Review: Rock Band Country Track Pack (Nintendo Wii)

Rock Band: Country Track Pack
Genre: Music
Developer: Harmonix
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: 07/21/2009

Story/Modes:

Once again, not that I expected a Track Pack to rectify this, the Tour mode present on the 360/PS3 platforms is completely missing here. Moreover, since all songs are playable from multiplier from the first time you put the disk in, the Tour mode here is completely and utterly moot. I was somewhat disappointed that there were no bonus tracks from up-and-coming artists – one of my favorite parts of the Harmonix games. I know this is just a track pack, and it’s suffering from the sins of the father, but since I’m a believer in the concept of Original Sin.

Story/Modes Rating Poor.

Graphics:

Another victim of comparison to the 360/PS3 versions, the band graphics are still canned and not customizable at all. The quality hasn’t improved noticeably from earlier versions – motions are fluid and wide action shots are fun but close-ups are still blocky; obviously a result of the “two Gamecubes” video processing of the Wii. I have to be kinder in my evaluation here, though, because of some of the pimped-out Nashville Sequin Explosion suits worn by some of the band members:

Graphic Rating: Average

Sound:

This, of course, is the game and genre’s strong point, and the song selection was strong and appropriate for a Rock Band game for the most part. The lower-tier songs seemed more boring than they needed to be, and I’m talking musically here. Solos were perfunctory, instrumentation in general was simple. For example, I was happy that Kansas native Martina McBride was featured in the game, but with the first-tier song “This One’s For the Girls,” which is a fine and popular country song is utterly boring in the Rock Band format (“When God Fearin’ Women Get the Blues” would have been much better.) I found myself pushing higher in the list almost immediately just because the music was better, but it did get better quickly. There was surprisingly little shlock in the song list, a relief for a genre which makes it’s bread and butter with the formulaic. (A classic joke: What do you get when you play a country song backward? You get your wife back, your house back, your job back, your dog back….) There was no Garth Brooks at all, and only one Shania Twain song – the one most likely to be mistaken for a Def Leppard song. The inclusion of “The Gambler” and “On the Road Again” is a big selling point for the game and both songs were represented very well, and I was pleasantly surprised with the choice of the Dixie Chicks, “Sin Wagon” as the hardest song in the game – a great song with some fabulous musicianship that translates very well to the Rock Band format. My only real complaint is the lack of a “banjo” instrument selection – this being lumped in with the guitar parts:

Sound Rating: Great

Control/Gameplay:

Not being familiar with the other Rock Band Track Packs (or even Rock Band 2), I’m not sure that this is a new innovation or not, but the HDTV calibration method is much improved over the original Rock Band, so much so that after the initial calibration, we (my band, The Viaduct Dorks) were good to go and scoring well in Medium and Hard difficulty levels. I was also happy to see that the graphics and sound delay calibrations were given in actual figures – knowing your benchmark makes tweaking so much easier. The controls also seemed, in general, to be more forgiving than the original Rock Band. Otherwise, it was exactly what a Rock Band player would be used to:

Control and Gameplay Rating: Good

Replayability:

Now the obsessive-compulsive country music fan has something to wash his hands repeatedly about. Four instruments + Five difficulty levels * 21 songs = quite a while.

Replayability Rating: Good

Balance:

I’ve always been a fan of how the difficulty settings are set up in Rock Band, particularly the break between Medium and Hard difficulty. Throwing the orange button in – making the player change positions – is a right and proper step from Medium to Hard difficulty and knowing what you’ll be responsible for in terms of the buttons makes selecting a difficulty and gathering the nerve to increase difficulty so much easier. The Country Pack continues this tradition, and since I’m knocking other aspects for the sins of the original game, I feel it’s only fair to extend the credit of the original as well.

Balance Rating: Great

Originality:

It’s a Rock Band Track Pack. The new graphics were nice, the new songs were mostly good, but those are other sections.

Originality Rating: Below Average

Addictiveness:

With only 21 songs and no unlockables, the Country Pack is, naturally, not as completely addicting as the original game. However, with all games playable out of the box, it’s tailor-made for a redneck house party. Really, is it fair not to give everyone a chance to sing, “The Gambler”? I think not. Even with just me and my son playing, neither of us decided fans of country, we still were surprised when we looked at the clock and saw that bedtime had came and went.

Addictiveness Rating: Above Average

Appeal:

Rock Band in general (Note: I’d LOVE to see a Rock Band Ska Track Pack, possibly featuring Madness, The Skatalites, Sublime, Operation Ivy, Reel Big Fish, and Less Than Jake. Somebody at Harmonix make this happen, kthxbi.), but country has a broad enough following that I don’t see this doing any worse than any other Track Pack, and it may do considerably better. The song selection contains enough crossover hits that I don’t see any open-minded music fan being turned off by it. I wasn’t.

Appeal Factor Rating: Average

Miscellaneous:

Other than the first tier, I really enjoyed the song selection in the Track Pack, and I’m decidedly not a country fan. Living on the Great Plains, you’re exposed to a lot of it, so I probably know more about the genre than most people on the coasts, but I certainly don’t listen to country music as a matter of course. Yet, it was hard for me to put this down at the end of the night. My first attempt at “Sin Wagon” was on Hard, and I discovered in the first 20 seconds that I had made a dire, dire mistake. I was hipped to some new music (to me, at least) that I quite enjoyed, Steve Earle’s “Satellite Radio” for starters. I was impressed that the people responsible not only went out of their way to get music that “fit” the Rock Band concept well (save for Shania Twain, of course) but that they also went out of their way to span the breadth of the genre and show a depth in the musicianship beyond the truck commercial music and bubblegum country (save for Shania Twain) that the mainstream is most exposed to. I would encourage any Rock Band fan with even just a halfway-open mind to give this Track Pack a spin. Besides, I think Willie Nelson still needs the money.

Miscellaneous Rating: Good

The Scores
Story: Poor
Graphics: Average
Sound: Great
Control/Gameplay: Good
Replayability: Good
Balance: Great
Originality: Below Average
Addictiveness: Above Average
Appeal: Average
Miscellaneous: Good
Final Score: Above Average

Short Attention Span Summary
Rock Band: Country Track Pack is a perfectly serviceable Rock Band installment, not breaking any new ground but not falling short of it’s pedigree either. The songs, for the most part, are well suited for the Rock Band format. The control seems more forgiving than the original Rock Band, and while it’s not worth calling the friends about, you’ll still find yourself saying, “just one more song.” It’s a must-by for country music fans, but the song selection is varied enough to hold the attention of more mainstream music listeners.

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