Video games: He rocks, she rocks

  • Article by: RANDY A. SALAS and LESLIE PLESSER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 23, 2007 - 4:04 PM

"Rock Band" takes the "Guitar Hero" experience to a whole new level.

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This image from the video game "Rock Band" was provided by publisher EA Games. "Rock Band," developed by "Guitar Hero" studio Harmonix, leads the parade of music-based video games this fall. (AP Photo/EA Games)

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Randy: When I got an early copy of the highly anticipated "Rock Band," I called Leslie. She's a "Guitar Hero" fiend, and "Rock Band" is like "GH" cranked up to 11.

Unpacking and setting up all the gear took nearly an hour because of all the cardboard, wires and tape holding together all the stuff inside the heavy box. The biggest chore is assembling the drum set. There's also a guitar and microphone.

Since "Rock Band" was created by Harmonix, the same company behind "Guitar Hero," the new controller looks similar to the one in that older game. But there are some differences.

Leslie: The "Rock Band" guitar is much smoother in terms of strumming, and the fret buttons have a bit more control. You can also tap on a second set of fret buttons located higher up on the neck -- which comes in handy during faster metal solos. My only complaint is that the fret buttons are level with the neck, making it a bit more complicated to feel out for finger placement. Also, in "Guitar Hero," the middle fret has a ridge to give you an origination point, but "Rock Band" does not have this feature. This is not a problem if you are playing on the easy level, but it gets more complicated later.

But enough about the guitars, let's talk about the drums! What a fun new toy!

Randy: You're not kidding. This drum set is arguably the biggest controller in video games. It has four pads that sit on top of a rack and mimic the sounds of a snare, toms, cymbals and high hat. An adjustable foot pedal attaches to the bottom of the rack and connects to the pads to give the realistic feel of a bass drum. There are control buttons embedded in the center of the rack, but you'll mostly use the drum pads.

It's really fun getting into a groove on the drums, with your foot and both hands trying to keep up with the on-screen prompts. I'm no Neil Peart, but it's a lot of work! Whether sitting or standing, you'll get shin splints from stomping on the bass-drum pedal.

The best part is when you're given a prompt to do an improvised fills during a song. Here, you just bang away however you please. All of the instruments get such solo prompts. On vocals, you can just say or sing whatever you want. And the game adds reverb and presence to your vocals to make you sound like a real rock star. Even a non-singer like Leslie sounded totally fine on the Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop."

Leslie: Ahem, "non-singer" is putting it quite kindly. As someone who hates to even hum "Happy Birthday," even I wanted to sing in this game, because the song selection is fantastic! "Creep" by Radiohead and "Should I Stay or Should I Go" by the Clash are among the many classics. "Paranoid" by Black Sabbath is on both "Guitar Hero III" and "Rock Band," but is way more fun to hammer out on "Rock Band."

The only part of the game that I'm still not clear on is how you move through the levels.

Randy: Yeah, we played for a few hours and never unlocked some of the songs we heard in the intro, such as Rush's "Tom Sawyer," or in the solo mode of the game, such as Blue Öyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper" (in which you hit the mic with your hand to play cowbell!). But we still had a blast. It was a total party scene -- friends and family members crowding together in one room, trading instruments and cheering for one another.

So, Leslie, would you pay $170 for Rock Band?

Leslie: Yeah, I would. But I might have to save up for a bigger TV and surround sound. This game is so much more than your average shoot-'em-up that I might need a dedicated space to fully rock out.

Randy: I know what you mean. Even though I have the space and setup for "Rock Band," I have no idea where I'm going to stash that drum set between gigs.

rasalas@startribune.com • 612-673-4542 lplesser@startribune.com • 612-673-7522

  • ROCK BAND

    4 out of 4 stars

    Publisher: Harmonix.

    Systems: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2.

    Price: $170 ($160 for PS2).

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