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Rock Band impressions ... from a Best Buy kiosk

Dan Dormer

When we heard of the existence of a Rock Band demo station at Best Buy locations throughout the country, we knew what had to be done: find the station, rock out in torn Posion tees and acid wash jeans while refusing to give toddlers a turn, have management escort us off the premises, and report back.

We've taken care of the previous steps (who knew 50-year-old Gladys would have a gorilla grip), and now it's time for us to drop a knowledge bomb on all y'all. Here it is: Rock Band rocks.

"There was a little green globule on his drum seat."

It took us a moment to uncover the Rock Band setup in this particular Best Buy, as it wasn't actually contained within the confines of the game section, but across the way; closer to printers than PS2s. We almost had to ask one of the catatonic "sales associates" for help, but thankfully found it without having to hear their potentially feeble attempts at actual, informed conversation.

Upon first glance, it was apparent there wasn't much care invested in the setup or upkeep of this particular area. Not only was Rock Band on display, but there was also a Guitar Hero III setup right next to it. Tangled wires, multiple guitars (four in all), the drum kit, and a microphone -- it all made for a sorry looking display. Once we solved our problem with the Gorgon's Knot, it was time to rock. Thankfully, the TV's had some decent sound to hear the songs most of the time, over the general ambient noise and the Spider-Man 3 DVD playing behind us. Stop trying to act, Maguire, you're interrupting our metal funk jazz alt rock fusion!

The first thing we had to try out was the drum kit (sans kick pedal). If you've owned a digital drum kit, expect the same level of sturdiness from the Rock Band set. Being able to use actual drum sticks makes the feeling that much better.

We started on Medium difficulty, and picked up how to successfully play the drums within the first two songs. Anyone with a moderate level of rhythm game experience should be able to acclimate to the new instrument without a problem. However, mastering the drums ... that's another thing altogether.

There wasn't a better song to test the note alignment with the drums than "Tom Sawyer" by RUSH. Neil Peart, known for being a god behind the drums, definitely garners more respect from us now, as even on Medium the song was truly challenging. (David Bowie's "Suffragrate City" and Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Dani California" were also a blast to play -- and a challenge.)

We're sure that once the kick pedal enters the equation, we'll be relearning exactly how to play the drums, but we don't mind. Anyone who was skeptical about how much fun they'd have with drums needs to check themselves. They feel perfect, and once you get down the proper way to hold the sticks you'll be a drum hero in no time. The drums will be the instrument that every band member will be vying for -- no question.

It didn't take long at all for us to be absorbed into the game with the drums. Even in a Best Buy, we had no problem pounding our way through songs. Occasionally people would come up to us and ask us what the drums were all about; if they were part of "the new Guitar Hero." A lack of signs or labels caused us to have multiple conversations during our play period, informing individuals of Rock Band, and the differences between the two series.

There was also an issue with the microphone. It was hooked up to ... something (we imagine), but we weren't able to test out the vocals. While it would have easily been the least popular, at least for people worried about being seen in public *gasp!* singing, it's just unfortunate the whole band experience couldn't be replicated in-store.

Would you tell Picasso to sell his guitars?

The difference between playing guitar for Rock Band and playing guitar for Guitar Hero comes first and foremost from the actual guitar. The finalized Rock Band guitar controller, based off the iconic Fender Stratocaster, just feels right. It's more sturdy, weighty, and responsive than Activision's offering. You also have the additional buttons lower on the neck for use during solos. It provides a more authentic experience, and makes the Guitar Hero controller look childish in comparison.

Unfortunately, none of the songs on the demo we played were the songs pulling double duty (performing on both Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock and Rock Band), so we couldn't do a side by side comparison. The tracks we did play, however, definitely showcased the fact that Harmonix knows how to make a song challenging and accurate. Weezer's "Say It Ain't So" on Hard served as our entry point into sampling the guitar. Not too difficult, but different enough in presentation to cause us to stumble occasionally. After playing for a while, we went back to the song and rocked it without a problem.

Jet's "Are You Gonna Be My Girl" and Nirvana's "In Bloom" were a couple other standout tracks for the guitar, but really, that could be said of most songs on the demo. There wasn't one we didn't have fun playing in the bunch.

When you are in a band, you don't get with your band mate's girlfriend. Past or present.

Two of the great things about playing in multiplayer: bringing back a band mate who has failed out of the song and the ending bonus.

A few times, our drummer struggled with an alternating yellow, yellow-red, yellow, yellow-red pattern, and he failed out of the song we were playing. Partially because the drum sticks were tethered to device, limiting just how much movement you had, partially because of the newness. But hope wasn't lost! Through savvy playing, and sacrificing "Star Power," we brought him back into the fold -- and you have to, otherwise the entire band forfeits the gig. It's a nice ability, and really helps instill a fellowship between the band members.

However, this concept seemed lost on the other individuals that rotated in during out time at Best Buy. Try as we might to inform them that they needed to "do this" to bring the other player back to life, many people just didn't care. Whether it's because their jerks or just apathetic is up for debate, but perhaps a tutorial on the demo could have clued some of these dolts in to the game's mechanics.

The few bits we did find awkward were the moments when the guitarist would be jamming away and the drummer would have nothing to do. This was most notable in Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive," where the drums don't enter into the song until well after Bon Jovi begins belting out the lyrics. So while the guitarist would be quickly hitting buttons and strumming up and down, the drummer just sat there. Hopefully this doesn't happen too often in the game, because (at least from what we can tell) the game is supposed to be about being a band and everyone having fun. Sitting around spinning your drum sticks while your friends rock out ... not so much.

And you can tell Rolling Stone magazine that my last words were... I'm on drugs!

Yeah, we still haven't played through the final retail version, but if this demo is any indication, Joystiq's overall posting output is going to take a nosedive similar to Courtney Love's career post-release. And now there's news there will be Rock Band shortages through the end of the year? Hell, this might be the one time we advocate pre-ordering.

As for the Rock Band demo display itself, well, that was a disappointment. We understand that hourly employees for large companies tend to be there to get their paycheck and discount, but the setup showed no care. We think proper signage, perhaps a bigger TV, and just a cleaner area -- along with a tutorial mode -- would have definitely made this game an easier sell to the public. It's unfortunate that, at least in this Best Buy, future sales of a seemingly fantastic game are being hindered by laziness.

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