When ‘Guitar Hero’ came out, I was interested, but the game didn’t hook me. Sure it’s fun, but it just felt like ‘Parapa the Rapper’ with a different controller and without all the whimsy. Not until ‘Rock Band’ hit did music games finally win me over. Now it seems like the stress is moving away from games and more toward music. To me, that sounds like a move away from fun.
The ‘Rock Band’ franchise is finally doing the thing that “real musicians” have been calling for. With the release of ‘Rock Band 3,’ you’ll be able to use instruments that are as real as it gets. Guitars will have strings and the appropriate amount of frets. Drums will be expandable to the point that you may as well buy an electronic drum set. They’re even adding a keyboard.
I’m pretty decent with a real guitar, and I played the keyboard in a band for around ten years. Though I prefer to sling words now instead of notes, I’m what some might call a “real musician.” That is, I play instruments semi-proficiently. But I operate against the popular opinion, which seems to be that enhancing realism will enhance music games.
In all my time playing music, one thing I’ve learned is that practicing songs is absolutely no fun. It’s like grinding in ‘Final Fantasy VII’. Yes, it’ll help you in the long run, but I’d rather be hanging out at the Golden Saucer. Practicing a song is, in essence, the act of playing a song badly over and over again until you become less bad at it. It’s rewarding in the long run, but the actual grind is frustrating.
That’s what this new ‘Rock Band’ pro mode will be. It won’t be as fun as pressing four or five buttons and strumming along at a rapid pace. You won’t get the feeling of exhilaration after you five-star a song on your first try. It’s going to be hard. Especially if you’ve never played guitar before. It’s going to be a boring, repetitive process that may or may not result in you being able to play one song well.
One thought that keeps cropping up in E3 write-ups for ‘Rock Band 3’ is that people will use the game to learn instruments. Even if some folks might give it a go, it’s not really going to teach the guitar. It will only teach the songs built into it. You won’t learn the basics – like notation, scales, or proper strumming. It’s a rhythm game after all, not a learning game. You may learn a few songs, but you won’t actually know how to play the instrument.
Playing guitar from ‘Rock Band’ is like speaking a foreign language phonetically. You may know what to do and when to do it, but you’re lost trying to understand why.