Wow, holiday season 2007 was a crazy time for gamers, wasn't it? During the busiest shopping season of the year, a battle for consumer dollars raged between two musically-oriented, peripheral-filled games: Guitar Hero 3 and Rock Band. However, since its launch, the Wii has been the ultimate champion of the gaming industry, so it's a funny thing to have to have waited over six months for the most popular platform to be included in the software tug-of-war. Each game has its strengths, but it's clear that Harmonix's move to more plastic instruments paid off, with Rock Band flooring wannabe rockers. Now it's the Wii's turn, but the question is: Can a stripped-down favorite appease the more casual friendly crowd, while staying true to what made is so popular?
The concept behind Rock Band doesn't deviate any from the precedent set by Konami with their GuitarFreaks and DrumMania arcade games of the past—the goal, still, is to match drum beats, chords and notes in-time with on-screen cues for a score—and plays nearly identically to the developer's earlier Guitar Hero games; where the major differences hide are in the number of people who can play simultaneously and what kind of instruments they can play.
In it's debut on the Wii, Rock Band offers many familiar game mechanics: score multipliers, crowd appeasement and licensed songs from popular bands. Unfortunately, however, even with some improvements to the hardware over the 360 and PS3 offerings, matching thumps, strums and pitches on the Wii format won't excite haggard, living-room bands out there, nullifying any reason for them to go multi-plat with their hits.
What the game does do, on the other hand, is give those late-blossoming gamers a chance to get in on the Rock Band excitement, albeit a bit in an abbreviated way.
C'mon, it's Rock Band...
Although Guitar Hero had to contend with Rock Band on the 360 and PS3 formats for virtual music supremacy early in its release, Guitar Hero on the Wii was the only fix rhythm-loving, rock music fans could get for awhile. Two player action is fun, but throw in a set of drums to pound on, and a microphone to yell into, and you easily cruise past the duet-only competition.
To the point, Rock Band for the Wii is the casual player's wet-dream. While there is a fairly steep learning curve on the drums for any novice musician, after a few practice sessions, it's easy to have a group of non-gamers smashing the different color pads, playing along with a guitarist, bassist and vocalist—not to mention wailing on drums, in a coordinated rhythm, is just fun.
Animal-friendly kit. You know, like the Muppet's kind of Animal...
Without question, the drums are the standout element of the plastic instrument package. While Harmonix may not be the first developer to institute a peripheral to simulate drums for a video game, they've done well in implementing a simple system that works. There was criticism about the drum set when the game was first released back in November, with kick pedals breaking and drum pads making too much noise. Those problems seem to be mostly alleviated by a pedal that is supported by a stronger plastic hinge, and softer pads; though, noise still plays a factor with beats sounding like those of real, practice pads.
Oh, hell no:
Hardcore fans, stay thee away...
It's entirely easy to boast about the accessibility of Rock Band on the Wii, especially for a user base which is, mostly, used to just having fun on their home console, without worry of hearing, “You suck, you noob!” However, those who have played the 360 and PS3 versions of the game will be the first to tell you that those versions symbolize the true way to play Rock Band...and then they'll argue as to which format is superior.
The big differences are in the feature sets between the games: The 360/PS3 version allows customization of characters, set lists and the ability to fully form their experience with the game into a pseudo life of a rock star—there are even public shows where people play as a band, go figure—with a full online community to be a part of.
What the Wii players get, on the other hand, is a linear experience, similar to Guitar Hero, where you name a band and play through pre-generated set lists of four to five songs of increasing difficulty, two competitive games where you can play against a friend with a similar instrument, and, well, that's about it. This also means that without any online connectivity, you're restricted to buying volume packs of music; there's no picking and choosing here.
With customization, in its entirety, gone in the Wii version, it's hard to think of it as any thing different than Guitar Hero, plus drums and a microphone.
Audiophiles and graphics-whores, watch out...
To go along with a seriously lackluster list of options in terms of living out your dreams on stage, there's quite a bit of quality-loss for both the audio and visual technical aspects. Both senses of sight and sound of the game are subject to the Wii's smaller format size, with compression issues for each.
Ultimately, however, even though the sound may sound a bit more lighter and muffled, and the visuals grainy and lacking distinct characters, the more casual crowd is still likely to get lost in the rhythmic play, and less likely to bemoan high-def issues—let's face it, if you're really into all things “high-def,” then you probably have a Wii for more specific reasons than making it your go-to format for gaming.
Buddy Holly would be ashamed...
True, Rock Band is just a game, meant to appeal to a wide audience (and their wallets); but, even six months later, we're still fiddling around with a inferior guitar on the more popular game. We concede that there was some great creative effort in terms of trying to replicate a Fender Stratocaster, with an effects switch and buttons higher up on the neck to make use of those effects, but the thing still feels like toy guitar. Yes, the Guitar Hero Les Paul does sound a bit hollow while playing, but it's beefier nature makes it feel less fragile.
The frets and strum bar are also still an issue with the Rock Band guitar, as the buttons are clunky and less responsive when compared to the Guitar Hero keys (this may be why the difficulty level for the guitar portions of the game are far easier than Harmonix's previous guitar games), and the strum bar still feels like you're going to have the send the guitar in for repair, no matter how gentle you are with it.
Still, are you ready to rock?!...
In thinking critically about Rock Band on the Wii, it seems like the game is an obligatory port to the console. Being released six months after the game's bigger brothers hit retail, and only months before Guitar Hero: World Tour and Rock Band 2 are released, the first installment of the series on the Wii is really for those craving to get a warm-up for the big hitters down the road, and those who only have Nintendo's console in their living-rooms—not to mention, some extra cash to shell out.
Lacking the features and style that made the PS3 and 360 versions so loved, it's hard to consider the game a comparable Wii title. However, the core concept is there in terms of solid, rhythmic gameplay for a whole family's worth of people to get in on, and with such the case, it's hard to completely shun.
It's fun, but it's not the Rock Band experience.