Despite all the complex 3D graphics that modern day PCs can produce there’s still plenty of fun to be found in the simplicity of 2D visuals. Platforming titles like Super Meat Boy and Braid have proved this point by garnering critical acclaim. Rush Bros is yet another title in this genre aiming to make an impact with its own interesting blend of music, racing and competitive multiplayer.
There are plenty of band-specific Rock Band titles on the market, but until now, the only fully-fleshed game was the psychedelic sound of the 60’s with The Beatles. The latest addition to Harmonix’s franchise is Green Day centric, providing coverage from their rise to fame with Dookie to their cult following of 21st Century Breakdown.
Unlike other track-only band based games, Green Day: Rock Band is fully priced, with 47 songs from their last six albums. However, there are no bundled peripherals, just a disc and a code to add the tracks to the libraries of Rock Band, Rock Band 2, and eventually Rock Band 3.
The premise is pretty basic; as you would expect it is just Rock Band with a Green Day theme. Quick Play is exactly what it says on the tin; where all songs are unlocked and are available for any instrument at any difficulty. Career mode is split into three locations and dates that actually appeared on tour with the band: The Warehouse in 1994, Milton Keynes in 2005, and The Fox Theater Oakland 2009. Each can be played locally (multiplayer or not) with any arrangement of instruments, or online where the instrument selected is teamed with other players on Xbox Live. The atmosphere of these three specific gigs makes all the difference to the game.
The staging areas are the same for each set-list that are unlocked as you play, but the caricatures of the band members on stage may have different instruments and animated movements depending on the style of the song. For example, on the solo acoustic song Time of Your Life Billie Joe stands affront the stage with an acoustic guitar as there are no other parts; the feeling actually puts a smile on your face as you play the game.
There are only two ‘versions’ of the trio though, one colourful Dookie era outfits, and one of the deeply dark transformation of American Idiot. This awareness gives impressions to the player when watching the scrolling keys that are dropping down the screen, making strumming the guitar, singing down the microphone, or banging the drums a lot more engaging. It would have been nice to see some of the earlier performances, instead of just mixing the albums into each gig, if only because they contain the most memorable songs of the band in my youth, and also my absolute favourite songs in the career of the band.
As for actually playing the game, the same Rock Band application applies; from a No Fail mode brought in from Rock Band 2, through to Expert. Each difficulty increases the variety of coloured notes and the amount of them on screen at once. At the end of each track a score is given and an appropriate star rating is applied to your performance of the song. These are then equated to ‘Cred’ which unlock Awards. Challenges are also present and consist of completing a number of songs in a row or finishing set-lists with a certain amount of stars. Completing these will earn their own selected pieces of extra content including interviews and photos as part of the Awards feature.
Practice modes are included for guitar tutorials, practice for specific songs, and a drum trainer for a drum tutorial with freestyle play, and Tre’s Hits – where it will teach you Tre’s favourite drum beats at a selected speed.
Overall Green Day: Rock Band is a neat package. There is plenty on disc to keep hardcore fans entertained for hours, especially with the four different instruments to play through. With that in mind, there are over 180 different tracks, excluding difficulty changes. Do the maths and that is around 9 hours of content.
For those that don’t like the genre of music altogether, it is fair to say that there is nothing for you here. It isn’t flawed, but as with all Rock Band titles, if you don’t enjoy the music then you are not going to enjoy the music game. But, even for those who are not particularly crazy about Green Day, and might remember the songs from childhood, Rock Band keeps things fresh and interesting with the translated music on-screen, and creates a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Last year the Rock Band franchise tried its hand at a band-specific game with The Beatles: Rock Band, and it’s safe to say it certainly delivered the goods. However, they also managed to set their bar a bit high by choosing one of the most influential groups of all time for their first attempt. While some may see Green Day as a big step down musically from the Liverpudlian rockers, have Harmonix managed to once again work with the band’s strengths to produce another hit game, or will it simply paste new songs and characters over the Rock Band previous template?
Few game designers have the honour of getting their name on the front cover of a game. That’s because only a few designers have the solid reputation and overall influence to sell games on the strength of their involvement in a project. Tim Schafer happens to be one of those designers, having worked on and headed some of the finest adventure games ever made. Alongside Ron Gilbert, he became one of the shining lights at Lucas Arts during their golden-age in the mid-to-late nineties, bringing his distinct sense of humour and unique visual style to the Monkey Island games, Full Throttle and Grim Fandango. It’s no coincidence then that Lucas Arts’ descent into mediocrity began shortly after Schafer left to form his own company Double Fine, which went on to produce the hugely overlooked platformer Psychonauts (check it out in Xbox Originals section on the XBL Marketplace).
Rock and Heavy Metal have rarely been used as inspiration for games, outside the obvious rockstar titles such as Guitar Hero, Rock Band and Schafer’s own Full Throttle. Brutal Legend however, sweats the rock-and-roll lifestyle from every pore. The main hero Eddie Riggs, voiced superbly by Jack Black, vanquishes demonic foes with the swing of an axe and the strum of his sacred guitar Clementine; from which special moves can be pulled off with a quick guitar riff. Allies include brainless head-bangers, who attack by, surprisingly, banging heads or forming deadly mosh pits on command. In addition to the head banging army, Ozzy Osbourne and Lemmy Kilmister from Motorhead, both of whom make several cameo appearances as the upgrade-wielding King of Heavy Metal and the health-restoring Kill Master, respectively. To top it off there’s a great soundtrack featuring over 100 tracks from renowned rock bands like Black Sabbath, Slayer and naturally, Tenacious D. In terms of overall presentation this is one of the most polished games of this generation.
It also manages to be one of the funniest releases in a long, long time. This is thanks to a great script that zings off the screen right from the opening cut scene thanks to some great voice work and direction. If the Spinal Tap team ever made a video game, this would be it. The story follows Eddie Riggs, a road manager for the world’s worst rock band, who is killed during one of their gigs and sucked into a medieval heavy metal world. Eddie joins forces with a band of resistance fighters battling against oppression at the hands of a demon and his glam-rock general Lionwhyte. It may sound over the top, but the story really keeps you sucked in and never misses a chance to throw an in-joke or biting piece of satire at every turn, so much so that it almost seems a shame when a cut scene ends and the game kicks in.
Unfortunately the gameplay never hits the heady heights achieved by the story and presentation. That’s not to say it’s a bad game – it’s incredibly fun to play through – but Brutal Legend tries to juggle too many game types, and ends up being a jack-of-all-trades, master of none. The worst element, although the concept is certainly fresh and original on paper, are the real-time-strategy (RTS) style ‘stage battles’. In these missions you’re charged with protecting your rock stage from enemy troops, while attacking theirs. In order to train extra troops you’ll need to mine ‘fan geysers’ using merchandise stands; get enough fans buying merchandise and you’ll be able to summon extra resources to bring to battle. These stages are weak only because they fall in the same pitfalls as other console RTS games, limitations when using a control pad. Targeting enemies and doling out commands from the ground is frustrating as you can never be sure troops will do what you require them to do, which will result in a lot of unnecessary restarts. On the upside, the combat is the strongest aspect of the game by far – it’s smooth, easy to get to grips with and pretty deep; whilst driving around in Eddie’s customised ‘Deuce’ hot rod is fun in a GTA sort of way, but the car-based combat sections can get frustrating, again due to control issues.
Without the excellent script work and generally high production values, Brutal Legend would have been written off as an average action title, but these attributes do undoubtedly paper over the cracks and turn this into a must-play title. Fans of Heavy Metal bands will love the constant in-jokes, along with the fact that their favoured genre is finally being treated with a little more respect than those other titles that just reduce musical masterpieces to simple coloured-dots falling down a TV screen.
The rhythm game genre has been, since its inception, very popular with all audiences for each of the home consoles. They provide an exciting way to enjoy music and a party incentive with an array of instruments. The success of the games is largely due to the combination with music and enjoying playing in a band with your friends. With this in mind the thought of Rock Band: Unplugged for the PSP, a portable system, would seem unnecessary and as the title suggests there are no attachments to the device. This portable Rock Band appears as usual to any of the Rock Band games for the consoles. However, as is explained in a helpful training mode, there are notable differences to gameplay.
Among the adaptations is the the ability to move through the instruments of the band. Included are all of the familiar band pieces, including Singer, Drummer, Bassist and Guitarist, displayed as a flowing note board. The trigger buttons are used to shift from one instrument to another, and to ensure that notes are not missed due to absence, a ‘phrase’ system has been applied. Phrases allow for an instrument to be played while attention is placed on others, although for short periods of time, as long as a small section of the song is completed on the instrument. Failure of a song comes swiftly, however, if the phrase is missed and other instruments become active as you struggle to complete another phrase. This is a very effective way of including all of the instruments popular in the Rock Band franchise whilst adding a new challenge. Star power is also adapted to help those failing and boost high scores. As only one instrument can be played at a time the white coloured energy notes appear on all tracks, ensuring that the option is there. Solo sections of certain songs also appear where a single track is enlarged on the screen for concentration on a single track of notes. Button compilation is set as standard across the left and top directional pad buttons with triangle and circle. Struggle to adapt to the style of play is natural, fortunately the button mapping is fully customisable.
There are a selection of game modes such as Tour mode where you take a personally created band and march them through different cities, playing songs or setlists in each. The customisation of the band is good with name selection, band logo, member names, attitudes and their bodies. A selection of hometowns is also available to choose, this determines where you start on the ‘world map’ and move from city to city. The stage and band members make the background to each song, eventhough not much attention is placed on them whilst playing. The overall presentation of the game is excellent for the portable system, with clear and concise menus.
As you build up stars and fans you can unlock staff members to give bonuses when songs are completed and transport to gain access to new cities. Opportunities such as performing the next gig as a benefit show, gaining double the amount of fans but no money, appear from time to time and add variation to the tour mode. Without this deviation tour mode would seem monotonous, playing song after song, and including it adds to the longevity. Quickplay is available for those not interested in a career mode and want to play through the songs that appeal to them. The ability to unlock all songs from the options menu is a good feature for this purpose. If there is a particular song that is good to play with one instrument Warmup Mode is available to run through. Band Survival Mode adds a new challenge as phrases are not set and instruments remain unplayed if left alone, often requiring a more tactical approach especially on the trickier songs. Other modifications that can be made to the game include the ability never to fail in a song and to exclude the solo sections from songs.
The music store allows for purchase of a number of new tracks from the Playstation Store on the PSP. The amount of songs available is meagre but it is available when more is added. The 41 songs on the UMD is enough to keep an interest in the game, despite a little repetition in tour mode. The mixture of different styles of tracks also adds to the approachability, with a mix of soft and heavy music. Rock Band: Unplugged excellently combines a music rhythm game with in a portable device and should entertain fans of the console version and commuters looking for an engaging game.
Guitar Hero is a franchise where it’s nearly impossible to look at the game without comparing it to its younger, hipper cousin that it really wishes wasn’t part of the family: Rock Band. However this review will attempt to minimise any comparison made between the two action/music-rhythm games until a feature coming later this year will pick a winner for your valuable pennies this Christmas. And valuable indeed, with the full instrument pack weighing in at £150, Santa may need some FedEx assistance this year for gamers. The instrument pack features the game (EA: Take note), a USB microphone, wireless guitar and wireless drums, which you’ll really need to get the full Guitar Hero: World Tour experience.
The inclusion of drums in Guitar Hero is without doubt the biggest new feature of this year’s game and with improved quality promised over its competitors the results have been… disappointing. The look and feel of the drum kit is excellent: 2 raised cymbals and 3 large pads have helped fill the gap between fun and realism. However the foot pedal has nothing to attach itself to and can be easily moved into awkward positions during songs. But the biggest let down with drumming? Star Power, which is activated by hitting both cymbals simultaneously. While this may sound relatively straightforward, hitting both symbols in unison without missing the previous and following notes of a fast chart is unnecessarily challenging. In addition to this, our drum kit didn’t recognise several attempts of activating star power, not only keeping our score down for longer than expected, but also killing our combo multiplier, making it near-impossible to activate star power during extremely fast drumming portions – when we needed it most.
Playing guitar in GH:WT is truly where the game excels, thanks to its bigger, yet quieter guitar. Improvements to this year’s model include a touch-sensitive pad, a palm sized button for activating star power and the Xbox Guide/PS Home button being combined with the analogue stick to provide a cleaner, more realistic looking guitar. The touch sensitive pad is great for insane solos, however the frets are smaller and it’s easy to disorientate yourself as there’s no indent on the middle fret, forcing you to constantly look down to check your finger placement. Minor nag aside, this is the best Guitar Hero guitar ever manufactured as the strumming is quieter than ever, with a sense of strumming feedback still in place. The guitar note charts are easier to play than Guitar Hero 3, thankfully, although some sections are flat out impossible to play without the touch pad, meaning a purchase of at least the guitar edition is essential for guitar enthusiasts. Not all note charts are entirely accurate either, almost as if Neversoft are attempting to make songs more difficult than they are on real guitar.
So far, not bad: The drumming experience can be frustrating but is made up for with an excellent guitar build. Singing in Guitar Hero was hardly going to be a deal breaker for the majority of fans, but an important factor nonetheless. Unfortunately, vocals are a disappointment thanks to inaccurate pitch charting and a lack of feedback to the singer on how well he/she is performing. But still, when singing Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer”, will you really be that bothered?
In order to maximise the fun out of Guitar Hero, you’ll want to play the full experience with a singer, a drummer and a lead and bass guitarist. Simply put, this is the greatest Guitar Hero multiplayer experience if you have similarly skilled players in your band. Sadly, there are two minor niggles that completely destroy the party element of the game, especially for plastic peripheral noobies. The first problem is a pretty serious flaw: If someone fails their part of the song on any instrument, the whole band goes down with them; there’s absolutely no way to save a failed band member. Secondly, it’s next to impossible to tell if a band member is performing poorly as the only way to tell is by looking at said persons section of the screen, something incredibly difficult to pull off on higher difficulty levels. Better hope your band members have high communication.
It must be said that there are several positives with the game’s presentation and design, such as the ability to create setlists to play in solo or band quickplay modes, making for a better flowing experience. Also, character creation in GH:WT is surprisingly detailed, with customised possibilities for almost everything from instruments and band logos down to individual tattoo’s for created rockers.
Another new feature in Guitar Hero: World Tour is the Music Studio, which lets players create their own tracks using a controller or compatible guitar or drum kit. While the concept is fantastic, the majority of gamers will be put off by either the complexity, poor audio (read: MIDI) quality of the programme or the complete lack of vocals support. Fortunately there are some gems out there on GHTunes (The free in-game service to upload and download songs made in Music Studio) but with a 3 minute/1200 note limit on songs, don’t be expecting the next Arctic Monkeys to be producing songs on Guitar Hero.
Speaking of music, the game comes with the most on-disk songs ever shipped for a Guitar Hero game, 86 to be precise, and features the most diverse range of artists ever seen on a music video game. Michael Jackson, Metallica, Coldplay, Muse, Sting, Willie Nelson and Lenny Kravitz are some of the artists you should expect to play in the game. At the end of the day the soundtrack won’t please everyone, and there are a fair few duffers to play on each instrument, but the promise of continuous DLC should help gamers tailor their soundtrack to their needs over time.
Overall, one word to sum up Guitar Hero: World Tour would be disappointment. An impressive setlist and decent instruments prevent this game from bombing due to its linear career mode, multiplayer disappointments and lackluster song creation options. This should have been an awesome party game that anyone can pick up and play, but simple design flaws have prevented newcomers to be left frustrated and denied the one thing this game should be all about: Fun.
The day was Saturday the 25th of November 2006; the time was 17:25 pm. I had just finished speaking to Tommy Tallarico, co-writer and Executive Producer of Video Games Live and was making my way to the bar for a little pre-show drink. To my right, a solitary Wii unit was being set-up, surrounded by Journalists and staff hovering with intent. I edged forward to get a closer look, eager to get a first little glimpse at the console I’d waited so long to play. As I got within an inch of my target a drum roll rumbled from the main stage behind me. A soft, enticing choral sound stopped me in my tracks. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end and shivers coursed their way down my spine; the title screen music from Halo had never sounded sweeter…
Tonight marked not only the first appearance of Video Games Live in the UK, but the first time any sort of event of this kind had been arranged full stop. The phenomenon that had already swept across the United States and made several stops around the world finally touched down in the Hammersmith Apollo in London. It wasn’t just a chance to hear fully orchestrated versions of classics that have followed us through so many digital adventures but a celebration of video game culture itself. People came in costume or in T-Shirts emblazoned with various video gaming icons, chatting unashamedly about the latest games with people they’d never met before. Several hundred crowded around the lonely Wii in the foyer hoping to get a chance to wave the controller like a Tennis racket or bowling ball. Those who had taken to their seats pulled out a DS or two and one by one the rows became lit by a thousand dual screens; Pictochat rooms were soon full and bursting with Wii jokes, drawing contests and requests for Tetris matches.
When the first segment, a retro medley (compiled by British musician Richard Jacques who worked on many Sega titles), appeared on the big screen above the stage, DS’ were snapped shut and the crowd erupted in applause as Pong played out before them. Other classics joined the fray, with Space invaders and Donkey Kong getting huge cheers. Classic NES and Sega titles Punch out and Outrun, along with Rastan and Ghouls & Ghosts following shortly after. Is was great to see some of these old titles again after so many years and even better to hear the old themes, previously limited by their respective hardware, performed by a full orchestra. One of the purposes of VG Live is to put older games back in the spotlight, delighting fans and introducing younger gamers to a wider history that most had missed out on.
As each segment played, beautifully orchestrated music was accompanied by video montages of some of each game’s most memorable scenes. The result was nothing short of amazing, gamers could relive favourite moments as they appeared or simply close their eyes and let the majestic score take them back through a sea of memories. Anyone doubting the validity of classing video games as art needs to visit this show. Indeed, the enthusiastic applause that greeted each and every game show just how much the music and the memories they conjure up means to so many.
There were so many highlights throughout the evening and the favourite moments for each attendee would probably be very different. The opening Metal Gear Solid piece started the night off with a powerful rendition of the series’ main theme, introduced by the creator Hideo Kojima via video. Not only was the video sequence, featuring clips from Solid Snake’s 3D adventures (and some clips from the upcoming fourth game) superbly put together but on the stage itself a skit involving a guard and a cardboard box brought huge cheers from knowing fans. The laughs grew when exclamation mark lit up above the guard’s head whenever the box moved around the stage.
The next musical number, Beyond Good & Evil brought with it a surprise appearance from Michel Ancel who confirmed that he was bringing his team together to discuss a sequel to the superb yet overlooked original. Medal of Honour displayed a poignant video of clips from WW2 as the orchestra played a sombre piece from the first game. This was followed by an uplifting African choral piece from Civilisation 4 and British-composed duo Headhunter (Richard Jacques) and Tomb Raider (Nathan McCree).
Fan favourites Zelda and Final Fantasy disappointed slightly; the Zelda piece was the exact same composition performed by the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra on the Orchestrated Ocarina of Time CD and FF7’s classic ‘One Winged Angel’ was minus a video display. Both were still great pieces and delighted the audiences and the lack of video was down to SquareEnix’s reluctance to allow any in-game footage to be shown.
But this was a show with very little to really complain about and the second half performance was just as great, if not better than the first. After an amusing Frogger competition held on stage, complete with on-the-fly music from the orchestra, Kingdom Hearts’ main theme took the audience through a montage of the Disney characters featured in the game albeit through clips from their respective films. Tracks from Myst and Warcraft were well received by the crowd and the Sonic and Mario medleys whipped the Sega and Nintendo fan-boys into a frenzy. Both iconic characters were treated to lengthy renditions of their most familiar themes and were largely regarded as the show’s highlights. And if that wasn’t enough to please the crowd, the finale Halo piece sent them into the stratosphere. A final encore for the Halo 3 trailer music was the icing on the cake and capped a magnificent night of entertainment.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night, and the one that garnered the most applause, was when Tommy brought out one of gaming’s biggest cult heroes, the Video Game Pianist, Martin Leung. He had shot to fame on Ebaumsworld when he posted a video of himself playing the Mario Bros tune blindfolded and had now been invited to take part in the world’s biggest celebration of video game music. His first set was a whistle stop tour through some of Nobuo Uematsu’s finest works from the Final Fantasy series including the main theme from FF7 and Kefka’s theme from FF6, although the brilliant Zanarkand from FFX was notable for its absence. When he was called back on stage after the Mario medley, Martin replayed the moment that had brought him into the public’s eye, performing the Mario Bros blindfolded. He followed that with tunes from Mario World and the GB version of Tetris played at an incredible speed.
VG Live has done so much in one night. It brought together four-thousand people in a celebration of music and video game culture; it made the general media sit up and take note of a form of entertainment all too easily passed off as ‘just for kids’; it introduced gamers of all ages to music and experiences that they’d perhaps missed out on; it rekindled the passion for games in a jaded gamer I know who’d all but forgotten just how powerful and memorable the medium could be. And I bet it’s inspired more than a few people to pick up an instrument and play a tune or two from their favourite game.
The true impact of VG Live will be seen years from now, when sell-out performances of the music of Zelda sit proudly alongside the latest Andrew Lloyd-Webber piece in the West-end or Broadway. Soon, Video game composers will be given the recognition and appreciation they’ve deserved for many years; music stores across the world will be full of the latest VG OSTs and Uematsu’s Greatest Hits album will storm the classical music chart.
We are on the cusp of a revolution, and VG Live is the drum roll that has started it all.