The handheld versions of big-budget releases tend to be overlooked – it makes sense, as the console release is and always will be where all the attention and sales are. It doesn’t help that the DS/PSP versions of such hits (like Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed) are usually barely playable knock-offs that aren’t worth your time or money in the first place, thus we get caught in a cycle of not talking about the DS and PSP editions. That’s kind of happened with Rock Band 3 on DS, and I’m stepping in to say it’s a god damn blast and even if you hate the console versions and all their silly plastic nonsense, you could still very well love this one.
First question everyone asks: “How does this even work?” Strange people keep asking that, as Harmonix already did it (twice) on PS2 and was met with strong reviews and reasonably good sales. Rather than bang away on a fake guitar to pop the note gems, you push the corresponding button. Each instrument chart is divided into “phrases,” and when you successfully hit all the notes in a phrase, that instrument is cleared and you hit L or R to move to a new instrument.
Thing is, clearing a phrase only lasts for so long. By the time you’ve cleared two or three instruments, the first is back up and demanding attention. Miss too many notes and the chart will warn you with a reddish hue. Miss even more and that instrument drops out completely. Continue to suck ass and you’ll fail the song – but in my experience, you have to eff up a lot to actually lose.
Above: The game in motion, which may help explain it a bit better. Plz forgive the blurriness, the camera was really drunk
It’s true that this execution distances you from the “Rock Band” aspect, as you never once feel like a rock star, nor do you work up a sweat pounding on the drums. But the tactile joy of bursting those notes and rapidly switching between instrument charts is just as fun (albeit a different kind of fun) as the console big boys. As Chris mentioned in the video above, we’ve both played more RB Unplugged than Rock Band 2, and I’ll likely play more DS RB3 than I will the $60 console version. Consider it a constantly changing musical puzzle game, and not an bare-bones version of the console experience, and you’ll be fine.
There are a few different modes to try, like Road Challenges that act like the console version’s career mode, where you bus around locales and play songs for Stars and Fans. The more you collect, the more band apparel and other goodies you unlock. Oddly, the Career mode is actually a hub that connects you to the game’s achievement/trophy area, where you can browse which goals you’ve completed and have yet to unlock.
There are only a handful of issues, none of which really detract from the experience in a profound way. For example, I prefer PSP’s Unplugged because the system and screen are much wider and therefore display the five charts a bit easier. The sound quality is also stronger on PSP, though other than some tinny guitar solos, the DS does an admirable job of cranking out its 30+ song list. Still, it’s unfortunate the PSP didn’t receive a version of Rock Band 3.
If you want to get even more nitpicky, the game doesn’t adequately display Overdrive (aka Star Power) or how long its effects will last, and I also found some really bizarre censorship in a few songs. The Smash Mouth song “Walking on the Sun” has a line “Put away the crackheads on the crack,” which is now “Put away the ____heads on the ____.” It’s pure idiocy that crack is omitted in a T-rated game while GoldenEye is allowed to mow people down with machineguns. Priorities, people!
Obviously the DS version lacks the Pro Mode that can allegedly teach you the basics of real music playing. It also lacks the expansive set list and visual kaleidoscope of stage effects. Without a doubt the console versions are more thorough and creative products – but that’s the way it should be, leaving the DS version to deliver on-the-go fun with a smaller, more focused gameplay experience.
Nov 12, 2010