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Joystiq hands-on: Rock Band

Jared Rea

In 1999, Konami of Japan unleashed DrumMania on Japanese arcades and with it, the ability to link the machine together with GuitarFreaks for session play. This was considered a novel idea at the time, though it wasn't the most affordable setup. The following year, they released a home version of DrumMania, complete with the appropriate controller. That is, of course, if you had no intentions of playing the game with any sort of accuracy.

Jump to the present day and not only has Harmonix solved the problem of session play, but they've also produced a drumming peripheral that challenges the quality of Konami's original arcade beast.

Sticks in hand, we sat down behind Harmonix's latest kit, flipped the difficulty to hard and proceeded to lay in like few others have before. If there is any doubt as to the mastery of rhythm wielded by Harmonix, Rock Band surely squashes it.

Gallery: Rock Band | 23 Photos

The most important aspect of drumming (aside from, you know, coordination) is how you handle your sticks. The trick to it is to have an extremely loose grip and let the impact do all the work for you. That said, the rubber material of Rock Band's drum set feels absolutely perfect for proper play. Obviously, a real drum kit provides much greater feedback, but compared to what we've seen in the arcades with DrumMania, it's of equal, if not superior quality.

Also of exceptional quality is the kick pedal, which comes fully loaded with proper resistance and a nifty sliding feature to accommodate both left and right footed players. Harmonix intends for players to lay into the kick pedal the same way you would the real thing by resting your foot down naturally and tapping out the beats. This works brilliantly, though if you're not used to it, you may start to feel fatigue in your ankle sooner than anticipated. That sounds like a negative, but really, we wouldn't have it any other way.

Rock Band, as we all know, isn't just about the jerk in the back of the stage. The guitar has also received a major face lift and one that isn't so much cosmetic as it is a technical improvement. The frets are no longer separated from one another and feel much less like buttons as they do actual strings. While the buttons do feel mushy, this drastic change makes sense once the legendary solos of Expert mode come into play. The Guitar Hero series has always been known for its fanciful finger magic, but the Rock Band controller makes these impossible feats come more naturally. The controller also features five extra fret buttons located towards the bottom of the neck which are used exclusively during solos, though we didn't get to a chance to work those out.

After playing well over a dozen songs in our four player session, it became obvious that the vocalist was the glue that held it all together. One aspect of the karaoke that we've been curious about was whether or not it was possible to play both an instrument and carry the vocals at the same time. It may not be an official option, but if you know a song by heart (and have a mic stand or very caring friend to act as one) then there isn't anything stopping you from being the ultimate Bemani nerd.

Some may argue that Rock Band, with it's elaborate controllers and four-person role play, is taking the video game music thing too far; that at this point, if you're shelling out the cash (an amount which has yet to be determined) to invest in all this gear, you might as well start a real band. If there's a valid point anywhere in that argument, we don't really care to see it as Rock Band has already cemented itself as one of the greatest party games of all time. Should you only pick up one guitar wielding title this holiday season, regardless of entry fee, this is it.

No Moore's were pulled during our time with Rock Band.

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