Rock Revolution

Last night, Konami unveiled Rock Revolution, their newest music title for Xbox 360, PS3, Wii and DS, which is scheduled for a fall release. In Rock Revolution, a drummer, bassist, and guitar player jam together much as they do in a certain other high-profile music game about forming a band that rocks.

Lets just get the sell-sheet info out of the way, so we can get on with our impressions. The game will ship with 40 songs, and will have downloadable content available on Day 1. We noted the following from the track list:

Chop Suey (System of a Down)
All My Life (Foo Fighters)
Falling Away From You (Korn)
Last Resort (Papa Roach)
Somebody Told Me (The Killers)
Dance, Dance (Fallout Boy)
Dr. Feelgood (Motley Crue)
Plus, a few old friends from Rock Band made the cut too:
Run to the Hills (Iron Maiden)
We Won't Be Fooled Again (The Who)

There are at least 12 venues and 15 characters to choose from. The single-player game has two career paths, one for drummers and one for guitar/bass. Multiplayer can be played online and off in versus, co-op and band battle modes. A Rehearsal Mode lets players practice tough songs at variable speeds. In what may be the biggest improvement over Rock Band, Jam Mode features an 8-track recording studio where players can lay down their own unique songs. This feature was not on display at the event, but we were able to play a bit with the drums and guitar on the 360 version to get a sense of how Rock Revolution differs from Rock Band (we’ll have more information on the Wii and DS versions shortly.)

The biggest distinction between this game and Rock Band, aside from the fact that Rock Revolution has no vocalist, is the drum kit. It has six heads instead of four (plus kick makes seven inputs!), five of which are triangular arcs that look undeniably like Trivial Pursuit pieces. The kit’s drum surfaces are made from a firm but resilient rubber, and are based on the practice pads used by actual drummers. The result is that they play much quieter than their Rock Band counterpart. They also felt springier than the Rock Band kit, adding an extra helpful bounce. The construction of the drum kit felt very sturdy overall, and Assistant Producer Niais Taylor bragged that the heads were both water and scratch proof. The guitar used in the demo was conspicuously a Guitar Hero III controller with all identifying logos removed. While Taylor would neither confirm nor deny compatibility, he gestured toward the controller and rhetorically asked, “What does it look like?”

As you can see from thescreenshotsand video, the art style tends more toward realism than Rock Band’s punky cartoons. Notes scroll straight down rather than streaming toward you from a musical event horizon. We’re used to Rock Band and Guitar Hero, so the note configuration and extra drum heads took some getting used to. Still, it delivered an enjoyable faux-rock experience. Rock Revolution may gain headwaybecause people who already have guitars for other games may be looking for something new to do with them, but a large, spendy peripheral like drums is a tougher sell, even if it’s a better-designed product. It’s a big gamble that players will be willing to toss out their Rock Band kits for Rock Revolution, even if it brings them one step closer to being an actual drummer.

Ever since Dance Dance Revolution struck arcade gold, music games have been a staple of Konami’s lineup. In a way, its kind of amazing that Harmonix beat them to mainstream superstardom with Guitar Hero and Rock Band despite Konami's own Guitar Freaks and DrumMania. So we trust that Konami will be able to deliver a fun andentertaining band-related videogame product. But a big question remains: are they too late to the party?

May 15, 2008