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Rock Band and turkey: a Thanksgiving family test

Ross Miller

"Did you bring that Mario game? Your father really wants to try it ... what is that?"

"A plastic drum set, mom," I reply. "We're going to pretend to be rock and roll stars as a family and then I'm going to write about it for work." She stares intrigued for two, maybe three nanoseconds before uttering, "Cool ... How about Wii Bowling? Can we play that?"

Inspired by last year's Nintendo Wii family tests (and just hopeful to get more playtime in), I decided to pack up my copy of Rock Band for Xbox 360 (a daunting task, rest assured) and take it to my parent's house for Thanksgiving.

First off, the roster:

  • Ross Miller - Guitar, drums, vocals, official band photographer
  • Kay Miller - Drums, guitar, mother
  • "Chip" Miller - Vocals, guitar, father
  • Kevin Loop - Vocals, drums, brother-from-another-mother
Convincing my mom to play was a matter of telling her that there was a Garbage song in the song list - for my dad, Nirvana. After several minutes of going setting up and calibrating the instruments (it's just like a real concert!), we take our positions (mom on drums, dad on guitar, Kevin on vocals), select Nirvana's "In bloom" and ... quickly fail.

The disparaging look of defeat.

After a brief recess and a switch to high heels for my mom to assuage a hurt foot to look more like a rock star, we try Garbage's "I think I'm paranoid" with much better results:
  • Dad (Guitar on Easy): 68% with 13-note streak
  • Mom (Drums on Easy): 80% with 38-note streak
  • Kevin (Vocals on Medium): 87% with 8-phrase streak

It should be noted that during this song my dad inadvertently pulled a Peter Moore. For those who don't remember, that means he accidentally paused the game mid-song. After some lamentation that the Garbage song isn't "I'm only happy when it rains," we rotate instruments and attempt Foo Fighters' "Learn to Fly," only to all fail simultaneously due to the difficulty settings. Accepting our limitations yield much better stats:
  • Mom (Guitar on Easy): 76% with 26-note streak
  • Kevin (Drums on Easy): 66% with 19-note streak
  • Ross (Vocals on Medium): 97% with 16-phrase streak

My dad returns from the darkness, like a comeback king asking for one more moment of glory. We give him the microphone, he chooses R.E.M.'s "Orange Crush" and discovers there are a lot more words than he recalls:
  • Dad (Vocals on Easy): 75% with 5-phrase streak
  • Kevin (Drums on Easy): 88% with 26-note streak
  • Ross (Guitar on Hard): 86% with 49-note streak
During the vocal overdrive, my Dad decided to yell at the virtual crowd. "Hey you in the back, put your pants back on!" (Amusingly, he was rewarded bonus points for this.) One criticism my father has of the game is that he can't hear himself well enough over the pre-recorded vocals. Next up, Soundgarden's "Black hole sun."
  • Mom (Guitar on Easy): 82% with 27-note streak
  • Kevin (Vocals on Medium): 93% with 7-phrase streak
  • Ross (Drum on Medium): 96% with 65-note streak
That was supposed to end our test, but by the time we finished the song we wanted to do one more. We pick the Clash cover, "Should I stay or should I go?" (which, much to my thanks, is a lot better than some of the Guitar Hero 2 covers - "Killing in the name," anyone?).
  • Mom (Drums on Easy): 75% with 16-note streak
  • Kevin (Vocals on Easy): 55% with 1-phrase streak
  • Ross (Guitar on Hard): 97% with 90-note streak
"If you want to be like iggy pop I've got razor blades you can cut your chest with," jokes my dad, who has resigned himself to watching from the couch.

My dog wasn't too fond of the loud tapping, but he does love yellow tennis balls.

Still feeling the urge for more, we play one last song. This time it was Weezer's "Say it ain't so"
  • Mom (Guitar on Easy): 86% with 51-note streak
  • Kevin (Vocals on Easy): 86% with 10-phrase streak
  • Ross (Drums on Hard): 95% with 83-note streak

Final Thoughts
  • Dad: "Critically speaking, i think the vocals should be at a higher level where you can hear yourself better. The drums were ... I don't have any rhythm. The guitar was somewhat confusing because it only threw me like the red, green and yellow and all of sudden the shiny blue notes in the same column. [The special notes for filling your Overdrive meter - Ed.] Enjoyable group participation game ... no, I really talk like that!" (Chimes in Kevin, "he means party game.")
  • Mom: "It rocks. I thought it was fun, good exercise. I love the drums, I rock at the drums. [I'm] getting the guitar down. Ain't gonna catch me on vocals."
  • Kevin had some choice words that we've deemed unprintable. The gist: the game is ridiculous but still fun.
We spend the rest of our time talking about songs we'd like to see in the game - Minus the Bear, Phil Collins, Genesis with Phil Collins, Barry Manilow (?) - and future expansion packs. "Prog Rock Band with a keyboard," suggests my Dad, while Kevin proposes Indie Rock Band with a cello.

My mom decrees that, for better and for worse, I have to pack up the entire game and bring it home every holiday. The general consensus is that the drums are the best part of the game, although it might have something to do with the challenges we were having over trying to strum punk songs on the guitar. It won't convince my parents to buy an Xbox 360 (that honor is still bestowed upon the Wii), but it's definitely a game that my whole family can enjoy together.

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