As ten minutes listening to any Top 40 radio station will tell you, timing is far more important than talent in the music business. If Led Zeppelin was just arriving on the scene today, they’d be lucky to open for Katy Perry. Rhythm action band game Power Gig: Rise of the SixString is another great example. Three years ago, its licensed soundtrack and creative guitar and drum controllers might have made it a player. But its timing is awful and it’s here now, far too late to become legendary. In fact, it’s more Justin Bieber than John Lennon in the talent department, too.
Power Gig: Rise of the SixString is available as a standalone game, a game and guitar controller combo, and a “band kit” that adds in a drum controller and microphone as well. And as luck would have it, those three variations deliver radically different experiences. So I’m going to take a slightly different approach and review the game, the guitar, and the drums individually, then wrap it all up into one combined score for the database. You ready? Then throw on a black concert t-shirt and let’s hit the stage.
Opening Act: The Game
Let’s say you, like 900% of the gaming audience, really can’t justify dragging yet another set of plastic instruments into your living room. We get it. But Rock Band and Guitar Hero’s instruments also work with Power Gig, so should you maybe just buy the game? Yeah, maybe – but probably not.
The mechanics of the game are identical to Rock Band or Guitar Hero. Gems move along a track onscreen, and you hit the corresponding colored buttons in time with the music. It works okay, but Power Gig only supports three players (one singer, guitarist, and drummer) – and there is no online play.
Also, the 70-song setlist is respectable, but the online store still isn’t up as of this writing, two weeks after the game shipped. For all we know, these may be the only songs you ever get. Plus, while this is the first game to feature music from Eric Clapton, Kid Rock, and Dave Matthews, there are a whopping three songs by each of those artists – so only a fool would pay $60 solely to get them.
Most of the other songs here are fairly fresh though, which you can read as “they tried to get songs that weren’t played out” or “they didn’t want to pay for better known songs”. We prefer to view this as a plus, but your mileage may vary. Here’s the full setlist if you’d like to take a look.
Finally, there’s a hokey plot about an oppressive, evil empire that has made music illegal and a ragtag group of rebels who discover how to use “mojo” – a mystical force that permeates the universe – and set out to make things right. If it sounds familiar, that’s because it’s basically Star Wars and/or Dune dressed in Hot Topic and written as Cliff’s notes. But it doesn’t mess with the gameplay like the faux-mythological lunacy in Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock does, so at least it’s harmless.
Game score: 5
Headliner: The Guitar
This is where things start to go out of tune. Power Gig’s publisher has gone to great lengths to point out, over and over, that the SixString guitar controller is not just a controller, but a real guitar. It has strings, it has a pickup, if you plug it into an amp it makes noise, you could even play it in a club once you’ve learned how – it’s a real guitar.
Let’s say you won a raffle for a “new car”, but then someone handed you the keys to an electric golf cart. It’s technically a car, yes. But nobody anywhere would drive one. Let’s say your buddy invited you to watch the Packers play the Cowboys, but when you arrived you learned it was actually peewee league football teams recycling NFL team names. Technically, it’s Packers and Cowboys, yeah – but they’re just pretending to be the big boys. That’s what we’re looking at here.
This isn’t a real guitar. Real guitars are full-scale – this one is smaller and shorter. Real guitars are made of wood – this one is plastic. Real guitars can be tuned – I spent 30 minutes on two separate occasions trying to tune this thing (with an electronic tuner, not just my ears), and I literally couldn’t. If it sounded in tune when I softly plucked the strings, a harder-strummed chord went completely sharp. If I tuned it for firmer picking, anything softly played came out flat.
So, yes – technically, this has all the pieces that make up a real guitar, but it’s not one. I’ve been playing (not skillfully, but playing) for 20 years and I’ve met dozens, even hundreds of musicians during that time. I can’t imagine even one of them considering this a legitimate instrument, let alone playing it for real in public.
And lest I be accused of expecting too much, the SixString fails as a controller, too. Not only is the atonal stronking that comes from the strings when you play much, much louder than a typical plastic guitar controller, but I found I had to strum it harder than I’d ever strum a normal guitar just to get the contact to register. Even then, it didn’t work reliably.
As a test, I played a single song using a Guitar Hero controller, achieving 98% of the notes on medium and then 93% on a slightly harder difficulty. Then I played the same song using the Power Gig controller on the same difficulty settings and got only 92% and 79% of the notes respectively, despite the fact that I knew the song and patterns better than before. And this was without having any of the Power Gig controller’s complex chords turned on, so the difference can’t be blamed on tougher parts. It simply doesn’t work as well.
Moreover, although the guitar controller enables the player to create real world chords and play them, the game itself only teaches you a single chord – the “power” chord, and throws it at you once in awhile. The rest of the game is less complex than Twister – if you can cover the right colors with any finger on any string, it’s satisfied. No other chords – and there are hundreds, in case you weren’t aware – are even required, let alone taught. It’s a baffling cop-out for a game that’s billing itself as realistic. Yes, power chords are common – but they’re not that common.
As a final insult, the SixString does not – I repeat, not – work with Rock Band 3’s Pro Guitar mode, which teaches the player the actual guitar parts being played. That pretty much puts the exclamation on my point that this isn’t a real guitar.
Guitar score: 3
Show cancelled: The Drums
Believe it or not, the guitar is not the worst part the deal here. The AirStrike drums are. We saw this coming, both in preview events and when publisher Seven45 refused to send us the drums to review (we bought our own $229 bundle to get them), but we’re still sad to confirm our suspicions were correct.
This is the last sentence of the first paragraph in the section of the owner’s manual that deals with the AirStrike drums. It is written in bold type, reproduced here. See if you can spot the problem:
“NEVER strike the base unit (or anything else) with the AirStrike sticks!”
Yep, you read that correctly. What we have here is a drum kit so advanced, you can’t actually drum it. This is, as you’re probably predicting by now, a disaster.
The AirStrike looks nothing like a drum kit – it’s just a hump of plastic with four colored circles and three legs that lift it just over a foot from the ground. The drumsticks aren’t normal wooden sticks – they’re electronic sensors, and not only is there a left and a right one, but each stick also has a top and a bottom so they have to be held just so.
But that’s okay, because, let me repeat for emphasis, you don’t ever hit anything. In fact, treating these like real drums and drumsticks would destroy them in seconds. Instead, you just wave your drumsticks over the plastic lump and hope it detects the motion. And often times, it doesn’t.
Proof: Playing “Cherub Rock” with the Rock Band drums on the second easiest difficult setting, I missed only 8% of the notes the first time through (an already lame score, I’ll admit). Switching over to the AirStrike kit and selecting the same song and difficulty, I missed a whopping 31% of the notes – and again, I should have played better because I’d already seen the note patterns and this was an easy difficulty setting. On a more difficult setting, the disparity would probably be greater, as it was with the guitar.
Ironically, the AirStrike drum kit does work with Rock Band 3’s Pro Drums mode – however, because there are no cymbals here and that mode requires at least one, don’t plan on scoring too well. Oh, it also requires a staggering six AA batteries thanks to the sticks, three more than the wireless Rock Band kit that exceeds it in every single way. To put it simply, this peripheral should never have come out. It simply doesn’t work.
Drum kit score: 1
Curtain Call: The Final Verdict
So, what do we have here? We have a game that tries its best but still feels a half-decade behind, we have a guitar that isn’t, and we have a drum kit so flawed it’s almost offensive. Add it all together and take the average, and it comes out to a nice, even 3. The crew at Seven45 are very nice people and we admire them for trying something new – but there’ no way you as a gamer should get caught paying for this failed experiment.
Nov 9, 2010