DJ Hero Retrospective

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Rhthym gaming took the world by storm in 2005. A relatively unknown company by the name of Harmonix brought Guitar Hero into the public conscious and blasted themselves to stardom. The mixture of an old-school score mentality mixed with classic rock tunes lead to an immensely popular debut that would see the series continue on for a good few years.

I jumped on the bandwagon in 2007 when Guitar Hero II was released for the Xbox 360. While I never fancied myself an actual rock star, I had some previous experience using a guitar and I liked that songs I truly admired were getting more recognition. It also felt super cool to nail insane solos without breaking a sweat.

Most of my time in college was spent playing Guitar Hero in one form or another. Its sequel or the highly polished third entry gained more of my attention in 2007 than any other game or series.

While the success of the series showed the games industry that graphics and genre weren’t that important in making lots of money, the brand eventually began to stagnate. There is only so much you can do with the formula before people realize they’ve had their fill.

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Harmonix seemed to catch on to this after creating the second game. They did not sign with Activision to produce the third and instead went on to make Rock Band, the biggest competitor to the Guitar Hero franchise. The business model was also dramatically better; instead of creating yearly sequels, Harmonix opted to utilize the online connectivity of newer consoles to continually produce extra content for the game.

Activision sort of copied that idea, but still put out a staggering amount of games with the Guitar Hero branding. Handheld consoles got installments; cellphones weren’t free from virtual shredding; there was even a spin-off series focused more on hip-hop and dance music.

That is where my interest truly piqued. I’ve always been a fan of classic rock and I love heavy metal, but to hear modern pop songs and classic hits mashed together in some freestyle kind of insanity was just golden. It encapsulated everything I liked about the internet era of music discovery with a style of gameplay that I had quickly grown to love.

Enter DJ Hero, Activision’s attempt to branch out the Hero name to reach wider audiences. The entire genre was quickly on the decline, but this didn’t stop Activision and Freestyle Games from attempting something different.

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DJ Hero was a more back to basics approach to gameplay progression mixed with some popular artists and DJs that were remixing classic dance tunes alongside some rock and metal hits. It created a strange, dissonant sound that felt comfortable in the space of gaming.

It also had a much more structurally solid controller and gameplay that totally emphasized high scores and never ending combos. Different ideas like rewinding and crossfading also put a greater emphasis on player interaction within each track. Gone were the days of pretending to be a star; you were now given some control over what the music sounded like.

The sequel, DJ Hero 2, improved almost every aspect of the previous game. The visuals were cleaner, the audio was better mixed and the soundtrack was even more solid (despite it’s omission of Daft Punk tunes from the first game). 2 focused more on rocking clubs and EDM, but its gameplay was as frenetic and score happy as before.

It also didn’t hurt that the multiplayer was greatly expanded. While credit needs to be given to the developers for attempting to not nickel and dime their consumers (the original DJ Hero has a mode that allows a player with a Guitar Hero controller to play along), having multiplayer that actually utilizes the new fangled controller just makes more sense.

Each mode feels like an intense duel with a potential usurper. Score and accuracy are dominant alongside tracks mixed specifically to up the ante with each successive checkpoint. It brought a cut-throat attitude to competitive play that had long been missing in the rhythm gaming genre.

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Sadly, 2010 marked the year that this genre of games couldn’t sustain itself. The influx of releases and more costly instrument peripherals turned any newer customers off. While they were happy with buying one “toy” and sticking with it, having to collect a virtual band in your house was too much.

Not to mention that Guitar Hero was releasing games that focused on specific bands and having redux packages of older content, but even competitor series Rock Band had started to come out with “track packs” and games dedicated to the career of specific artists (granted, the Beatles are fairly important).

For what it’s all worth, I still believe that DJ Hero was the best thing to come out of that explosion of popularity. Guitar Hero also felt a little cheesy to me and a bit insulting to actual musicians. People who had no intention of picking up actual instruments or no understanding of what went into making music treated these songs like simple levels.

I remember playing a song by Rush and explaining to my friends how I saw them live and had been a fan for most of high school, but they couldn’t care less. To them, Rush was the song with the hard drum section and female singer. It was infuriating to me.

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With DJ Hero, it didn’t matter if you truly didn’t care about the artists are songs on offer. The game required you to be more active in what was going on. You couldn’t simply sit there with controller in hand and bang through a few songs; you had to pay attention to your crossfader, work on maximizing your note streak for potential rewinds and add your own personal flair (via samples) to up your score.

The shift in focus from a slightly more involved spectator to a remix guru just made everything feel more rewarding. Despite the track list being the same for everyone, the way you heard the song belonged to you.

It truly made me want to consider being a DJ as a career path. While I never went down that road, I started a friendship with a DJ at a club out of my amazement for what he was able to create. Those songs weren’t his, but the way they were played was wholly his invention.

DJ Hero perfectly encapsulated the atmosphere of the club scene while making the player feel like the star of the show. It didn’t hurt that Daft Punk leant their likeness to the original game and that Deadmau5 signed on for the sequel, either. DJ Hero was into a burgeoning music scene before it erupted into mainstream acceptance.

Sadly, the potential third game will never happen. Both Activision and Harmonix tried their hands at new Guitar Hero and Rock Band titles last year, but sales figures were underwhelming for both. People seem to have had their fun and want these games to fade into blissful memories.

It may be pointless to ask for another entry into the DJ Hero series, but I’d pay a lot to see a return to such vibrancy and joy within music gaming. If I’m going to pretend I’m any kind of star of a music game, at least it should be the game that actually gave me control over the sounds pumping through my speakers.

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Rock (Band) Isn’t Dead!!!!

One of the biggest complaints you will hear in regards to modern music is that rock is dead. When Gene Simmons claims Rock is dead, it’s probably a pretty decent sign that the genre is on the way out. Statements like that reinforce the cynical nature inside of older people who just want a return to the old days.

The same echoes with the rhythm gaming genre. When Activision and Harmonix killed off Guitar Hero and Rock Band, gamers were left without any kind of successor. Sure, other types of rhythm games popped up, but nothing that utilized the guitar controllers and plastic drum kits we had collected over the years.

It seemed like all of that investment and trust was just thrown to the curb. Harmonix did their best to support Rock Band 3 with DLC well into 2012, but they eventually closed up shop. Since the genre had seen better days, there wasn’t much purpose in producing content for a game that people weren’t buying.

Just like how most people claimed that rock was dead, so was Rock Band. We all had our fun and now just have memories. No one will ever make the same classic game again. Why would you? We have all moved on.

Except that isn’t even true. Not only will Rock Band 4 be releasing tomorrow (with Guitar Hero: Live releasing later this year), but rock is not dead. Far from it. It may not hold the mainstream appeal it once had, but people haven’t forgotten about rock.

Sup?

A little band by the name of Ghost have done everything in their power to resurrect the 60’s style of gothic/satanic inspired pop/rock for a new era. Mastodon, once a progressive metal band, have transitioned into mostly their own genre with lots of throwbacks to classic rock styling.

For that matter, The Darkness released a new album in May of this year. They are a band founded on bringing back 80’s hard rock. To even claim that rock has died is just being ignorant; if anything, rock is more specialized now then it ever used to be.

Certain things fade in and out of fashion all the time. Music is the easiest to track as it has been around for as long as people began speaking. Much like how the Middle Ages was overrun with chamber music and the Renaissance brought about classical music, most of the 20th century was dominated by rock.

You can even go further by dissecting different decades and identifying sub-genres. The 50’s was the dawn of rock’n’roll. The 60’s brought pop/rock and the 70’s started with prog rock. Even now, in 2015, rock has mostly turned to metal with some bands clinging to old-fashioned ideals.

Gaming has had a similar resurgence of the past. 2D Platformers had all but died in the early 2000’s, but we now have more made every month then were released in the entirety of the 6th console generation. It’s almost as if the SNES never left.

If only you could buy one of these brand new.

To say anything is dead is to know where humanity and public interest is going. If you can logically see into the future, then you can make the claim that something has moved on. How can that ever come to fruition when so many people talk about it?

Could rock music ever die? There are indie bands no one has heard of pumping out sweet licks every week. There are people in their bedrooms recording songs made solely by them. Even gigantic, mega famous bands like Metallica are going back-to-basics and producing music in the vein of their origins.

Rock isn’t dead. Far from it. The same can be said for Rock Band. Now that the time is right and the consumers are hungry for a return to basics, Rock Band will get to thrive where it’s needed most; in the hearts of true fans.

The genre may have crashed before, but Harmonix never left the building. They let other acts take over the stage while they calculated how to one-up the competition. Allowing users to retain DLC between console generations is completely unprecedented and will definitely lead to sales from cynical folk.

More importantly, we may finally have that dream version of Rock Band we always wanted. Every single hit song from every decade on one console. The fact that I can load up Jimi Hendrix, Slayer, Iron Maiden, Talking Heads and The Police in one setlist is beyond amazing.

Better still, Harmonix has the power to make new music known. Most people who will buy Rock Band 4 are probably going to be younger then the target demographic (18-34). They will get to experience the best of the past and the brightest of the present all under one roof.

Long Live Rock!!

I don’t think there is a better time for rock then right now. If you still think it’s dead, you’re just delusional.

Older and Older

“But time makes you bolder; Even children get older; And I’m getting older too.” – Fleetwood Mac

Birthdays are an event that I’ve never had a strong connection to. As a small child, I obviously loved getting new toys and goofing around, but somewhere in my teen years I began to question the practice of celebrating my day of birth.

Why was everything supposed to be dedicated to me? There are other people in the world who were born on the same day, yet I am supposed to throw that thought away and focus on myself? Even with my self-righteous teenage attitude, I felt that I shouldn’t draw attention to an event that wasn’t of my choosing.

I never asked for April 12th to be my birthday. I didn’t even have a say in when I would be born, let alone at all. This isn’t to say that I’m not thankful for life (ask me two years prior and I would say otherwise); I just don’t think a birthday is something one should take pride in.

Yeah; quiet, Jensen!

Everyone in the world has a birthday. Everyone in the world shares their birthday with someone else. For people to make such a commotion over what is a pretty common event just makes no sense to me.

As I grow older, I begin to see how different I’ve become. While I still do not care for any celebrations, I’m not so afraid of revealing when I was born. If someone wants to know for any conceivable reason, then why not tell them? I don’t have anything to hide.

Most importantly, this makes me think of how little gaming has changed for Nintendo. Their games are firmly rooted in tradition and formula. When was the last time we saw a 100% original Mario or Zelda title?

Even with the prospect of a new StarFox on the horizon, I’m wondering if it will end up being so similar to StarFox 64 that people won’t care. Nintendo doesn’t seem to mind. Even Metroid has gone into hibernation, despite being a big deal in the Gamecube era.

While Nintendo has finally branched out into some new IPs, both Codename S.T.E.A.M. and Splatoon are based on ideas that already exist. Nintendo isn’t so much breaking new ground as they are throwing their own flair into established formulas.

At least “artistically” it’s different.

I suppose that could be said of most “new” games, but I’m just curious if Nintendo will ever change. As time slithers by and we all grow into half-way functional adults, will Nintendo manage to provide a better flair and vest for future generations?

I don’t mean to say that Nintendo should only focus their marketing and development on former children. Newer kids are growing up with a lot of conveniences that I never had. The internet is a prevalent entity in the modern era and instantaneous access is almost the norm.

Nintendo doesn’t seem to embrace that. Putting games on the eShop day and date with their retail release is a start, but their lack of connectivity in certain titles (Mario 3D World) just makes me wonder how much longer their fire will burn.

For that matter, why are Sony and Microsoft practically indistinguishable from each other? While both of those companies have managed to change with the times, their game catalogs overlap in so many ways. Even exclusives for each platform are hard to differentiate.

They’ve changed in ways that appeal less to me as an adult. I see fat-cat executives making calculated decisions on how to extract the most profit from a potential idea. Nothing seems to be made with bold artistic vision anymore.

Now, this could mostly be cynicism from years of being depressed, but I just want a change. I want the industry I love and the hobby I can never put aside to do something different. Excite me with a concept that isn’t a gimmick. Thrill me with a totally unique gametype.

As we travel into the future, I just want gaming to travel with us. The past isn’t the only thing that matters. We need to make time for the future.

I JUST CAN’T WAIT, but I probably should…

Daft Punk’s newest album will be releasing this coming Tuesday. Expectations are astronomical, which is astounding since the group’s last album came out eight years ago. I am a huge fan of their work, with their eclectic blend of electronic sounds having changed my outlook on music.

To say I’m excited is an understatement. The anticipation has been boiling in me since I heard about the new album in March. I may have spoiled the fun a little by bootlegging the release, but I did already pre-order the disc. Regardless, I’m shocked at how the end result turned out, considering the amount of hype behind this release.

With games, I’ve ruined more than a few titles simply because I wanted them too much. 2011 changed my idea of how I should focus my energy on gaming. I still love the medium, but I just tend to not get too eager about anything. I cannot live through another Uncharted 3 incident again.

I had become a massive Uncharted nut during the course of this generation. The game was the first thing I beat on PS3 (before I even owned the console myself) and I blitzed through the campaign in such a fast time that I needed to play everything again just to remember the best moments.

Then Naughty Dog went and upped the game with Uncharted 2 and lifted my expectations of what a scripted, third-person, cover-based shooter should be. I was annoyed at the lack of flexibility in the setpieces, but blown away by how wonderful-looking they were and how fantastic the game felt.

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How can you ruin this? Easily, it turns out.

When Uncharted 3 released, though, everything just felt wrong. Drake moved awkwardly, the controls were never as concise as I remember them being in 2 and the enemy AI took a dramatic step backwards in terms of tactics. Even the cover system became completely worthless with how the level design was.

That was just the biggest disappointment. I was also hotly anticipating Skyrim and I left that game wondering why I even cared. A rushed story with barely a hint of comprehension, a lack of innovative ideas that used to define Elder Scrolls and a generally boring game world just culminated in a game I had to force myself to finish (and at 28 hours, that was a lot of determination).

Oddly enough, Saints Row: The Third was another game I truly desired. I have such fond memories of destroying Saints Row 2 with my friend, Dan. We spent most of my college days goofing off on the Xbox 360 and just plowing through Saints Row because of how absurd the game was. The campaign was a great riff on the realism that Grand Theft Auto was drifting towards, not to mention Volition implemented some smart improvements in terms of playability.

Then THQ became greedy. Somewhere along the line, it joined the ranks of Activision and Capcom in regards to DLC policies. Saints Row: The Third is too long, but feels devoid of content. I believe the campaign lasts around 13 hours, but there are maybe half of the side missions that 2 had. Some of those side missions pad out the campaign, making most missions feel disconnected.

The game also performs miserably on the Xbox 360. I later played through it on PC, but my own memories of the experience tainted the entire game. I could not shake off the feeling of being let down by a game I wanted. Nothing was going to replace that.

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DLC ONLY, SUCKA!

If I never had any expectations for these games, I may have enjoyed them. The hardest part of evaluating any piece of media is removing your preconceptions before going in. This is nigh-on impossible for the average person, but gaming has almost seemed different to me.

Usually with sequels, general improvements are par for the course. Even if you feel that the game isn’t as creative as the predecessor, playing feels like a joy because everything is refined. Every game I mentioned above is a victim of the current game industry’s insistence on DLC.

I suppose Uncharted 3 did feature a full campaign, but the multiplayer component handles far better. The controls aren’t sloppy and the level design is tight, other than the lack of maps (which got rectified by plenty of DLC). The general feeling I get is that Naughty Dog wanted the game to sell more map packs instead of provide the tight, scripted and funny campaign that the previous games had.

Bethesda happens to be a product of its own ambition. Oblivion redefined the Western RPG and Fallout 3 showed that first-person shooters could adapt to the RPG template very well. Both of those games followed an oddly similar template, though, and after trekking through three individual Bethesda games before touching Skyrim, I feel that the company just has no tricks left.

Oblivion started the DLC craze and Skyrim just put it into overdrive. I haven’t heard a single good thing about any of the packs released and they all feel like content that could have been included in the base game. I remember mods for Oblivion that allowed you to own homes, yet Bethesda made sure to not include that in vanilla Skyrim.

I remember other moments in my life where anticipation ruined the final outcome. Halo 2 stands as the worst let-down of my teenage life. I was never a giant fan of Halo, but the first game was so much fun with friends and was wholly unique for a console FPS that everyone had to have the sequel.

When that day came, though, I was treated to sloppy graphics, copy and paste level design and a very strange game feel (the field of view is zoomed in too far). The rest of the game continues down this path, too, making for a wholly polished but entirely soulless story.

Not to mention the game doesn’t even have a conclusion, but I couldn’t stand anything else about the experience. The multiplayer may have been a monumental achievement for consoles, but the balance of the weapons is ludicrous. Whoever has the biggest weapon wins, every time. There is no hope for someone spawning with the dingy pistol.

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Working all the way towards nothing. Feels great, right?

Why bring this all up? Well, along with Daft Punk’s latest material finally getting unleashed on the world, Microsoft is set to reveal the next Xbox on Tuesday. The Internet is buzzing about how badly Microsoft ruined goodwill and how all the rumors of always online might be enough to spur people away from another Xbox.

I cannot say I have much anticipation for whatever this next generation brings. Maybe that will work in my favor. I do not regret buying a Wii U, but I can’t claim to be infatuated with the device. Nintendo definitely dropped the ball in that regard.

So hopefully Microsoft does something right. Even if they don’t, I know that for once in my life, the sting of disappointment will not be festering within me. I’m glad I finally got over that, too.

Unobtainable Love

Feelings of love are a very curious thing. They strike without warning and fester without asking. Love drives people to the brink of insanity or brings them to the cusp of ecstasy. Love can mend your life, but love can also break your heart.

I happen to find myself smitten with someone, yet I am utterly confused as to why. This lovely girl is someone I met over the past summer. I worked with her only for a few short months and I did not see a strong bond between us. The best quality about her, for me, was the ease I had in approaching her and speaking my mind.

Regardless, I have not seen this girl since she left work. That was approximately one month ago, give or take a few days. I wanted to say so much to her on her last day, but I held my tongue and wished her luck. There is no need to ruin her perception of me, especially since I could tell it was positive.

Still, this past month has seen me leave one job and become isolated. Wishing I could still have strong friendships at work, I keep thinking about the good times at my previous job. I had worked there for two years and all I can think about is her. Even though I have never spent time with her outside of my job and I actually have contact with a few other co-workers, she is the one I see in my dreams.

I remember the first day I actually worked with her, too. She had come back from another state and was transferring to a school locally. Being away from her family did not bode well with her. She was ringing a customer out and could not remember a few of the PLUs. I butted in, like I tended to, and felt some kind of superiority. She was pleased, but I was just aggravated that some petulant child was given her job back, regardless of qualification.

For the next week or so, I did not introduce myself or even really speak to her. I was not an angry or irate person towards her, but I wanted nothing to do with this girl. I had been working my ass off for nearly two years and had gotten barely any recognition, but this bitch could come back after a year and be greeted with open arms! That was infuriating beyond belief for me.

One afternoon, though, an older co-worker of mine had told me that this girl always loved working with me. She was happy when I provided help and was delighted that at least one of the baggers was able to competently perform their job. My presence, in all likelihood, just made her feel at ease. I guess caring about your job makes others perk up. Who knew?

Well, once I was told that, I swallowed my idiotic and misplaced pride and spoke to her. Turns out we had a few things in common, but not a vast majority of similarities. We both loved the Beatles and that alone gave me plenty of conversational pieces. I actually puzzled her with a few of the songs I recommended and her father interviewed Paul McCartney himself!

Still, I was astonished at how easy talking to her was. I could mention anything and this girl would respond to me. I have never had that happen to me, even with the girl I swear I was in love with. This co-worker shot straight up my list of favorite people to be around, let alone co-workers.

Over the weeks, we spoke more about anything that came to our minds. She mentioned “Portal” and how the game was seemingly difficult to her, which I chuckled a bit. I at least gave her credit for trying and explained that her perceived difficulty was probably just due to a lack of experience. I never belittled her or ridiculed her for not being able to complete the game.

When I mentioned I would be heading to DC for a System of a Down concert, she told me about how she was in love with them in her middle school/high school years. We chatted about some of our favorite tunes and even got another co-worker to add his two cents. The atmosphere shifted from work related tension to jovial fun.

Then one weekend, she had to get coverage for a shift of hers. She had randomly won tickets to a Dave Matthews concert and was not missing the show. That is literally her favorite band in the world. I happily took the shift for her and explained how if Dave Matthews was her thing, I understood perfectly.

Now I personally am addicted to Dave Matthews. Maybe subconsciously I am trying to impress this girl, but seeing as how I probably will never encounter her again, why am I bothering? Is my need to find love so pathetic and nagging that I will fling it onto a person no longer in my presence?

What makes matters worse is that this girl has been dating someone for five years. She obviously is in a committed and happy relationship, yet I keep seeing myself with her. Before I even found out, I told myself that I could see myself being with this girl forever.

That last thought is entirely silly and brainless. How would I even know that I love her? What exactly have I done with this girl to cause such a stir to my heart? What if I am entirely mistaken and just filled with lust?

Speaking of that, this girl really is not a drop-dead diva. While she certainly is a pretty girl and I had a strange infatuation with the way her teeth looked, I could not claim she was a perfect ten. What bolsters her beauty for me is how wonderful she is to be around.

I am not unattracted to her, but I was more intrigued and enamored with her personality than anything. Alas, she is not to be mine and I will more than likely never get these thoughts to her. Even if I could, though, would I want to?

As I have been trekking through the Dave Matthews catalog, one song comes to mind. The love song “Sleep to Dream Her” rings truer for me each day. A tale of a man who cannot be with a woman except for in his dreams; that is exactly my current situation.

I would never force her to be with me, though. Even if I will never be able to say I actually did love this girl, I care too much about her to enforce my own stupid wants and needs upon her.

Hopefully I will be able to tell her how I felt one day, looking back. Maybe when we are old and happy with families and responsibilities, I can laugh to her and recount how I fell head over heels for her. Maybe if I improve my voice, I can sing her the Beatles “Julia,” to which she claims her name comes from.

Whatever the case, I just am unable to remove her from my thoughts. She permeates in my mind and I have not made physical contact with her in weeks. If I ever hear that she has left her boyfriend, though, you better believe that I will make every attempt to cease my lack of “contact.,” even if my means coming back home.

Beatles: Rock Band – Review

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After a few days of completely destroying The Beatles Rock Band, I can rest assured that a final verdict is ready. I’ve seen nearly all of the games challenges and conquered them and I’ve managed to play the harmony sections with a friend, so I definitely think everything is covered.

The Beatles Rock Band is Harmonix’s next game in the highly regarded Rock Band series. Instead of trying to focus all their effort into creating a mixed setlist, Harmonix focuses their efforts on one band and does everything to the fullest. You will not be displeased with this title if you are a Hardcore Beatles fan.

What may displease you is the gamer inside. Now, I’m a massive fan of the Beatles. I own all of their albums and even their 2 B-Sides collections and Live Albums. There is not a Beatles track that I don’t have in my possession. But what irks me about Beatles Rock Band is how nothing is dramatically changed over the previous titles in the series.

To start off, the game launches you into a story mode where you and 3 friends will follow The Beatles throughout their career with some animated cutscenes that detail little to nothing about the actual event you will be playing. The arenas and areas you play at are locations like “Shea Stadium,” “Abbey Road Studios” and “Apple Corp. Rooftop,” which all take the form of Chapters (there are 8 in all). While this is definitely an amazing touch in providing fans to see how the Beatles existed, it definitely leaves out the parts where Ringo and Lennon quit or any of their in-discrepancies.

Still, the setlist is what matters the most in this game and it definitely delivers the goods. Every song is a hit, though some may be a bit boring on Bass or Drums. The only real problem I have is that not enough is offered. The Beatles have 14 studio albums and while every one has at least 1 track in the game, some albums only have 1 track in the game. The game offers up 45 hits and this is a marked improvement over both Guitar Hero band based games, but it still amounts to about 3 hours of gameplay, at best.

Why not pull more from the catalog to give fans a more enticing package? Considering Rock Band 2 shipped with 84 songs and another 20 for free as DLC, thinking about why Harmonix chose to leave out such a large chunk of their work (and even singles like “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and “Penny Lane”) is puzzling.

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Never been better.

The graphics in the game are something to behold. There is definitely a slight cartoon edge to the look of the group, but their charm has never been capture in a digital form any better than it is here. Each song showcases its own music video of sorts in the background and the more trippy songs from the catalog have equally trippy backgrounds to accompany them. The only problem you may run into is running this on an SDTV, as the bright colors can often be distracting.

The note charting on the instruments is the weakest part for hardcore fans of Rock Band. Virtually nothing will give you challenge other than trying to 100% a few songs. But, even at my worst, I managed 98’s on songs (even on Drums, which I am quite awful at). The way this game tries to add challenge is by giving you achievements that relate to songs.

The achievements sort of work like the challenge based career mode that Guitar Hero 5 exhibits. Things like, “Play Dig a Pony and hit every hammeron/pulloff without Strumming” is neat, but relegating them to the achievement screen means a lot of players will simply never bother to figure out what is next.

There is a challenge mode in the game, but it simply tasks you with playing each chapter from the story mode with the songs running back to back (almost like an endless setlist). You never have to play the entire game from start to finish, but even replaying the game without any added challenge makes it worthless. Why not give gamers something unique to perform while replaying the game?

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Harmonies can definitely be a pain, but they also provide some fun.

The one new addition to the gameplay is vocal harmonies. While these are not a dramatic change, their implementation is flawless. Harmonix made the game so that you can connect 3 microphones to your 360 and have 3 players singing at different pitches all at once. But instead of just assigning mic 1 to harmony 1, the game never tells you which part you need to specifically sing. This allows your friends to help you out of tough spots or even just have 3 players singing 1 single part.

Even with that innovation, this feature is not something that a lot of music games will adopt. There is limited appeal to singing in the first place, but having a group of people who even want to try singing together is just asking for trouble. What doesn’t help with the harmonies is the way the screen looks during these sections. Words for Mic 2 and 3 are shown on top, but Mic 1 is at the bottom. Since we’ve been trained to stare at the bottom of the screen since Rock Band 1, trying to look at the top is just confusing (there is no real other way to fix this, though).

What does help this game along is the promise of DLC. Harmonix plans to release full Beatles albums in the coming months to further flesh out the games catalog of music. If the entire discography of the group were to be released, this definitely would be the ultimate band based title you could ever buy. What hurts this feature is how the music is not exportable to other Rock Band titles (nor does the DLC even work in other games). You will always need to have this disc, which means that you can never expect a sequel to improve upon any aspect of the game you feel is weak.

Also, you have to think about the appeal of this title. If you truly don’t like The Beatles, there is absolutely nothing in here that will change your mind. I have nothing against all Beatles songs in a game about them, but trying to market this to other players seems impossible.

So for my verdict, I have to say rent this game. If you truly are a hardcore Beatles nut who needs everything with the groups name on it, just buy the thing. If you are getting extremely tired of music/rhythm games, there is nothing here that will sway your opinion. The game is of extremely high quality, but the gameplay aspect is so unchanged to really make waning fans take notice.

First Impressions – Beatles: Rock Band

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The Beatles can easily be called one of the greatest bands in history. There is no questioning their impact on the music industry and their quality as a group. But will you be able to say the same thing about the newest Rock Band title, Beatles: Rock Band? Well, let’s take a first look.

The first screen the game gives you is a calibration screen. While my friends and I were using a CRT monitor (therefore no lag), the calibration seems to be equal to the system used in Rock Band 2. I can’t image that anything is terribly off with the system, but it’s nothing new and will probably still cause headaches.

On to the actual gameplay side of the equation. Unwilling to try any of the vocal harmonies out (and down about 2 mics anyway), we decided to keep it straight instrument play. We booted up the game to a screen that allows you to sign in 4 gamer profiles (one for each instrument) and pick a save file for your story progress. This was nifty as 1 person may be complete, yet the second player may still need something extra.

After selecting your save file, the game goes to a screen which has each instrument press a button to enter the game. This system is a little strange as to drop out an instrument requires you to go back to the main menu, which is 2 screens past the actual menu for selecting “Story Mode” or “Challenge.” Still, it’s not that awkward and you eventually get used to it.

Once at the games “real” menu, you can pick “Story” or “Challenge.” While my friends and I thought challenge would be similar to what Guitar Hero 5 had done (with cool little requirements), all the challenges consist of is playing the setlist back to back in the different venues. Anything consisting of “Play X Song hammering on notes” is relegated to the achievements, meaning most people will probably never figure them out.

So even though challenge mode is rather worthless, Story is a bit different. Trying to paint the timeline of the Beatles would be a hard task, but Harmonix seems to have gotten most of their story out there (excluding all the drugs and naked bed displays in Amsterdam). Before you can even pick a song in each setlist, you are treated to an animated movie that mostly just uses visuals and a song to paint the story. It really makes no sense, but you can easily skip them by pressing start.

When you finally do get to start playing a song, you come to one simple realization; this is just another damn rhythm game. While Guitar Hero 5 is certainly the same thing as previous entries, it tried to give you something new with the career mode or party play. Beatles: Rock Band takes the easy way out and just repackages Rock Band with flashy colors and different songs.

To its credit, the selection of songs is stellar. But, if you dislike the Beatles, this game is 100% worthless to you. While I can’t say that making a band related game focus on just the band is a bad thing, it does alienate people from wanting to pick this up if they have no interest in The Beatles.

Well, that aside, I love the Beatles, so I enjoyed what was offered. While I wished for more (there is no reason why 80 songs could not have been offered), Harmonix promises to have full albums available for download soon. This is a feature that both Guitar Hero Aerosmith and Metallica lack (albeit Metallica does have 1 album). This could keep you playing the game for a long time if you really have a hankering for Rock Band and The Beatles.

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While it may look amazing here, imagine this on a blurry, fuzzy, SDTV.

The visuals are pretty ridiculous, but we played on a standard def television. In SD, the graphics are too bright, vibrant and distracting. When activating star power in SD, you suddenly lose track of where Yellow or Orange are coming from. Not only that, but any sustained notes (ones you hold) are too soft to be seen, so you kind of just let go and lose out on points.

Even with losing those points, you will easily be able to 5 star everything in this game if you are an expert Rock Band player. Even with my love for The Beatles, I could not help but feel a little cheated by the lack of difficulty. I may have failed 1 song on drums (one of the earlier, more hard rock songs), but even so it only took me another try to pass it. Even the songs that say “Full Difficulty” for Guitar/Bass/Drums are really just like a tier 5 song in regular Rock Band.

So without any kind of challenge other than achievements/trophies, Beatles: Rock Band is entirely for collector’s or people who are just hooked on the rhythm game craze. I hate to say this, too, but Guitar Hero 5 wins in my book. At least you can get some cool competitive modes or challenges to spice up the gameplay. With Beatles: Rock Band, you either play the songs or don’t. It’s really kind of sad.

I may have to sample the vocal harmonies before I can really give a final verdict on this (and I should probably try out some of the achievements as a few looked insanely hard), but I really don’t think this is worth a buy to the casual fan of Rock Band or even someone who has a waning interest in the genre. Skip this.