IGN Review of Rock Revolution
Music-themed videogames are the hot ticket lately, and it seems everyone wants in on the game. The nexus of high-definition home console hardware, burgeoning digital content distribution and the maturing of the genre since its early arcade days has resulted in an explosion of plastic music instruments and the software to make them rock. And many of the most popular music-related franchises can trace at least part of their lineage to Japanese publisher Konami.
Most of Konami's success in the music game area comes from its BEMANI label, which is responsible for hits such as Beatmania, DrumMania , Guitar Freaks and Karaoke Revolution. The latter was produced by Harmonix, which later went on to create Rock Band.
Now, developer Zoe Mode, maker of Disney Sing It! and SingStar Rocks!, has tackled a brand-new music game for Konami's BEMANI brand, and the result is Rock Revolution, an attempt to copy the massive success of the Rock Band and Guitar Hero franchises. And on the surface, it appears to offer basically the same experience as those powerhouse music games. Once out of the box, however, the differences become all too clear.
It's impossible to judge Rock Revolution in a vacuum. Rock Band and Guitar Hero have become ubiquitous, and gamers will undoubtedly gauge any new entrants in comparison with those leading franchises. And when measured against those games, Rock Revolution fails on nearly every count. The presentation is uninviting and in some cases downright maddening; the songs are lackluster covers; there are no vocals; and the gameplay takes several steps way backward for the genre.
The basic setup of Rock Revolution vaguely mirrors that of Rock Band. You have your choice of three instruments -- guitar, bass or drums -- and you play along with a song as colored circles float down-screen along with the music. Using a third-party guitar peripheral and/or the Konami-branded drumset that will be available in November, your goal is to hit the correct colored pad on the instrument at right time to rack up points and avoid failing the song. The better you do, the more points you receive and the quicker you can progress through the career mode, opening up access to new songs and gigs. So far, so good, right? Not so fast.
First of all, if you're used to the slanted viewpoint of the note lanes in Rock Band or Guitar Hero, you'll be in for a shock with Rock Revolution. Instead of appearing to enter the screen from the middle distance, the notes drop straight down from the top of the screen, giving you significantly less time to process what you're seeing. It's fine on medium difficulty on bass, but once you bump things up to hard on the drums, get ready to either cry or laugh, depending on whether or not you paid for this game.
Although the drums aren't currently available in stores (they'll ship next month), we've tested them thoroughly and the results were not at all good. Compared to the Rock Band drum set, the Rock Revolution peripheral is an abomination that must be destroyed lest it breed and multiply. Picture a 1980s-era toy electronic drum kit that's been flattened and compressed into a tight rectangle. Then assign each of the seven (yes, seven) pads a different color and make some of the shapes circles of different sizes while others are triangles with rounded surfaces. It's a failed peripheral from the start, but I haven't even gotten to the worst of it yet.
When you're playing drums along with an awful cover of, say "Blitzkrieg Bop," you'll see a line of seven pads along the bottom of the screen. You'll think to yourself, OK, I can do this. Breathe. Then the notes begin to fall, and all hell breaks loose. Where is the platinum-colored triangle? Wait, is the magenta triangle the farthest one to the right? They all seem like they're on the same plane! And in the middle of it all, you realize the kick pedal has been assigned the color orange and stuffed amongst all the other colors on-screen, just another face in the crowd. Part of the problem is that all the falling notes appear as circles, which doesn't help your brain separate the triangular pads from the circular ones on the set as you're playing. Confused yet? We're just getting warmed up.
Not only are the pads on the drum set clustered together awkwardly like plates at a tapas restaurant, they're also unresponsive, they lie too flat (resulting in unwanted rim shots), and when struck they sound like upturned plastic buckets. I was already frustrated with the Drum Set From Hell, but when a loading screen suggested I "try cross-sticking" to get the true drumming experience, I nearly threw the thing into the San Francisco Bay.
The reason games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band are so successful is that their developers have realized playing a music game should be about more than picking up a fake guitar or sitting at a plastic drum set and going through the motions. Gamers want to feel like they're guitar virtuosos or members of a glamorous, beloved band -- it's all about fantasy, with some competitive spirit thrown in to keep it interesting. Playing the drums in Rock Revolution makes you feel less like a rock star and more like you're taking some kind of psychological test after sustaining a head injury. So many shapes and colors... can't I just lie down, doc?
But even if you shy away from the drums and stick to guitar and bass, Rock Revolution is still a dull, soulless experience. The note patterns for all instruments aren't especially interesting, and the bass and guitar parts feel like work rather than fun. There are some genuinely good songs in RR, including "Kiss Me Deadly" by Lita Ford, "Cum on Feel the Noize" by Quiet Riot, "Magic Man" by Heart and more. But again, they're all covers and most sound like they were recorded by bar bands. And if you like a song you hear in Rock Revolution and want to know who performs it, head on over to Google, because none of the artists' names are included with any of the songs in the game.
As with Rock Band or Guitar Hero, your band will be shown on-screen as you play each song, and their animations are fairly good. But they're all pre-rendered, as you don't get to create your own characters in Rock Revolution. You pick your main character from a pre-set list, name your band and then head off to the career mode to wade through some bad covers in front of your adoring public. That public, by the way, appears to have only two animations, and as a result the crowds in Rock Revolution look pretty awful.
Rock Revolution's career mode is bare-bones and boring, but it has a couple of innovations worth praising. First, once you start opening up gigs (most of the career is spent recording albums in front of live audiences for some reason), you'll be able to improvise your own guitar solos during songs. When you reach the portion of a track where the solo would be, you can basically play whichever notes you like and they'll automatically be in key. It's one of the only fun parts of the game, and I found myself wishing it was part of some of my other favorite music games.
Also, there are different challenges woven into the career mode that I found to be a nice break from the standard just-play-the-song format. Some required you to reach a certain point level, while others fed you "poison notes" and tasked you with avoiding them during the song. Gigs also require you to play multiple songs back-to-back and keep your score going throughout the entire set, so if you happen to get a huge combo multiplier going, it's possible to rack up giant points. It's no coincidence that my favorite parts of Rock Revolution were its more arcade-like components, but they were few and far between and far outshined by the game's failures.
The multiplayer in Rock Revolution is relegated to a separate mode (you have to play the career mode alone). You can play along with two other instruments -- again, no vocals are included -- and it functions as advertised but doesn't improve the fun factor all that much. On a positive note, Rock Revolution worked with all the third-party instruments we tried (there are no Rock Revolution-specific guitars), including Guitar Hero guitars and Rock Band drum set. There's a setting to switch from seven drum pads to five, so if you already own Rock Band and absolutely must own Rock Revolution, then please, for the love of God, do not buy the RR drum set -- just use the Rock Band kit.
As a final note, Rock Revolution also includes a mini recording studio that allows you to lay down your own tracks using the attached instrument peripherals. It works, and I was finally able to record my masterpiece. However, it took me an hour to figure out and at one point I had three controllers clustered around me as I tried to sign various instruments in and out. Rock Revolution's recording studio mode is about as intuitive as a tax form and about half as fun. Oh, and the sounds are pretty horrible.
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