Game Music, Reviews

Far From Revolutionary: Konami’s Rock Revolution (Review)

January 12, 2009 | | 3 Comments Share thison Facebook Far From Revolutionary: Konami’s Rock Revolution (Review)on Twitter

It is ironic that the international leader in music and rhythm-based games has lost a section of the market to the unexpected phenomena known as Guitar Hero and Rock Band. But the irony turns to pure sorrow when we see Konami try and get back what they lost, and ultimately fail in the process. Rock Revolution (released for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, and Nintendo DS) takes the gameplay elements developed in past titles (GuitarFreaks, DrumMania) and attempts to combine them to compete with the high-profile Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises.

What made this game so disappointing? Is there any hope for Konami to make a comeback in the guitar/band subgenre of music/rhythm games? Find out what we think by taking the jump.

To make a good music game, you need good music. How do you do that? In the past, particularly with the Dance Dance Revolution series, Konami combined licensed J-pop music (and eventually, American contemporaries as well) with original compositions from the Konami staff. But with a game that’s focused on rock bands, what you need is awesome, memorable, licensed music. Rock Revolution, as a rule, delivers pop-rock hits from the last two decades, with the occasional “classic” hit thrown in to appease people with a wider taste in rock music. From Foo Fighters and Blink-182 to Dream Theater and Iron Maiden, from Queen and Cream to Lacuna Coil and Papa Roach, there’s a fair spectrum of music to be found here.

Unfortunately, with the exception of two tracks (from Finger Eleven and Linkin Park), Konami had to go for covers instead of licensing the original work. And all of these covers are done by a one-man band from Canada: Steve Ouimette. Even if you don’t think you know Steve Ouimette, you’ve probably heard him before. He’s recorded a number of songs for Guitar Hero III, including “We Three Kings” and the Top Gun Anthem. He also does work for a variety of studios, including Nelvana, where he voiced my older son’s favorite Care Bear, “Too Loud Bear” (in the new 3D CG version of the show). Ouimette does an adequate job handling the instrumentation, but let’s face it: people want the original recording. That’s half the fun with these games. Having covers just kills the whole feeling. This is especially true for the vocals, where the eccentricities of each band’s vocalist are lost to either a poor imitation or a bland rendition. Example: System Of A Down’s “Chop Suey!” is a great song, and Ouimette does pretty well with the instruments, but no one can emulate the voice of Serj Tankian. You’ll find that out quickly, in fact, if you attempt to pick up a microphone and attempt this particular song.

(Also, note that the DS version of the game only has 20 tracks total, instead of the 41 available on the console versions.)

Next problem? The user interface. Oh, there’s a lot to say here. First of all, the scrolling notes don’t appear with any sort of tilt or angle, like in Rock Band and Guitar Hero. It’s a flat, two-dimensional image with notes scrolling from top to bottom (breaking convention with DDR‘s bottom-to-top scrolling). The point at which you’re supposed to hit the notes is right at the very bottom of the screen, and the lack of any angle or tilt makes them look awkward. There also seems to be a problem with input, considering I was regularly missing notes that I ought not have missed (I wouldn’t make this point, except that I am good enough at Guitar Hero to say I’ve cleared every GH3 song on Expert… yes, even “Through The Fire & Flames,” though I can’t FC it or anything…). And how about the drums? Instead of using the Rock Band layout where the bass drum appears as an orange line across the bar, Rock Revolution presents the same five buttons, with your bass drum being the middle note. This is very unintuitive; and anyone who suggests it was smart of them to make it different from Rock Band, I can only reply: then why else is the rest of the game an attempt to mimic Rock Band? After all, the game is compatible with Rock Band‘s drum set (though you can also get Konami’s drum set in its place), and it doesn’t even come with guitars (you’re expected to go third-party or else own Guitar Hero / Rock Band).

There is one plus, something Rock Band didn’t have at that! Alongside the different difficulty levels available to choose, each song’s guitar, bass, and drum parts are ranked in terms of difficulty. So if you’re looking not just for the hardest song, but specifically the hardest bass part, or the hardest drum part, you can find them with this setup. However, the Expert difficulty in this game fails to capture a note-for-note rendition of many songs, which is the industry standard. What happened there? A real challenge, I would like, thank you sir.

The game’s initial sales reflect its status in the market: only 3000 sales in its release month of October 2008. What happened? Konami tried to jump into a market well-covered by Activision and Harmonix. I think it may be too late for Konami to compete at this point, and I do hope they instead try to come up with more original rhythm/music games instead of making subpar clones to Guitar Hero and Rock Band.

(If I say Guitar Hero / Rock Band one more time, I’m going to scream. You get the idea… this game’s just not as good…)

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