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Welcome To The Tour
Rock Band - for those who don't know - is a group-oriented music game, complete with instruments and a microphone. The game allows you to "play" a lead guitar, a bass guitar, a set of drums, or sing along on a microphone to various well-known or not-so-well-known songs in an almost karoke fashion. There is already a Rock Band 2 game out, so what makes this bundle worth the purchase? Lets take a look at what it offers so you can decide for yourself.
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This Is How You Rock
Once you understand what Rock Band was designed for, you'll be forced to agree that the game itself does what it's supposed to. Rock Band provides a way for groups of people to get together and jam to some good music, even if they've never played any of the instruments or sang before. The cooperative nature of the game really demands that you play this game with at least one other person, though of course you can go it alone if you have to.
The basics of the gameplay is simple; you plug in an instrument and using the colored keys (or colored drum heads), you play what is displayed on the screen. For vocalists, you sing the words as your fellow bandmates play along. Each member of the band gets their own display or column, showing what keys they have to play and when. We'll go into each instrument more in-depth in a moment, but this is basically how the game works. The difficulty level ranges from Easy to Expert, getting significantly difficult after the Medium setting. One thing to note is that the jump from Medium to Hard is extreme, almost making it impossible for those who just can't keep up, while the jump from Hard to Expert is not nearly as large a gap. But if you just want to have a good time and play, the Medium difficulty should be plenty good enough.
You can have your band do a local tour, or you can take it online via a Live account. You get rated by how many notes you hit accurately, as well as how long you keep up an accurate string of notes. There are also Overdrive notes - notes that appear in white - which allow you to really get the crowd hyped up. Hitting these notes accurately allows you to put yourself into Overdrive and earn extra points. The band as a whole gets more points if they all are in Overdrive as well, but this takes good coordination between the various band members. The band also gets Unison points for hitting certain sections all together. In the end, you can earn stars, fans, and money for your performances, as well as opening up newer and larger venues. You get the chance to earn a tour van, tour bus, or even your own plane as time goes on. Be warned however, if you or your bandmates start to fail, eventually you will get kicked off the stage.
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Its All About The Music
Anyone who enjoys good music will appreciate the library available in Rock Band. From the get-go, you get to play songs from well known artists like Nirvana, Blue Oyster Cult, or The Ramones. There are also some tracks from lesser known artists, but most are enjoyable to play. If you enjoy the game, the only negative you'll experience is wishing other songs were on the game as you listen to them on the radio.
There are songs you get from the start, but there are also songs you get to unlock as you tour, and there is an extensive library you can download via Live. The cost for downloaded songs is fairly cheap too, from about $1.99 for a single to $5.99 for song bundles. Harmonix keeps adding new songs all the time as well, so if you're just joining the Rock Band franchise, there is really a lot of good music you can access. This is one the best bonuses Rock Band provides - the ability to add to your library when you get bored of the same old songs. Lastly, if you choose to buy Rock Band 2 in the future, most of these tracks are exportable to your Rock Band 2 library as well.
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Give Me That Six String
If you're like a lot of people, the guitar is the first thing you'll pick up. With Rock Band Special Edition, you get a wired guitar that plays similar to the real thing (at least with regards to strumming). Its obviously a lot lighter than a real guitar would be, and the lack of strings makes it an entirely different experience. But on the whole, its not a bad experience for any would-be guitar players. These types of games have even been known to cause people to seek training in the real thing, but don't expect your skill on this pseudo-instrument to translate directly. Its similar, but its not exactly the same.
The guitar included in the Special Edition bundle is decent. The guitar features five colored buttons on the upper neck for hitting the notes as well as five smaller colored buttons on the lower portion of the neck. These lower ones can be used during solos, or they can be handy for children and individuals with smaller fingers. There is also a strum bar that you use in combination with the colored buttons to play the notes. There is a whammy bar, for distorting the sound during those long held notes. Finally, there is a switch on the guitar to change how it sounds during Overdrive sessions or solos, adding effects such as "echoes" or "wah-wah" sounds.
The guitar can be used for either Lead or Bass. If you want to add a second guitarist to your band however, you'll need to go out and purchase another one separately. There are a few types of guitars you can purchase for the game, wireless or wired. There has even been cases of people modding real guitars to work with the game, though of course that gets expensive.
Using the guitar is fun, and fingering can definitely get tricky in the higher difficulty levels. The neck strap seems to come detached occasionally, but its not often enough to be too distracting. The keys respond to fingering well enough, though fast fingering can sometimes be difficult.
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Bang A Gong
If you've never played the drums before and have always wanted to learn, Rock Band Special Edition is not a bad place to start. While it doesn't replace actual instruction of course, the drum set is about the closest thing to reality as it gets. The drum heads are extremely close to an electronic drum kit you might pick up, the stand is adjustable to pretty much anyone, and you use real drumsticks to play with. The set is not wireless, which is one negative and unfortunately it does not come with a stool to sit on. You can obtain a decent drum stool though for fairly cheap, and its a worthwhile investment.
The biggest negative to the drumset is the bass kick pedal. Your foot sets at a fairly high angle, and its easier to just keep your foot at about halfway down while playing. This allows your foot to travel downward quicker when you need to hit the notes, particularly when you have double notes in quick succession. But the biggest problem is it just feels like cheap flimsy plastic, and there are plenty of people in forums everywhere that have complained about the kick pedal breaking in the middle. The multitude of available replacement kick pedals on the internet speak loudly that this is very likely to happen, especially if you get robust in your playing.
As to banging away on the heads, they have so far endured some very rough hits from the drumsticks and show no wear or tear. There is the tendency by the game not to recognize the note if you slam too hard with them, especially with the red pad. Its best to just find a happy medium where you are having fun banging away and yet not getting so crazy you're about to toss a drumstick across the room.
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With A Low Down Voice
The vocal section in Rock Band is - depending on your perspective - not that great. Some people really like to do the singing, and others really hate it. In order to use the microphone, you still need to turn on a regular controller, as the microphone does not have any buttons (i.e. A button, X button, Y button, etc). The Xbox 360 headset with microphone will also work with the game. The key to being successful in this game as a vocalist has to do with pitch, not really accuracy with respect to the words. An arrow indicates whether your pitch is too high, too low, or right on. If you don't know the words, you can actually get away with just humming, but where's the fun in that? There are also "talking sections", which take into consideration when the singer is yelling out a Oh Yeah or Alright in the song. The Beatie Boys for example, have songs with a lot of "talking sections".
You also get the chance for Overdrive points when the words are yellow in color, and if you successfully hit them all, you get a golden bar where you can just sing freely whatever you want. Once you activate the Overdrive, you get point multipliers much like with the other instruments. Its much harder however, to coordinate Overdrive for the vocalist with Overdrive for all the rest of the band. When you're not singing, there are moments when you need to tap the top of the microphone, usually representing when you would be using a tamborine in a band or clapping your hands. Depending on whether you truly enjoy singing, the microphone can become your American Idol shot or the bane of your existence.
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Overall, Rock Band is an awesome game for those who like this genre. The Special Edition adds to the game by giving you the instruments you need, all in one nicely-priced package. Other than the vocals being a bit sub-par and not as challenging, the game is fun both by yourself or with a group of people. Well, its actually more fun with a group of people, but solo tours work okay too. Lastly, you get access to some really great music, and should you choose to move up to Rock Band 2, you can take that music with you. This is definitely one rhythm and band simulation game you need to pick up, and make sure you get the Special Edition. Otherwise, you'll be forced to pick up each instrument separately, and there's really no need at this point to waste your money like that. Besides, you'll be better off spending it on the downloadable songs.