By November 24, 2008

Rock Band 2: Second Edition, Second Chances

I was very excited when the original Rock Band came out for the Xbox 360. Unfortunately, I was unlucky enough to get TWO sets of faulty drums. I wound up returning Rock Band for a refund.

Fast forward a year. Rock Band 2 is due for release, and features some improvements to the game and the hardware. I love rhythm games like Donkey Konga and Taiko Drum Master, and couldn’t resist giving Rock Band 2 a try.

If you are into console gaming at all, you’ll already know all this stuff, but here’s for people unfamiliar with the game or might consider buying a 360 over the 2008 holiday season.

  • Wireless instruments. The original Rock Band had wired instruments. The drums, guitar, and microphone were all wired back to the XBOX via the included USB hub. All of those cords were unsightly, true, but what really caused a problem was my three dogs running around the house while we played. It was like recreating the scene from Empire where Luke snares the AT-AT with the tow cable. You never knew who was going to get Gulliver’s Traveled and nothing helps your concentration at a rhythm game like yelling at a dog to not run in the house.

    All of the instruments in Rock Band 2 are wireless except for the microphone. Big improvement.

  • Better band member management. The original Rock Band tied each performer to their Xbox Live! account. The short story is that if you started out as a guitarist your character couldn’t play the drums. Rock Band 2 allows you to switch instruments, although it is still a little unwieldy on the 360. Another big improvement.
  • Backwards compatibility with Rock Band 1. This was the most important feature for keeping people interested in the franchise. You can still play all of your Rock Band songs in Rock Band 2, and your old instruments still work. Rock Band 2 was released as a standalone title before the “special edition” was released with the wireless instruments. All songs downloaded for Rock Band were available for RB2, and for a $5 fee you could import all of the songs that came with the Rock Band disc into Rock Band 2. I bought Rock Band on eBay for $25 shipped and doubled my playlist. Rock Band 2 didn’t screw over the installed user base by making them repurchase their songs, or forcing them to stop playing RB2 to revisit some of their favorite songs from the original. Good job, Harmonix!
  • The drums work. Enough said, really.

Okay, enough with that stuff. Is Rock Band 2 any fun?

Yes, yes it is, especially if you live in a house where people aren’t necessarily computer gamers. I love introducing people to consoles via rhythm games. One of my favorite holiday memories was watching my step father jam out with Guitar Hero II on my Playstation 2. I play Rock Band 2 with Starbuck and have an absolute blast. She sings, and I drum. So far my favorite song to play with her is Journey’s “Any Way You Want It,” because I know the song well enough to sing backup. Billy Idol’s “White Wedding” is a hoot, too.

There is an online mode, but I haven’t tried it out yet — I enjoy playing with people in the room too much, and have other games I’d rather play when I’m solo.

One thing I don’t like about Rock Band 2 is that despite having a massive library of songs, we keep playing the same small set in career mode. We’ve played “Living on a Prayer” and “New Kid in School” at least four times: once as a single at a gig, and three times as “mystery set lists.” I am not sure how we keep this from happening. I thought we needed to unlock more songs to deepen the pool of mystery set songs, but we still keep getting four or five songs over and over again.

Rock Band 2 is everything the original should have been. Wireless instruments, easier band management, and shit that works. You should give it a try, even if you cringe at the thought of clutching a tiny plastic guitar in your meaty, masculine hands. The game is a great time, especially during the holidays when you may have plenty of non-gamers in the house.

Strongly recommended.

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Posted in: games, review

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