The Extra Features
It's not a huge surprise that the developers add songs with every new rock game at this point. But what are some of the standout features of each game this time around?
Rock Band 2: Rock Band is playable as a solo act, but they call it "Rock Band" for a reason. And really, the game is meant to be played in the massive World Tour mode. The band leader chooses where the band plays as you earn more fans--and then you carefully pick your roadies and band manager to book the next gigs.
Guitar Hero World Tour: Though obviously a huge jump from earlier Guitar Hero games, a large part of World Tour is a crash program to catch up with what Rock Band already does--create custom rockers, form a group, and take on the world. There is still more of a single-player campaign (the guitar duels from GHIII: Legends of Rock are back and streamlined) in this game than in Rock Band, but the key innovation is the Recording Studio. I already mentioned the YouTubey-sharing angle, but only briefly touched on the music creation aspect of GHWT. In practice you can really dig deep into the game to create music. It's no GarageBand, but it operates on the same principle of recording MIDI data. Up to four players can jump in and lay down tracks. My only warning is that it's a little unwieldy to control. Maybe if the long-rumored DJ Hero game gives you a little more control, it'll go a bit easier. Actually, that last part isn't a joke.
Playing the Game
There's a fundamental difference in the ways Guitar Hero World Tour and Rock Band 2 play out: One punishes you, while the other is all about the music. Let me explain.
Rock Band 2: If you were to buy the game, plug everything in, and throw a party, you'd have all of the songs waiting for you and ready to roll. If you plan on hosting a few of your less-talented buddies, you can resort to No-Fail Mode, which lets everyone blast away regardless of how off-key the playing is. In short, though plenty of challenges are available for the serious gamer, you can also flip a switch and just have fun. Crazy idea, eh?
Guitar Hero World Tour: With this game you need to unlock all of the songs you want to hear. So, if you plan to throw a Guitar Hero party at your house, you'll need to make sure to hold a marathon jam session ahead of time to unlock all of the songs. Arguably, performing that initial step gives players a sense of accomplishment--a feeling that they've won the fight for their right to rock. But what about songs you don't like or don't want to play through? To unlock more of the music you want, you have to take the good with the bad.
The Opening Acts
When you walk into your local store, you may see plenty of copies of Rock Revolution on hand--but don't be tempted. This also-ran musical wannabe promises cross-controller compatibility with Rock Band and Guitar Hero. Unfortunately, the only thing it's missing is the fun. Trust me on this one: Move along; there's nothing to see here.
Another item with potential appeal is Nintendo's recently released WiiMusic. This game is a fun and interesting experiment in how to use the WiiFit balance board and the WiiMote in completely different ways--but sometimes you just need the feel of a guitar in your hands or have a drum to bang slowly. Besides, though you can have miniature jam sessions with the Wii, the universe of popular tunes available for you to play is awfully small (unless, of course, Madonna's "Material Girl" and the theme songs for a couple Nintendo games are universe enough for you).