April 23, 2009

Rock Band 2 Review (WII)

Rock Band 2: Special Edition (Wii version reviewed)
EA Games, MTV Games, Harmonix, Pi Studios

It's not always when Harmonix screws something up. True, the LEGO mashup may be one case, but Rock Band (1) for the Wii is another.

You see, the first iteration of the franchise for the white dude had a lot of features stripped from its beefier 360 and PS3 counterparts: character creation, online play and most importantly for me, the online music store.

Fortunately, Harmonix has made up for the disappointment of the multitudes of Wii owners by offering a bigger, better, badder Rock Band 2. It's simply nearly identical to its big brothers from the art direction to the myriads of clothes on offer in Character Creation mode.

It's a rather massive game now in comparison to that of the first iteration, so I'll just sift through some of the major ones.

Graphics and Presentation
The departure of pre-rendered videos is very welcome, as it's very cute to see your own character miss notes when you do, as the "concert" that happens while you play is now rendered in real-time. Some frame rate issues do occur, but it's only noticeable when you are the singer in the band. Other than that, the characters and animation have very impressive art direction and fluidity. You'll even love how, at times, the avatar of the guitarist would sing along and share the mic with the singer.
The flexible character creation even lets you create some of the most outrageous avatars you'll find in a rock game, and they are all rendered flawlessly. Subtle uses of your characters in loading screens (as well as your band's name) also look extremely cool to boot. Hell, the only issue I'd have with the presentation of Rock Band would have to be the fact that it isn't in HD!

The quality of the instruments is pretty solid. I personally would've liked the guitar to have better fret buttons, as well as some more responsiveness, but overall, I think the included instruments (1 set of drums, 1 guitar, 1 USB mic) will last very long. 

You'll need 3 AA batteries (included in the box) for drums and guitar for they are wireless, but you'll only probably exchange them every 2 months or so. We bought Rock Band 2 during the last week of February, and yet the guitar still lives on without a single battery change. The drums on the other hand, has just received its first battery change 2 weeks ago. Take note though, that battery life will still depend on how long you play in one sitting.

Drum sticks get black quick though, as they are made of actual wood and not plastic.

Gameplay Mechanics
Gameplay is relatively easy to pick up with drums as the color coded rings of the real instrument reflect the colors of the notes that will appear on screen. Guitar on the other hand, handles like a real one. You can hold the fret buttons, but you'll have to strum using the strum bar first before the game accepts it. (For training and more information about contorls, one could be able to go to a very detailed tutorial or just train on any part of any song)

Singing is radically different beast, obviously, but it's not just karaoke- it also detects correct pitch. No, actually, it's more pitch than words, so if you don't know a part of the song but you know the tune of it, you can just hum your way to victory. Some parts of a certain song where the instrumentalists go solo are supplemented with "clapping sessions". Basically, the vocalist will also have to clap to the beat- as indicated by scrolling black circles overlapping a stationary white circle.

When someone is doing miserably, a team member can use stored energy (which can be received through playing grey notes or singing yellow phrases correctly) to go into "overdrive". Overdrive is basically Rock Band's answer to Guitar Hero's "Star Power": it can "save" the troubled band member from failing, or even ressurect a band member who has already failed. One would know if failure is imminent by checking out a green/yellow/red meter on the left corner of the screen. When someone is going down that meter, it means he/she is doing badly or missing notes. When he/she reaches the bottommost part of that meter, he/she fails and must be "saved" through the Overdrive of the other bandmates- and fast because the meter turns yellow and later, red when someone fails. Basically, a failed bandmate will take the rest of you down with him, and if the others don't rush to save him (or are too late) they'll all fail the song; this mechanic definitely encourages teamwork and some frantic moments.
But of course, failing just sucks, doesn't it? This is why you can choose to activate a "No Fail" mode which effectively removes all chances of failure- as well as the ability to save your progress in Tour (aka, Career) Mode.

High Score OCD
Much of the replay value present in these types of games lies in the basic "I want to beat that high score" psychology- if you could call it that. This is why Harmonix also put "Solo" and "Rock Ending" mechanics. The former basically adds bonus points depending on how well you play a guitar/drum solo while the latter gives the players bonus points when an ending is successfully executed. 

Let me delve more into these "endings". The notes suddenly look like spreaded jam, meaning that you could just do anything with your instrument- and yes, that means strumming any fret, banging any part of the drum, and screaming/speaking gibberish into the mic- and after that part, the points will be given to you depending on just one condition: will the instrumentalists be able to play the last few notes? When they are able to not miss the last note(s), the points are given to you. Otherwise- when the player screws up on that last note- no bonus points for you!

The actual experience of Rock Band lies in the number of people you have at your disposal. If you play it with a full band, a certain feeling surfaces- and that abstract, indescribable feeling is pretty much the thing that makes Rock Band so good and dare I say it, magical. Still, your friends or family aren't always around- they have lives too- so online is here to cure your loneliness.

There are two major online modes: Online Tour and Battle of the Bands. Online Tour enables you to find other people who are lonely too, and they could serve as one (or all) of the missing members of your band.
While I have yet to be able to find a full band online, I was able to find several guitarists, and the song I picked was Joan Jett's Bad Reputation. It doesn't replace real people who are there with you, but it's close.

Searches would take long depending on the time you go online and the number of people who are actually on and/or already playing, of course..

Personally, I haven't actually tried the latter- Battle of the Bands. Basically, its premise is that you can connect your entire band online and fight with other bands who are online.

Music Store
For the first time in the Wii edition, Rock Band gets its own Music Store where you can now download 20 free songs out of the box as well as purchase more famous songs. Each song costs 200 Nintendo Points or $2.00, and while the 630 song-catalogue is not yet complete in the Wii, it's getting there. New songs added in the 360 and PS3 are currently being added alongside the songs that play catch-up. So while there's no My Sharona yet, you could now get the newly added Spongebob songs.

Now Go Party!!!
Wii owners (or PS3 and 360 owners for that matter) who are fans of the rhythm genre (or just like to conduct parties in general) will consider Rock Band 2 a no-brainer. Personally, it's even better than Guitar Hero: World Tour even if its drums have those (unintuitive) cymbals and just 2 more songs than Rock Band 2. When you pop this in and you start playing with several friends, you're just gonna be so elated. It's just a gratifying experience with others- and Rock Band's ability to make people feel this way is unsurpassed, thus making Rock Band 2 (or the franchise in general) one of the best rhythm game(s) of all time.

Rating: 9.3/10

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