Lately, I’ve been doing the same thing over and over again to close out my evenings. I may have brushed my teeth already, clad out in my pajamas and it may look like I’m ready to go to bed. I’m actually not sleepy at all as I’m already behind the closed door of my bedroom because I don’t want to make too much noise and disturb the entire household. Yep, I been making a lot of noise in my bedroom for the past couple of weeks now… because I’ve been cranking up the volume on my television while playing Rock Band 4 for the PlayStation 4. Why? What were you thinking when I said I was making so much noise in my room?
Rock Band 4 is the latest version of Harmonix music-rhythm game franchise and I loved it even before the first game came out. Guitar Hero on the PS2 pioneered the entire playing music on fake plastic instruments and I just loved it. I guess the biggest reason why I’m so enamored by the prospect of pretending to play music on my fake MadCatz guitar and drum set is that I’m not all that musically inclined. I love to sing but I just don’t have the pipes for it. I would love to learn to pick up and learn an instrument but I just don’t have the time and patience. The Rock Band games gave me the ability to fulfill my fantasies in both areas. Well, maybe not the entire singing thing because I still sound like a deranged cat who’s tail is being squashed by a hoverboard. But playing on fake instruments just feels so right!
But even I will admit that the entire music-rhythm gaming genre was feeling a little long in the tooth by the time Rock Band 3 rolled in. Not only was Harmonix competing with Guitar Hero (a game series they created by the way) and other music-rhythm games with plastic instruments like Rocksmith (where you can learn how to play a real guitar!) but different iterations of Rock Band as well! I was okay with The Beatles getting their own version of Rock Band. After all, they are The Beatles and they deserved their own special game away from the dregs of the “regular” bands. Oddly enough, the music in The Beatles Rock Band wasn’t all that challenging, which struck me as strange as they are supposed to be the greatest band to have ever been. Still, I loved it.
Harmonix did get carried away with all the special standalone versions of Rock Band maybe because of this. There was a solo outing for Green Day. While I do think Green Day is a solid band, I just don’t think they’re on the same stature as The Beatles and they certainly didn’t deserve their own version of Rock Band! Then they made the cash grab that is LEGO Rock Band. Was anyone clamoring for a LEGO version of Rock Band? It was a totally unnecessary game as it didn’t really add anything fresh with regards to the “playing music on fake instruments” gimmick! If they released guitar controllers made of LEGO blocks, I would’ve been fine with that!
It wasn’t only Harmonix that was getting into the act. Activision was much worse when it came to trying to create spinoffs! They got really notable bands like Aerosmith, Van Halen and Metallica to whore out their names and likeness for their standalone games. I was okay with Aerosmith but when they got Metallica and Van Halen, wow. I didn’t like the trend. Eventually, I guess Activision couldn’t sucker in big name bands anymore but they still kept on making spin off Guitar Hero games like Smash Hits and Band Hero. Oh, and Band Hero was the worst of the bunch! It was a soulless game and felt really lame. But I got it because it was my first chance to play a Taylor Swift song. But even my fandom for Taylor Swift couldn’t disguise how lame and unimaginative Band Hero played.
By the time Harmonix rolled out Rock Band 3, the genre had become super saturated with so many music games that had their own fake instruments that could work with them. It was a mess. I did pick up Rock Band 3 and I still loved it but the spark that made the other games felt special had just waned. It just didn’t feel special anymore. It also didn’t help that they already released most of the song worth playing in previous entries. What was the point of getting a new version of the game if the older version worked just as well. In fact, at times, I appreciated Rock Band 2 more than Rock Band 3!
Rock Band 2 was the pinnacle of the fake plastic instruments genre. Harmonix didn’t really change the gameplay all that much from the first Rock Band but they did a great job refining the gameplay with nice little touches. I was never really fully satisfied with how my band, aptly titled Robin’s Adventures, looked in the first game. They looked fine but they just weren’t great. The customability just wasn’t there. But Rock Band 2 fixed all that! I came away with a great eclectic group of female band members that represented the different facets of my personality! I wish I had a screenshot of them but that band is dead because my brother’s PS3 died and took the old Robin’s Adventures band with it.
But it was mostly because the music on the Rock Band 2 disc that made it great! I can’t say I liked every single track on it but I do appreciate the healthy mix of genres it had. What amazed me is that there were more than a few songs and bands that I’ve never heard of but fell in love with! There was The Muffs’ Kids in America, Modest Mouse’s Float On, Lit’s My Own Worst Enemy and, probably my favorite unheard band, Bikini Kill’s Rebel Girl! That song is just so fun to play with any instrument!
Rock Band 3 did try to make some gamplay changes but some of them just didn’t improve the experience. You could tell that Harmonix was scratching their heads in trying to find ways to make the Rock Band name fresh and get gamers to get yet another version of the game! And this is where they failed and failed hard.
Rock Band 3 added a new instrument: the keyboard/keytar. On paper, it must’ve seemed like a good idea and a great way to get people to buy another new plastic fake instrument! In actual practice and hindsight, it wasn’t a bright idea. Not many of the songs actually used a keyboard/keytar! It wasn’t all that fun to play on as well. When I tried it at a friend’s house, no one actually wanted to touch it as it was just so hard to rock out with the keyboard!
The second and most disappointing addition to Rock Band 3 was the MatCatz Pro Guitar Controller. There was the promise that, by using this, Rock Band 3 would teach you how to play a real guitar! That was my dream so, when I got my copy of Rock Band 3, I also had to get the Pro Guitar Controller! I had dreams of being able to pick up a guitar and play a couple of songs and, when the people heard me playing it and ask when did I learn how to play the instrument, I would cockily say I learned by playing a video game!
I only made it up to the basic chords tutorial.
I can’t really fault Harmonix and the lessons in the game as I do know how to make a C and G chord on a real guitar now. So they certainly did their job. But they were just so boring! There was no fun to be had going through the guitar lessons of Rock Band 3! They were actually kind of frustrating as they seemed to teach some advanced techniques early. I bet they’re really basic finger exercises that real guitarists do to warm up but for someone like me that don’t really know the slightest thing, it was just too frustrating!
I pretty much gave up on playing music-rhythm games on my fake guitars and drums soon after. I already finished Rock Band 3’s very short career mode and I already got and played all the songs I wanted. What was there left? Learn the guitar? Nope! Too painful! And I guess the public gave up at around the same time I did.
Cut to 2016: Christmas day. My brother gave me a copy of Rock Band 4 for the PlayStation 4 and I was hit with a wave of happiness! I couldn’t wait to crack it out of its case and play some fake instruments again! And, like I mentioned at the very start of this post, I’ve been playing it every night before I get to sleep. It’s a great way to unwind as well as tire yourself out a bit before bed!
It’s funny what time can do, huh? First, you’re sick of something but, after some time, you can’t get enough of it.
What was your experience with rhythm music games? Let me know in the comments section below!