Saving Music Games

Also available for : PS3, Xbox360

<LINK REL="stylesheet" HREF="http://guidesmedia.ign.com/guides/uni/IGNE_style.css" TYPE="text/css">In 2012, most people don't care about music games anymore. At least not the beatmatching sort made popular last decade with five-button faux guitars and thwacky drums.<br/><br/>Signaled by the bubble bursting boom of umpteen Guitar Hero, Band Hero, DJ Hero and Rock Band releases, Activision eventually <a target="_blank" href="http://xbox360.ign.com/articles/114/1148687p1.html">shuttered the Hero franchise</a> and acclaimed <a target="_blank" href="http://wii.ign.com/articles/114/1142516p1.html">Rock Band developer Harmonix was sold for $50</a>. With the public's crush on the genre worn thin, publishers have since moved on and music games of the Hero ilk have withdrawn into the shadows, put away like so many dusty fake plastic instruments. <br/><br/><img src="http://media.ign.com/games/image/article/122/1222889/GH_1334260638.jpg" /><br/>Memories of a simpler time.<br/><br/><br/><br/>Does an audience for music games still exist then? The answer is obviously yes. Companies have continued to release a variety of music-driven titles, like the lighthearted <a target="_blank" href="http://wii.ign.com/articles/121/1218100p1.html">Rhythm Heaven Fever</a>, the deep and alluring <a target="_blank" href="http://ps3.ign.com/articles/114/1142542p1.html">Auditorium</a>, or addicting bite-sized entries like the <a target="_blank" href="http://www.bittripgame.com/">BIT.TRIP series</a> and the mesmerizing <a target="_blank" href="http://wireless.ign.com/articles/116/1168583p1.html">Pulse</a>. Even the former category-leader Harmonix has re-imagined its Rock Band brand as an upcoming arcade game of sorts with Rock Band Blitz (shown below), sans instruments and all. <br/><br/>Developers and publishers know that most of us still like music, and playing with music is still fun, but almost none are ready to put a peripheral back in our hands.<br/><br/> <object id="vid_763e0efb0f073497695d6940c62a46a4" class="ign-videoplayer" width="468" height="293" data="http://oystatic.ignimgs.com/src/core/js/../swf/IGNPlayer.swf" type="application/x-shockwave-flash"><param name="movie" value="http://oystatic.ignimgs.com/src/core/js/../swf/IGNPlayer.swf"/><param name="" value="true"/><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"/><param name="bgcolor" value="#000000"/><param name="flashvars" value="url=http://www.ign.com/videos/2012/04/04/rock-band-blitz-video-preview"/><param name="wmode" value="opaque"/></object> <center>It's Rock Bamplitude!</center><br/><br/>That brings us to the recently announced Bandfuse: Rock Legends, whose creators are clearly betting that we still have the performers itch. <br/><br/>Bandfuse looks like the beatmatching games of yore at first glance, but it changes the well-worn formula just so, boiling down the experience to a simple elevator pitch: play guitar on your consoles. Like, really play guitar. Sure, there's more to it than that, but that's the hook. Toward that end, the game eschews the make-believe instruments and hypnotizing note highways for real guitars (no special models or midi-guitars required; use any electric guitar you already own) and tablature, the undisputed universal shorthand language of guitar players. In concept, this is awesome.<br/><br/>There's an assortment of just-announced features that trim out the experience. Up to four players can jam together with any combination of guitars, bass or vocals (drums are not confirmed; <a target="_blank" href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZWTfrW3gEo">what kind of band has no drummer?</a> ) and there's a creation and sharing mode that allows you to either record your track from any of the songs that ship with the game (so far announced artists include Pearl Jam, Living Colour, Strokes, Slash, Judas Priest and more) or record your own tracks. You can then upload your recordings to Twitter, Facebook or YouTube.<br/><br/> <object id="vid_9caab950b4fdfa558406beae560529b2" class="ign-videoplayer" width="468" height="293" data="http://oystatic.ignimgs.com/src/core/js/../swf/IGNPlayer.swf" type="application/x-shockwave-flash"><param name="movie" value="http://oystatic.ignimgs.com/src/core/js/../swf/IGNPlayer.swf"/><param name="" value="true"/><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"/><param name="bgcolor" value="#000000"/><param name="flashvars" value="url=http://www.ign.com/videos/2012/04/12/casey-plays-bandfuse"/><param name="wmode" value="opaque"/></object> <center>Disclaimer: Our Projector made the game appear washed out. This video also makes me look like I'm going bald, so something is clearly amiss.</center><br/><br/>For me, someone who's played guitar off and on for 25 years, if all Bandfuse does is allow guitar aficionados and music lovers to play real guitar via a console, and it does it well, then I'm interested. Games like <a target="_blank" href="http://xbox360.ign.com/articles/113/1131136p1.html">Power Gig: Rise of the Six String</a> and the more recent <a target="_blank" href="http://xbox360.ign.com/articles/121/1210429p1.html">Rocksmith</a> promised something akin to the Bandfuse experience, but ultimately were marred either by horrible gameplay and guitar design (in Power Gig's case), and limitations and barriers that made simply jamming out a hassle with Rocksmith. It's worth noting that both Rocksmith and Rock Band 3 (in it's Pro Mode) dabbled with different uses of tablature, but favored proprietary note-highway-esque presentations instead, for whatever weird reason.<br/><br/>Is a guitar edutainment-type music game based on the real-world fundamental language of guitar the next natural progression of the currently defunct music category? If so, is this extension enough to make music games matter again? <br/><br/>It's possible. <br/><br/>But if this is the next step, here's a rundown of some crucial areas where a game like Bandfuse <i>must</i> succeed.<br/><br/><DIV CLASS="IGNE_header">Killer Tone</div>To date, I've only heard four tones in Bandfuse, all of which are best defined with words like 'thin, tinny, brittle, janky, solid state, midi-sounding', etc. Yeah, it's not great right now. The developer seems totally aware of this. When asked, they've explained that these sounds are placeholder and they're working on a number of licensing deals. They've reassured us that this is at the top of their "must have" list. Still, if the tone doesn't deliver, the whole thing will be a wash. Seeing that this is a guitar-centric game, great tone is an absolute deal-breaker. Artists currently attached to the project like Slash and Five Finger Death Punch adamantly agreed about the need for righteous tones when I asked them during the game's unveiling event in Los Angeles earlier this year.<br/><br/><img src="http://media.ign.com/games/image/article/122/1222889/AmpRoom_1334259928.jpg" /><br/>Yes, please.<br/><br/><br/><br/>Beginners and experts will agree, people will want great tone. Crushing Mesa Boogie, Krank, Hughes and Kettner and Bogner tones, alongside juicy Fender, Marshall and Orange sounds. I would also love to sample boutique flavors I'd never have access to (translation: Tophat amps!), all thrown in with the ability to swap between effects and cabinets. In my experience with Bandfuse, and knowing how difficult it is to simulate great tone via digital means for even the best amplifier manufacturers, this will be Bandfuse's greatest challenge. That, and having a...<br/><br/><DIV CLASS="IGNE_header">Good Setlist</div>Put simply, please pick good music. For starters, give me Andrew WK. Please. The fact that no music game to date has featured uncle Andy is borderline criminal. Do this, and I'll suffer all the classic rock you can throw at me. <br/><br/><img src="http://media.ign.com/games/image/article/122/1222889/andrew-wk1_1334259974.jpg" /><br/>No Andy, no deal.<br/><br/><br/><br/>Actually let's skip a bunch of that too. How about some current music in addition to the expected Thin Lizzy, Joan Jett, Foghat and Rush? Give us Circa Survive, Say Anything, Periphery, The Dear Hunter, Revocation, Dance Gavin Dance, Emarosa, Tides of Man, Alexisonfire and more. For older tracks, how about some good Metallica (Justice or earlier, please), Ween, They Might Be Giants, Black Sabbath, Blink 182... heck, Steel Panther! Have the starter songs for scalability, for the kid who just bought his first guitar, and then some Protest the Hero for the more intermediate players. Or better yet, let us have...<br/><br/><DIV CLASS="IGNE_header">Unlimited Music</div>Alright, I know this probably won't happen, but imagine playing with whatever music you subscribe to on Xbox live, ala Zune, Last.FM, Spotify or even our own iTunes catalog. <br/><br/><img src="http://media.ign.com/games/image/article/122/1222889/iTunes_1334525651.jpg" /><br/>Wishful thinking.<br/><br/><br/><br/>The music is already there, tabs for all the music already exists, give the players accessibility and don't stick me with a limited and potential stale set of tracks that represent more what the publisher could afford, and less what I want to play. Whatever the tracks are, the key to pulling it all off though will be&#x2026;<br/><br/><DIV CLASS="IGNE_header">Zero Latency</div>In other words, there should be no lag between what I play on my guitar and what I hear coming out of my speakers. From what I have seen, Bandfuse does this reasonably well, though I've only seen it played with two instruments simultaneously. Will it hold up with a third, and vocals? Really though, all I want to do is&#x2026;<br/><br/><DIV CLASS="IGNE_header">Plug In and Play</div>The idea of playing my guitar through my PS3 or 360 is great. Like, really great. Let me do that fast. The game should start in a jam situation or studio, me plugged in, sound already coming out. If I want to go into the menu, play along with a song, set something up or do anything else, let me do that later. <br/><br/><img src="http://media.ign.com/games/image/article/122/1222889/RocksmithMenusystem_1334527069.jpg" /><br/>The opposite of this.<br/><br/><br/><br/>Let other plugged-in instruments join instantly as well. Also, PLEASE don't shackle the best tones, guitar models, cabinet sounds, pedals, etc, behind invisible walls that need unlocking via progression in a career mode. This, of course, would all be made incredibly more awesome with...<br/><br/><DIV CLASS="IGNE_header">Easy and Flexible Recording</div>With the newly announced recording features, gamers are said to have the ability to record something akin to real tracks, and in theory, use the Bandfuse software as a recording means. What we've seen so far is a very limited tool that only captures whatever input it receives (presumably the track you're playing or recording) and spits it out as one track. You can record multiple tracks that can be played back together, but there's no editing ability, mixing, editing of sounds, cutting, importing or even multi-track view akin to something like Garage Band. <br/><br/><img src="http://media.ign.com/games/image/article/122/1222889/mixdown_1334536621.jpg" /><br/>Not this complicated, but you get the picture.<br/><br/><br/><br/>If we're going to record music with the intent of sharing it - and not embarrassing ourselves - give us the means to do it well. There's already enough bad content clogging the social arteries out there. Also, how about a drum machine and instrument cuts and loops? I imagine these are all on their list of things they want to include. If they're not, they should be.<br/><br/>The idea of recording and sharing music sounds novel, and there's other companies out there doing this already (see what <a target="_blank" href="http://articles.latimes.com/2012/mar/12/business/la-fi-tn-zya-music-mashup-20120312">Music Mastermind is doing with its Zya project</a>). Let me do this well, but more importantly, <i>don't</i> add a frustrating and poorly implemented tool that will discourage would-be recording artists just to include a back of the box bullet point. Regardless, I still want a...<br/><br/><DIV CLASS="IGNE_header">Pedal Peripheral</div>Developer Realta is publishing the game in the US with Mastiff, a peripheral company. Give me a pedal to switch between dirty and clean tones, add delay or reverb, all that. Again, the demo I saw had 4 preset tones, and they couldn't be swapped on the fly with any semblance of ease. Playing guitar is all about smart hands-free control. <br/><br/>A pedal, even an empty box with 4 switches mapped to selection controls, could easily and elegantly solve that. Plus, Rock Band promised pedals of some kind for years and we never got one. I'm tired of waiting.<br/><br/><img src="http://media.ign.com/games/image/article/122/1222889/reptilia_intermediate_electricity_1334260174.jpg" /><br/>Play those octaves!<br/><br/><br/><br/>Those are some of the things I'd love to see out of a game like Bandfuse. What about you? Are you totally over music games, or are you ready to ditch the old for something new? That comment section down there, that's for you. Tell us!<br/><br/><DIV CLASS="IGNE_divider"></DIV><br/><br/><i>Casey Lynch is Editor-in-Chief of IGN.com, and a lifelong lover of music. Follow his non-sequitur ramblings about video games, '80s film and Protest the Hero on <b><a target="_blank" href="http://people.ign.com/kamicasey">IGN</a></b> and <b><a target="_blank" href="http://twitter.com/Lynchtacular">Twitter</a></b>. <br/><br/>Full disclosure: Casey has previously worked with Harmonix Music Systems and MTV Games on the Rock Band franchise, and has a <a target="_blank" href="http://guitarhero.wikia.com/wiki/Casey_Lynch">Guitar Hero character</a> named after him. And yes, it's a girl character.</i><br/><br/>&#169;2012-04-16, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved
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