Can Rock Band 3 Save Rhythm Gaming?

In case you didn’t know, some of the details around Rock Band 3 have been released, and Harmonix is looking to “disrupt” the music games industry with their latest incarnation of the Rock Band series.

I don’t think I’m telling secrets out of school when I say that the allure of rocking out with plastic instruments has dwindled a little.  I still enjoy a good session from time to time, and some friends on the list boot it up, but hardly at the rate of two years ago when rhythm gaming was in its prime.  Even with new songs coming out every week (a feat that has not gone unnoticed, Harmonix – bravo to this promise that you have continued to keep, it is amazing to be at 1,500+ songs) it’s still being played on a 2 year old interface with 2 year old instruments.

So with the genre on the decline, will a new iteration of an old game be enough to revive the interest and get everyone playing plastic instruments again?  If what I’m reading about the features pans out, I’d say it will not only revive interest in plastic instruments, but become a gateway between fake and real rocking.

Let’s highlight the upcoming features:

  • Fully backward compatible with all previous Rock Band releases (except Beatles Rock Band – *sigh*) – this will be over 2,000 songs come release (and necessitates the next feature)
  • Redesigned library for better music management – you can manage your playlist in more ways than just single sorting, including rating songs for more appearances in random playlists (or less), multiple sorting methods, sharing playlists, and system suggested songs based on your favorites
  • More rockers – you can now have 7 people rocking out in a single band – 3 vocalists, 2 guitarists, a drummer and a keyboarder.  Did I mention the new 2 octave keyboard yet?  A nice and needed addition (I wish it was a 3 octave keyboard for better 2 handed play, but it’s a start). Of course, you need 7 people playing rock band to get the most out of this, but if Harmonix brings us back to plastic instrument gaming, then this won’t be a problem
  • New Gameplay modes – these include party shuffle mixes and the ability for players to hop into and out of songs at any time (a MUCH needed feature that Guitar Hero nailed in their latest release).  This is a party game, and party people come and go, so why break up the band every time it happens?

The only logical instrument to add..

So those are the main features, minus one.  A big one, and the one that I think, for those that really take the time to master it, will be the reason why Rock Band 3 revives Rhythm games.

Pro mode.

If the claims by the developers are to be believed, those that can play pro mode on expert can take those skills and put them immediately to a real instrument.  Pro mode simulates real guitar frets (using a special, 102 button guitar), a separation between toms and cymbals on drums, and real keyboard parts.  So while I’ve been saying I’m the best fake drummer of my group, I now have the ability to see if I can make the jump from fake to real when I master Pro mode.  This is something that, 5 years ago, I didn’t even have an interest in (playing a real instrument), and now I’m curious to see if I can take these skills, apply them to real instruments, and rock out with some musically inclined friends of mine.

I might even try guitar, though I have to admit I’ve never been much good at the fake version, so I don’t know if I’ll have the guts to try.  But I have the option.

Pro mode is also selectable just like any other difficulty during the party modes, so it’s not just a standalone feature (a la the drum trainer), but integrated throughout the game.

Other gameplay tweaks are nice and included here, as expected from a numbered release, but it’s the big changes that make big effects, and I think if the Pro mode works as well as it’s being hyped (and people embrace the price tag around the instruments that will be needed to play them) this could, indeed, revive and save rhythm gaming.  I am finally excited for a game release this year, and can’t wait to get my house rocking once again (I only hope the stage kit continues to be supported – it’s a fantastic and unappreciated attachment).

Still, with the third installment in this series, there’s some things I’d have thought would have been addressed by now.  These include being able to play songs online without having to own them, so long as the band leader owns it (even if it’s a limited number of times, it’d still nice to be able to sample new songs), being able to download songs you’ve purchased in Rock Band to your Zune as owned, letting the player play a preview of a song versus just hearing a chunk of the song, and on the fly downloads of songs while playing the game (just finished a song by a band? Want other songs? Have the option in the menu to add the songs on the fly instead of backing out).

And while all of the included features are nice, will it address the issues that have caused the declining interest in the genre?  The issues for the genre as a whole include (emphasis on issues Rock Band 3 won’t or can’t address):  Not enough songs or lack of backward compatibility (or the “wrong songs” by popular bands [Granted, very subjective, but can we PLEASE get Supermassive Black Hole by Muse before I go crazy?]), outdated interface after playing for a year or two, lack of “character growth” in-game (there’s personal ability growth, but no real attachment to your band character), no engaging story, no translation between fake playing and real playing, not the right instruments, steep learning curve, cost of peripherals that make it fun, and no innovation on what exists (is a highway of glowing gems the best way to do this?).

So will Rock Band 3 save Rhythm Gaming? It remains to be seen, but the steps being taken are the logical and necessary ones for the genre if its to survive (not to mention addresses many of the listed issues that afflict rhythm games).  There’s enough new here to warrant a “3,” and the Pro mode should finally silence critics who state that playing these games gives a false impression of musical ability.  Bring on the music, Harmonix – I’ll be rocking with you, and I think I will have quite a bit of company.

What do you think? Will Rock Band 3 rekindle your interest based on the features listed?  Are there issues with Rhythm gaming not addressed here that have turned you off to the genre? Will you try Pro Mode? Are rhythm games beyond saving? What is something you would like to see in a rhythm game that isn’t being done right now?  What difficulty level do you play at now? What songs are still missing from Rock Band’s massive library?

Keep on rockin'...

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  • I’ve always loved the Music-Rhythm genre since GH2. Activison got a hold of GH and milked it while Harmonix it giving us quality games with great new features. Many people are sick and tired of Music-Rhythm so after this year, one GH and RB game every two years (excluding Band-Centric games).

  • Drew Young

    My wife and I play at least twice a week looking forward for every Tuesday for new songs! My kids love it but not as much as us. I think the critics need to quit comparing plastic instruments to real ones, (it’s a game) I have to tell you I have been interested in drums all my life, have never taken lessons and started playing rock band on easy. Now I can play every song on hard and some on expert, it has taught me a lot about rhythm and coordination between my arms and my legs. I welcome the pro part of the game I think it will be fun and that’s what it’s all about having fun and keeping your family and friends close! (for a song they need to have extremely bad is Scorpions, Rock you like a hurricane) (:

  • Nathan Hardisty

    All that is needed to save rhythm games: get rid of the unsaturated market.

  • Gemini ace

    When I saw the keyboard I thought it looked stupid. Now that I’ve seen the new guitar with 100+ buttons I think I’m passing on rb3 altogether. I’m a guy that plays on medium. Pro mode would do nothing for me. The instruments will be super expensive so that’s another deterrent to upgrading. Personally I think I’ll stick with the guitar hero series since they are moving towards more rock and metal and focusing on the guitar.

  • Daryn

    I personally cannot wait for this game. Me and my friends all get together every weekend and play RB2. I am a real drummer and guitarist. I look forward to having to use cymbals and using the new Fender made guitar that can be used on an amp as well. I’m extremely excited. This gives everyone at my parties a chance to play together. All the friends that come are in a band together. So its cool that we can do both and actually feel like we are playing but not having to change strings, or get new drum heads. Only thing I really want this game to have is both lead and rhythm guitars. For metallic and a7x. and all those bands that have amazing 2 guitar solos.