Rock Band was an experience back in … 2008? It was. I don’t think I was employed at the time, so when my sister’s boyfriend brought it home and right away had to go to work, the box sat there untouched (well, who’s to say…) on the living room couch for like eight hours. An eternity. Eventually, later that night, we plugged everything in (about four hundred USB dongles) and gave it a go.
Naturally I sang, as I had no prior Guitar Hero experience outside of a few low-key LA parties. Since this involved using my voice to convey a song’s feelings in front of *gasp* people, I decided after the first five seconds of taking it seriously to not do so. I sang high and low and loud and as obnoxiously as possible, every second of it fun. For once in my life, no one was annoyed at my overtly awful behavior because they too were basking in self indulgence: one on the drums supplying ridiculous fills, the other a mock arena rock guitarist.
This momentous moment (which lasted until 3 in the morning) felt like mere minutes. Our plan at this point was to sleep (since it was a bodily requirement) and wake up bright and early to resume fake rock activities. Which we did all day, and almost all night once again.
It stopped being fun and started being serious — or maybe it was serious fun! The most serious you could get with a toy guitar, yeah! I even tried the singing thing out for real (another post for another time: “Rock Band Made Me Realize I Have the Worst Voice in the World After 23 Years of Thinking It Wasn’t Bad”). The game included this World Tour option, which we loved. We went to different cities, played a bunch of different gigs, performed admirably and got a bunch of fans.
Now this was all done by playing Simon Says to licensed rock music… but whatever man, you should have been there! We were flying planes over to Europe and shit! We were kings! All of us high and mighty (foolish?) enough to (successfully) attempt playing the “Endless Setlist,” which wasn’t that endless but sure felt like it was.
A mere six months later and no one wanted to play Rock Band. The gameplay which seemed ripe for replay soon felt dull and slightly monotonous. Who really cares if you got five stars or four or three? You were just watching for notes and hitting buttons. Harmonix knew this would happen, and continuously added a bunch of interesting downloadable songs. The Pixies?! Okay! Twenty dollars and twenty minutes later, the inevitable boredom crept in. This was an ongoing cycle for awhile — new and interesting DLC promptly downloaded, our hopes resurrected and then soon dashed.
Rock Band 2 did happen, but not much.. which is to say, we played a few days here and there, trying real hard to re-ignite the old flame but to no avail.
Both Rock Band and Guitar Hero have been sorta dead in the hearts of many hardcore gamers for a long time now. Mirroring this, the music genre imploded earlier in January when Activision officially “disbanded” (who knows what that really means) the Guitar Hero franchise, which while not my favorite of the two, was *the* poster child for sweaty fat kids rocking out to Dragonforce or whatever horrible neo-prog band there was.
This was partially due to over saturation — which is true (I think there were 500 different Guitar Heroes in 2009), but I also feel like it has something to do with the gameplay itself; no matter how you dress it up and present it, you are still watching for things coming down the screen and tapping a button on time. There isn’t much more you can do after you add drums and vocals either.
Even though Rock Band was dead in my cold, bloodless heart, I went ahead and bought Rock Band 3 (for the Wii of all things) anyway, because I knew that there was something once incredibly special about the series. It used to be a spectacle, a great time with family and friend (notice no plural LOL!!!).
Rock Band 3 was a shinier, slightly more polished version of what was before, but I soon was addicted. With the addition of a new keyboard, I could start playing the two note key parts in “Stop Me…” by the Smiths like a champ. The setlist was a fun, varied affair, with plenty of cheesy 90s alt (think Wheatus but no actual Wheatus, thank GOD).
Alas, mostly a solo affair. The ones I played with before had no interest in the new Rock Band. It was just the same thing, anyway. And my new roommates liked it (and still do), but it wasn’t and isn’t ever an Endless Setlist type of experience. Just something to play.
Buying RB3 and a huge assortment of DLC (ooh, “Maybe I’m Amazed” by Paul McCartney) and even more plastic instruments was just a sad way of trying to keep something going that wasn’t really there. I still pull it out every once in awhile to gold star (or FC, whatever) a specific song, all the while knowing that my heart just isn’t there for it anymore.
This all sounds melodramatic and it is a tad, but one of my favorite gaming memories of all time (of which there are countless) is the very first time I played Rock Band. It was something that’s going to be really hard to top, honestly. And the fun we had with Rock Band was short, but it was worthwhile. For as popular as online enabled multiplayer is, Rock Band (and Guitar Hero I guess) was one of the last times I felt a major multiplatform game release celebrate the meaning of multiplayer in the same room, which will always be more fun than a 13 year old calling you a faggot over a headset.