Christmas arrived a little late at our house last night, in the form of the fiancee's gift to me: Rock Band: Special Edition for the 360. Having saved no money for presents in the wake of our pact, however, I'd been forced to sell the 360 to get her a hair comb. An ironic chuckle was had by all, you can be sure.
For those of you unfamiliar with the game (hi, Mom!), a brief explanation is in order. Rock Band is the successor to a series of games called Guitar Hero which allowed players to simulate the experience of being a rock guitarist in much the same way as Dance Dance Revolution simulates dancing. Equipped with a special controller the size and shape of a real electric guitar, players pushed colored buttons on the neck of the guitar to "play" notes that moved down the screen. When a note reached the bottom, players had to press the corresponding button and "strum" a lever on the body of the guitar. By doing so in rhythm to the song, players scored points and were ultimately rated on their accuracy and consistency. The game used rock songs from the 60's through the modern era, so many players had emotional connections to the music and were able to immerse themselves in the fantasy of being a rock star. Guitar Hero became something of a phenomenon and a remarkably successful party game, with many people as content to watch others play as to play themselves. Players could purchase a second guitar for two-player play, with one playing lead and the other bass.
Rock Band, by the original creators of Guitar Hero, ups the ante by enabling not just guitar and bass, but also drums and vocals. The game ships with a guitar (only one-- you still need to buy a second guitar separately), a drum kit with four "drums" and a foot pedal, and a hand-held vocalist microphone. And all four of these instruments can be played simultaneously, supporting up to 4-player experiences. Players create avatars for themselves and, with "money" earned by playing successful gigs, can purchase for their avatars new hairstyles, tattoos, clothing, and make-up to customize their look. It's way more fun than it has any right to be, and it's supplemented by a very smart marketing plan which releases new songs for purchase every week, so there's a constant flow of new material to keep things fresh.
So. Rock Band arrived in my living room last night, and I can see that this game will figure prominently in my recreational schedule for quite some time. Having played both Guitar Hero and Karaoke Revolution before, I was most curious about the drums. It turns out that playing them is super fun. As long as you're on EASY. Bumping up to medium demanded a level of coordination that I don't profess to possess, and I was soundly trounced by the game for my hubris. The source of my downfall is the foot pedal.
The first order of business is figuring out how to position myself so that the foot pedal becomes part of a musical instrument and not a cruel medieval instrument of torture. I have a similar problem with the gas and brake pedals in my car-- holding my foot off the pedal is painful. The proper rest position involves a delicate balance where my foot muscles are relaxed and supported, yet not exerting sufficient downward pressure to activate the pedal. I'm still working out that balance in my living room. I can already see why bands don't put a comfy couch on stage for their drummer. I don't think I need to go so far as some players have and purchase a drum stooI-- an adjustable office chair should do the trick nicely-- but clearly the furniture currently deployed for TV-viewing and conversation is inadequate.
I can handle 4 drum pads easily. I can handle using the foot pedal. I get flummoxed when simultaneous foot pedal / drum pad combos start popping up. Isolated combos aren't a problem-- it's when they come in groups, and the color of the pad changes, that I get into trouble. Or the walk-and-chew-gum sensation of RED-and-YELLOW, YELLOW-and-PEDAL, YELLOW, repeat. Ack! In seconds I go from drum impresario to utter spaz.
I'll also be testing out Electronic Arts' free guitar replacement program, since about three songs into my ownership of the game the tilt sensor in the guitar stopped working. That doesn't render the guitar useless-- you can still activate the overdrive function with the BACK button-- but tilting the guitar is both easier and more fun, and there's no excuse for the guitar not working as expected from the get-go. Supposedly a new guitar is on its way via second day air, so bully for EA. In the interim I will embark on a solo tour until the next time members of my band, Contestants' Row, get together.