Review: Rock Band (Nintendo Wii)

Rock Band
Developer: Harmonix
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Genre: Rhythm
Release Date: 6/22/2008


My first rhythm game was Guitar Hero 2 for the Xbox 360. As you can see, I was a bit late on the whole phenomenon, but from the outside, playing a plastic guitar looked like one of the least manly things you can do with a video game, just a bit above playing Imagine: Babyz while wearing a tutu on the virility chart. Still, when I heard one of my friends play “John the Fisherman”, I had to give it a try, and just like anybody who plays for the first time, I got kicked out by the virtual crowd.

Fast forward a year or so later, and I have become a rhythm game addict. I bought Guitar Hero 3 for the Wii, I have been squatting at my friend’s place ever since he bought Rock Band for the Xbox 360 back in early January and I even started working on my footwork for some Dance Dance Revolution. Yes, I know that I am very late to the party on the last one, but at least I’m getting pretty good at it.

Now being a veteran of several “Band World Tour” on the Xbox 360, I was completely overjoyed when I heard that Rock Band would finally be released for the Wii. That meant that I could finally take the fun home with me, and it also meant that my friend could finally get back some sort of intimacy now that I wasn’t going to be around his place so much. It was really a win/win situation, and we were all to live happily ever after. Kind of.

Sure, I am enjoying every minute of playtime I am spending with the game, but I still can’t help but feel cheated. I knew all about the missing modes going in, and thought that I wouldn’t mind much because all I want is to rock out with some friends, right? Once again, it’s not entirely true. While we’re having a lot of fun playing together, I have known the Band World Tour mode on another console, and I know how fun it can be to create your own band, name it and dress its members. I can’t even describe how cool we felt when we first hooked the game to my friend’s Xbox 360, started a Ghostbusters-themed band and successfully dressed up as characters from the movie (I was Vigo The Carpathian).

However, the game I am reviewing is the Wii version and when taken on its own, it is still a very enjoyable product, although there are more flaws than in its Xbox 360/PS3 counterparts.

Let’s start with the graphics, which leave much to be desired. The in-game videos of the virtual band’s performance – which you cannot customize whatsoever – is so blurry that the experience is akin to going to a concert while wearing goggles with Vaseline smeared all over the glasses. At least, the note charts and lyrics display are as clear as one could wish for, so it all remains functional. Also, let’s be honest here and say that while you are busy trying to keep up with the flow of coloured gems coming at you from the top of the screen, you won’t have much time to take a look at what’s going on nearby.

Sadly, these blurry graphics mean that there is no real excuse for the lack of content on the Wii. Both the Wii and the Xbox 360 use DVDs as the optical support for their games. Furthermore, starting with Super Smash Bros. Brawl, dual layers disks are now available for the Nintendo console. When you add that to the fact that the Wii is less powerful graphically – and crappier quality means smaller files, right? At least that’s what I have been taught during three years of computer science – then you can’t help but think that there must be some space left on that Rock Band disk, since it’s basically the same game as its XB360 counterpart, on the same support, but with much of the content removed and cheaper graphics. So unless Microsoft uses some sort of on-the-fly compressing technology which I am completely unaware of, there is no real reason why they left out some of the most enjoyable parts of the original game – the Band World Tour and its character creator, the online multiplayer mode – especially when other games have successfully been ported from the 360 to the Wii, with a graphical downsizing being the only side effect. This game is literally screaming “cheap PS2 port”, and feels like a higher priced shovelware that happens to have a fun premise. Hey, at least this version has five extra songs, right?

Despite all of my annoyance at the lack of Band World Tour, it could all be easily forgiven if the game wasn’t being so cruel and openly taunting me about the missing mode. Indeed, once I finished the solo tour mode, I was rewarded with a screen that told me to step up to the real challenge and start playing with friends in the “Band World Tour” mode, which as you know by now, is NOT in the game. I guess it is a simple omission that happened during the whole process of porting the game to this new platform, but a part of me feels like it might be pure sadistic behaviour being shown by the developers. After all, this is a PS2 port, and that version did not feature Band World Tour either, so there no reasons why that message should have even been present in the PS2 version in the first place.

So, in terms of gameplay, we are left with a solo tour mode for every instrument except bass. I can understand why bass isn’t there, as some of the bass parts are either boring or way too easy, which was to be expected unless they included a couple of Les Claypool song. We also have quickplay for both single and multiplayer, as well as a couple of versus modes if you want to duel with your friends. There’s a pretty neat training mode rounding things up, and I have to give a big thumb up to the fact that the speed of the song can be changed while playing. It helps tremendously when it comes to mastering some of the solos, as you can play the song at normal speed until you hit a bump in the road, and then switch to slow-as-molasses scrolling to help you get it right. Overall, Rock Band is first and foremost a multiplayer game, and simply being able to play any song at will is the only thing one needs for a night of fun with friends, but the list of things to do is still pretty short.

Another disappointment, even though it is a tad bit less frustrating, is the lack of downloadable content. I can see why Harmonix thought that it wouldn’t be viable with the Wii’s lack of outside storage solution, but the system has a nice little SD card slot in it, and SD cards are getting cheaper and cheaper. Even if the console didn’t have a SD card slot, it would have been nice to have the choice to fill my internal memory with as much songs as I want, but I cannot realistically fault the developers that much for that choice.

On the other hand, I can include a side note in my review of Rock Band to tell Nintendo to get off their butts and start working on an external USB hard drive already.

I know that the last few paragraphs might not be leaving you with that impression, but there are some pretty good things to be said about the game. Thankfully, every important aspect of the game works like a charm, starting with the peripherals. I have heard tales of the strum bar or the drum’s pedal breaking with other versions of the game, but from my own experience with the Wii version, the pedal looks like it’s the only thing which could cause problems in the future, and even then, I believe it has something with the way one would place his foot on it. I can see it snapping if you only put pressure at the top of the pedal, but it can be countered by placing your whole foot on the device, giving it a nice even push down as you play. Still, putting a little bit of metal there might have helped making the thing a little bit sturdier, as even I don’t always have the time to think about perfect foot placement while I’m hitting that pedal way too often during “Won’t Get Fooled Again”.

On the bright side, the wireless guitar works great and is a real joy to play. I like the feel of the soft strum bar, and the whammy bar fits nicely in the palm of my hand while I shred away. The placement of the effect switch is a bit awkward as it gets in my way if things get too intense, but that might just be my oversized hands, since I have questioned my friends about it and I was the only one having such a problem. The microphone picks up the singing very effectively and is even quite sensitive, and the sound of your voice coming out from the TV is crystal clear. As for the drums, I don’t know if I’m simply imagining things, but it looks like the developers added a little bit of padding for a quieter experience. It isn’t completely noiseless, but it does seem like a nice change from the Xbox 360 version which I was used to.

Another positive is the sound, which is always good news when it comes to a rhythm game. As a disclaimer, I first want to say that while I have a decent sound set-up (decent as in “stereo”), I don’t have any fancy 5.1 surround speakers or anything of that kind, so if there is any controversy that pops up later (such as with the Wii version of Guitar Hero 3, which was actually mixed in mono sound), I decline any responsibility. With that out of the way, what I heard was just as good as you could wish for. Everything sounds like it was ripped right from the albums, and Harmonix did a great job with the master tracks. Even the old stuff sounds new, so every song in the game are even and nothing seems out of place. The few covers that can be found in the game are convincing and it actually took me a while to discover that “Paranoid” was a cover. Probably because I was too busy singing over the track to notice the performer’s own voice, but it goes to say that the cover band does the job admirably.

Now that you are aware of everything that there is to know on the technical side of things, there’s only one question left to answer: Is it any fun to play?

Yes, it is. Despite all of its flaws and shortcomings, the bottom line is that the core gameplay of Rock Band translates very well to the Wii, and really, how couldn’t it? After all, the game makes sure to pass over some of the control issues that some ports suffer from by introducing its own peripherals to play the game. This makes sure that you are left with a very enjoyable experience, especially when played with friends. If you think that karaoke is funny, wait until you and two other people are mimicking your favourite band in the background. Remember Steve Buscemi humping his guitar in prison in “Airheads”? I can confirm that this is an appropriate (and hilarious) move for every song and genre.

In reality, that is the whole appeal of Rock Band: sure, it’s fun as a single-player game, but if you are playing alone, you will get tired of playing the same songs over and over again. However, as a multiplayer game, it becomes much more than simple software – it becomes an experience. It’s not about who gets the better score, it’s just about acting goofy with friends. In fact, the developers made sure that everybody, from the casual to the hardcore, could take part in the festivities by making note charts that hit just the right spots. Playing on easy is very forgiving while playing on expert provides a challenge that will be enough even for seasoned veterans of Guitar Hero and company. In fact, you will need to sing really off-key if you feel like being kicked out on easy. On the opposite end of the difficulty spectrum, I suggest drumming “Run to the Hills” on Hard or Expert if you are starting to feel bored. Overall, I would say that Harmonix does a better job at getting the right feel when it comes to playing a song than Neversoft did on Guitar Hero 3. The way the notes flow just looks much more natural to me.

There really is something for everyone here, so unless you have a real problem with making fun of yourself, there’s literally no end to the game’s replayability. At the very least, you know it will keep you occupied until the next version inevitably comes along this fall.

The Scores
Story/Modes: Poor
Graphics: Poor
Sound: Unparalleled
Control and Gameplay: Classic
Replayability: Great
Balance: Great
Originality: Decent
Addictiveness: Unparalleled
Appeal Factor: Above Average
Miscellaneous: Worthless

FINAL SCORE: Enjoyable

Short Attention Span Summary
On its own, and if you can afford putting nearly 169 dollars on a game, it’s a fun experience that will be a hit with you and your friends. When compared to the same game released on other systems, it looks like a cheap knock-off that was rushed when the company realized that Wii owners also had money to give away. But no matter how you look at it, it’s a great game that unfortunately offers only the bare minimum, just like a hot girl who knows she can get away with her weak personality because a lot of guys would still kill to get with her. Recommended if you only have a Wii, but get the superior version if you own a PS3 or an Xbox 360.

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