The drums are quieter and the guitars are wireless now, but we can't help feeling a bit let down by the Wii version of Rock Band. Oh, the game is still huge fun. With one person bashing the skins, one wailing on the microphone and two more jamming on the guitars, it's as close to being actual rock stars as most of humanity will ever get. But we can't shake the feeling that if this was a concert, the 360 and PS3 versions would be the headliners and this could barely land a spot as the opening act, except the van broke down and it's shown up late.
Wii owners in the US have had to wait seven months since the release of Rock Band on 360 and PS3, with the only real improvements in this version being the slightly quieter drums and wireless guitars - really nice in both cases, but worth the wait? Maybe, maybe not. Oh, and there are five added songs - but it's all stuff that the 360 and PS3 versions have had as downloadable content for months.
Then there are the huge features that have been stripped out. This is a port of the gutted PS2 version, not the robust 360 or PS3 versions. It has no online capabilty at all, so there's no downloadable content. Granted, you can purchase 20 more songs on the upcoming Rock Band Track Pack, but that can't take the place of choosing exactly the tunes you want from a library of literally hundreds of songs. And even if it did, what can you say about the loss of online multiplayer? Or of the fact that you can't customize your character and the World Tour mode doesn't let you choose where to go next. "Argh". That's what you can say.
However - and this is where we justify still giving the game an 8 - these shortcomings only suck when compared to other versions of Rock Band. This is still one of the finest multiplayer games in history. Not only do you eagerly want to grab a fake plastic guitar, but you won't have to look far to find three other people just as willing to step up to grab a fake plastic bass, fake plastic drums and a fake plastic microphone. And together, you will be a fake plastic band. For real.
The new peripherals improve upon what was already solid. The four pads and kick pedal mimic a basic electronic drum kit, and you still have to swing your limbs to hit each target. The higher difficulty levels require such skill that if you are not already a drummer, you're automatically on your way to becoming one. The microphone is, well, a microphone - hold it your hand, put it on a stand, swing it over your head - but you still have to sing into it and match the pitch and length of the notes on the screen in order to do well. It's not always fun, even - it's a drag to be judged so harshly (thank goodness for skill levels). But by contrast, we can't call that fake anything - that's singing. And for all intents and purposes, you're really drumming, too.
That leaves guitar, which when played solo in Rock Band, isn't must different from Guitar Hero - well, other than the fact that it lacks Guitar Hero III's soul-crushing technical difficulty. You once again match the notes on screen to the buttons on your guitar - this time, a black Fender Stratocaster with built-in effects and five extra buttons high up on the neck, intended for solo pyrotechnics. If you dutifully march through the single-player campaigns, you'll enjoy the variety of venues, the realistic animations, and the loading screens that illustrate your rise to fame. But playing solo misses the whole point.