Considering all the hardware that's available for rhythm games these days, I feel that I should mention what I used for the review. Both guitar players were using the trusty ol' X-Plorers that came with Guitar Hero II. The drummer and singer both used the original Rock Band's instruments. We have the original Rock Band guitar, but due to personal preference, did not use it. (I am certain that it would work just fine, though). I noticed no problems playing Rock Band 2 with the X-Plorer, or with the microphone. However, there was one issue with the Rock Band 1 drum set. During my play, on Medium difficulty, the bass pedal would often not register a hit. This seemed to happen only when another pad was hit at the same time, and not every time, but often enough to break note streaks like crazy. I mentioned this to Nick (Bapenguin), and he mentioned he had the problem as well. It seems as if hitting the bass pedal just a hair late is one workaround. I was unable to find others who had the same issue as I did on the Rock Band forums, or through a few minutes Google search, but it's certainly worth mentioning. Hopefully I'm not alone and this will be addressed soon. (If you're having similar problems, post here or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
So, how's the game feel? In essence, it's very much like the first Rock Band. World Tour is still there, as are the DLC store, and most everything else you are used to. It could be argued that Rock Band 2 is just an expansion pack with a bunch of songs. Personally, that would have been good enough for me. However, there are significant changes and additions that really make Rock Band 2 a worthwhile purchase, in my opinion. Problems plaguing Rock Band 1 are eliminated, and the new features are just groovy, man, way far out.
The first thing I noticed is the ease of changing instruments in World Tour mode. I like to switch between drums and bass/guitar often, to mix it up a bit. No longer do I have to design a drummer, a guitar player, and singer to do that. Instead, you create one character, and you can select that character anytime on any instrument. Additionally, there is no band leader who has to be present each time you play. It was a real bummer in RB1 when we couldn't get more fans because I couldn't play the top tier songs on Hard as a drummer, yet I was the band leader. That's a nice little fix, and adding and removing members in the band is now a snap. This alone is a huge improvement over the original.
Remember in Rock Band 1, when you had to play the same songs over and over to unlock new venues? That's not nearly as much of a problem in RB2. All of the songs you have downloaded are integrated seamlessly into the mystery setlists. These are also available from the beginning of World Tour when you create your own setlists. The song selection menu has been greatly improved, as well. It looks and operates almost exactly like the DLC Store, in that you can filter by difficulty, decade, and so on. I've not imported all the Rock Band 1 disc songs yet, though I plan to after I beat World Tour mode. The sheer level of content is amazing; you will not get tired of the same ol' songs over and over in Rock Band 2.
The feeling of being in a real band is even more pervasive in Rock Band 2. The ease of adding members, mentioned above, is one factor. However, little things like choosing a staff really add to the experience. Designing a band logo was particularly fun; I fiddled with the creator one evening for way too long, but I ended up with a sweet Optimus Prime head for my band "Prime_Mayhem". (We couldn't keep our RB1 name, unfortunately. perhaps I should have just added an umlaut.) There are many, many more options for appearance as well. All sorts of new tops, bottoms, hats, shoes, etc. are all ready for the wearing. You can also create a "fill in" band member, who always appears with your band if you aren't all there at one time. This member takes the place of the random fill-in that the game would create if needed. That's a nice little touch that really makes you feel like a member of a band, not just a player in a game.
So, how is the co-op? Easily, it's just as good as the original, if not even better. Our first night, my oldest son and I played for an hour or so, and then later that week, my wife and youngest son joined in. We played all together for almost two hours. That isn't a huge stretch for me by any means, but I don't think my wife has ever played that long. (I tell ya, she can channel the spirit of Pat Benetar from afar, or something.) One of the problems we had in Rock Band 1 was with our 7 year old, who is the drummer, naturally. He does very well on lower tier songs on Easy, but the higher you go, the more often he would fail. We could prevent that somewhat of course, but even using Overdrive early and often, there were times when he'd fail out, and we would shortly after, which broke his heart. Luckily, there is a no-fail cheat included, which can avoid this problem entirely. It'll also be great for parties when you have total newbies playing for the first time. That's a nice addition for the more casual crowd, and only serves to increase the game's potential audience.
Unlocking new songs in World Tour is a nice carrot to dangle that keeps you playing, but we were blown away by one new addition. Just after we earned our bus, in a new city, there was a venue with a trophy icon: Gamestop Manager's Conference Challenge (or something like that). We jumped on the chance like lions on a fallen caribou in the Serengeti. Turns out it was a battle of the bands, integrated seamlessly into World Tour! I can't explain how cool that is; words fail me. We quickly switched instruments for the ideal configuration (me on drums, wife singing, oldest son on Expert guitar, youngest son... dancing). We faced off against another band in a tug-of-war! Of course, we were so awesome and obviously cooler than they were, and they dropped out halfway through the first song. Still, we whooped 'em, and even earned an achievement for it! That was the highlight of our evening, for sure.
How about the online play? I tested this out during our recent Rock Band 2 Co-Op night. I joined Nick and Mrs. Penguin, on guitar and vocals, respectively, and I played bass. No drummer was available, oddly, and it was past bedtime for my sons, so we started with just three of us. Being the guest bassist for "Billy and the Bots" was a hoot. I have to say, being able to mix and match players locally and online, totally seamlessly, is amazing. We had a great time playing for a half hour or so. Any DLC that we both shared was available for us to play, which was cool. Mrs. Penguin really rocked out on the Portal theme song, for what it's worth. I have to tell you, though, what my oldest son said when he came to kiss me goodnight. As he watched the proceedings, he observed: "Hey, she's really good! But that's Nick on guitar? Yeah, him, not so much..." I can't wait until my son gets spanked by someone better than him on guitar. Actually, I wish it was me who could beat him, to tell you the truth. Anyway, the whole experience was easy, painless, and quite enjoyable.
To summarize, this game reminded me of Viva Pinata: Trouble In Paradise. Both games are sequels to already great games, and both make some nice changes and sweet additions that make you think "Why wasn't it always this way?" Given the value of all the new songs (way cheaper than had they been released as DLC), I can wholeheartedly recommend Rock Band 2 to Rock Band 1 users, or anyone else, really. You will make some amazing gaming memories while playing this game, I guarantee. Rock Band continues to be one of the premiere co-op franchises.
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