As a guitarist firmly situated in the “intermediate” category, with a strong grasp of the basics but an embarrassing deficiency of more advanced techniques, I had a particularly hard time getting the porridge just right in BandFuse. See, reducing the difficulty of a song simplifies all parts of it, regardless of the complexity of the individual sections. I found that, over the course of a single track, I’d glaze over with boredom during easier sections while guitar solos would completely overwhelm me. And if I didn’t already know how to play a song, playing it on the hardest difficulty was, unsurprisingly, a practical impossibility. Further compounding those issues, changing the difficulty mid-song requires restarting, so I often felt a discouraging frustration that made me want to put the game down and stick with online guitar tablature.
The difficulty progression is anything but smooth, but BandFuse doesn’t completely leave your guitar ambition out to dry. A dedicated teaching mode dubbed “Shred U” includes a suite of tutorials and tools that are intended to impart guitar technique and skill. Some tutorials are interactive, and others are simple videos hosted by the game’s “Rock Legends,” like Slash and Zakk Wylde. There’s also a mode called “Lick Lab,” which lets you take any of the songs and break it down to its individual parts, repeating them until you get them down. But those video tutorials don’t feel particularly vital, and both the interactive tutorials and the Lick Lab tend to rush you at an uncomfortable pace. I often felt like I was fudging my way through them without getting an actual grasp of the technique or the riff, with the game eager to tell me I did fine and move on.
Aside from the technology, there is one gameplay element that BandFuse absolutely excels at. It supports multiplayer with up to four players, allowing you to gather different combinations of guitarists, bassists, and vocalists and jam out together. At its best, the multiplayer recalls the party atmosphere of Rock Band, and alleviates the more frustrating aspects of the game, if only temporarily. But given the absurd amount of equipment required to enjoy this feature, it’s tough to seriously recommend.
Actually, BandFuse is tough to recommend all-around. Were it to exist in a vacuum, it would be able to ride on its shockingly effective tech, novel premise, and varied song list. But with an elegant solution to BandFuse’s every stumbling block, Rocksmith 2014 provides all that BandFuse does and more. And given the amount of investment required for both, it just doesn’t make sense to settle for the lesser product.