Guide Part One: Music Games
There’s a lot of games to choose from nowadays. How will you know what little Billy or Jamie want for the holiday gift season? Well, I’m here to steer you in the right direction when shopping for the newest electronic kagigger that the kids want for their X-stations and GameBox 460s and such. That what the kids, play, right?
In all seriousness, there’s really a wide variety of crap out there, and someone needs to sift through it for you. And sure, it may be a week until Christmas (so for some of you, you may be doing some returns before the holidays) but I’ve had to actually PLAY through these, so my warnings are for YOUR benefits, people!
Let’s start with music games. We’ve moved on from the normal rhythm titles where we play plastic instruments and have graduated to real instruments. Two games are boasting that they’ll teach you to play…but which one is right for you? Hit the jump and find out.
First up is “Power Gig: Rise of the Six String“, the first game to come with a REAL six string guitar. And by real I mean a plastic guitar that works as a controller, but yeah, has strings and you can plug it into an amp to use. At $180 the game and guitar combo isn’t cheap…but you’re getting a real guitar, right? Well, a real guitar that works on two double A batteries that are not included in the packaging. Hmm…not off to a good start.
Well, the guitar for this game is hefty enough, that’s for sure. So we pop the game into the system, use the controller/guitar and start ‘er up. For those familiar with the falling gem style of rhythm games such as “Guitar Hero”, the gameplay should look familiar, if only slightly changed. Instead of flowing down a fretboard on screen, there are literal STRINGS on screen that the orbs come down on. Pressing ANY string on the guitar in between the proper frets and then strumming when it reaches the bottom plays the note. Sounds like the normal fare…how is this supposed to be different than the games that have come before? The guitar itself, at first glance, is kind of cool. The metal frets themselves have sensors in them, so it knows when you press between the first ad second fret, you’re hitting the “green” notes, the second and third for the “red” notes, etc. But this is how they all are played…why am I developing callouses on my finger tips when it doesn’t matter WHAT string I hit, just that it press it on the right fret?
Well, there is a mode to select called “power chord”. Here at random moments in the song a note will drop with a number on it. That number signifies the string you’re to press in conjunction with the corresponding string to play the actual note. Sounds guitar-y enough…but they don’t apply for the entire song, just for certain notes within the song. What’s worse is that there are only TWO kinds of power chords: ones that use the sixth & fifth strings, and ones that use the fifth and fourth strings. THERE ARE NO OTHERS. If you’re expecting to learn how to play guitar from this game you’re going to be sadly disappointed.
But hey, maybe the songs are cool, right? Well, sure…some of them. Eric Clapton has some songs here but so does…John Mayer & Dave Matthews Band? The “plot” revolves around a civilization where musicians where the leaders of tribes. As the Headliners of the tribes came into power, they outlawed any music other than their own. But the older groups banded together to raise the mojo of the city and…oh man, i can’t go on. It’s just too ridiculous. basically, you must use the power of rock to rise up against the tyranny of…wow. Even THAT sounds bad. Because when I think of world changing rock music, I think of John Mayer.
Well, maybe the graphics are decent, right? Sadly, no. The character animations in game look like the first “Guitar Hero”…on Playstation 2. For a game that’s out on the “next-gen” game systems, this is awful. The cut-scenes are even worse, as they’ve abandoned any animation at all and use crude drawings that slide about rather than animate. The voice acting is terrible and the plot…well, I’ve already talked about that.
To be truthful, there’s not a lot of good I can say about this game. It’s not fun, it’s not entertaining, and it’s just sloppy all around. Instead of being a four player band like the other music games, this one is only three: singer, guitar and drums. No bass? Sorry for the fans of the low-end, I guess. It’s tedious, it’s boring…and it doesn’t do what it claims to do in the first place: get you rocking with a real guitar. Gimmicky and lame. Keep it out of my stocking, thank you.
Rating: SKIP IT!
But what about “Rock Band 3“, the newest iteration of the ‘full band experience”? Well, the folks at Harmonix, the developer of the title, are all ACTUAL MUSICIANS, so they have, at least in the past, known what they were doing to try to bring the rock star experience into your living rooms. Now they’ve uped the game with a slicker presentation, and the much clouted “pro” modes, including support for new peripherals.
Keyboards are now a part of the “Rock Band” experience, and the keyboard controller is too cool for school. This controller is closer to a
real-life keyboard than any other instrument controlerl that has come before it. It’s a
full two-octave range keyboard for in-game use, and also doubles as a midi-keyboard for instrumentation on a computer. “Standard” key mode is recognizable to anyone who has played a
rhythm game: the note highway consisting of five colored notes that match five keys from the upper range of the keyboard. Just like
with guitar, notes scroll down the screen matching with the music. “Pro” mode utilizes the familiar note highway, but displays every
note on the instrument (with sections shifting left or
right, when necessary), asking you to play the actual notes (including
chords) from the song. Obviously, Pro mode is in every way more
difficult than the standard mode, but certainly more fun and rewarding.
Pro mode also reaches to the other instruments
with the introduction of two new peripherals — the “REAL
guitar” string-based Fender Squier Stratocaster (which, like the “Power Gig” controller is both a game
controller and a real guitar) and the 102-button Fender
Mustang. Pro mode for guitar works similarly fashion to the Pro key mode,
with numbered notes (that signify fret positions) coming down a six-“lane” (or string) note highway. If you’re a guitar player,
you’ll recognize it as being similar to standard (horizontal) guitar tabs;
it’s very user-friendly, even for those who’ve never picked up a “real” guitar before, and much more straight forward to follow than “Power Gig”s “power chord” mode.
For the drums, Pro mode uses cymbal attachments (up to three, sold separately) which attach to the drums you already have (at least, if they’re from the second iteration of the game, or The Beatles version), and even
features support for a second pedal (for a hi-hat) if you so choose. In
addition to the standard four-note/pedal bar chat method, the game displays cymbal hits where necessary. This, in theory, should
mimic the same parts you’d play on a real drum kit.
The introduction of Pro mode is exactly what “real” musicians have been crying for when the genre first exploded on the scene. No more will you hear “just play a real instrument” as here, you actually will be (or a close approximation of one, anyway). The game’s implementation of this is as good a teacher as any, showing chord progression and note structure, and does it all with your favorite songs. The majority of the tracks already released from the other games and in downloadable content will support most of the instruments on Pro mode, and if not, updates have been flowing through.
But what if you want to just play a game? Pro mode is daunting to be sure, but if you want to just have fun with a rhythm game with your friends, RB3 has that too. The party feel is back, and now supports vocals for three singers at once, so harmonies are involved. There’s even pitch correction in place so when the sound comes through the speakers and someone’s been using ‘liquid courage” to play, they don’t burst your ears with the sound of a drowning cat. Well, not everytime, anyway. The standard mode of play allows for a great amount of support, and the songs on the disc, as well as DLC allow for over 2000 choices in what to play.
Obviously, the choice here is simple. Harmonix has simply crafted the best music experience to date, and it’s Pro mode is one that could actually possible teach you how to play an instrument, rather than just using one to play a game. I actually have a friend who’s claimed that after a few weeks playing Pro mode, his wife picked up a guitar for the first time and started strumming out the notes to a Springsteen hit. Plus, there’s no cheesy “plot”. You’re just a band trying to make it…and now, you’re a starting musician, just like your game character.
Rating: BUY IT!
Well, that’s it for part one. There’s lots more to come soon. Happy Holidays.