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December 19, 2014

Rock Band 3 DS (Part 1)

Hello, and welcome to the final review of 2014 on Planned All Along! ...What do you mean, I'm one week too early to say that? Just wait, this review is pretty long. How can I top last year's Just Dance 3 review, entirely made in rhyme?

I can't, and I won't. Yeah, I decided not to do a review on the style of what I did last year. The reasons are... personal. My real life has been rather hectic, so I decided that instead of making things even more complicated for me, I'd just make a regular review and put all the songs from the game around the text.

Anyway, better start now. Do you like rhythm games? I'm not talking DDR or Just Dance, here. I'm not talking about games that demand a lot of energy. Or am I? If you've played an instrument, you know it can get quite physical. Think about your favorite guitarist, and then tell yourself he/she has to hold that guitar and keep playing for a few minutes. For your enjoyment, sure. But it takes some training. Heck, imagine how much energy a drummer needs! No wonder some of them are hyperactive wackos! They need all that energy!

Since music is an important part of our lives (seriously, try to calculate the number of times I've made musical references on the blog – there's a LOT), some game companies soon had the idea of a musical game that involved guitar-shaped controllers with buttons on the handle. For those who haven't guessed yet, I'm talking about Guitar Hero.

Yeah, yeah. Despite the cost of these games (due in no small part to the price of the mock-guitar), the Guitar Hero franchise has known a massive success. First developed by Harmonix, and later by Neversoft and Activision, the game is simple: You follow the series of notes (AKA "frets") on the screen by hitting the colored buttons on the guitar while strumming, and activate a bonus every once in a while to rack up your score. Fair enough. Plus, the large majority of the songs are actual rock songs, whether they're classics, recent successes, songs that aren't that well-known, or covers. Heck, it expanded to include genres outside of rock.

Sadly, the series has been rather... dead since 2010. However, Harmonix hadn't spoken its last words. In 2007, they released Rock Band, which was Guitar Hero (almost) taken to its logical extreme. Now, you can play just about any part of the band, from the main guitar to bass to drums to even the freaking vocal track. But one thing remains: These frets, the need for a perfect rhythm, and the fact that you're leading just a cover band that can't make its own damn music. Today, I'm looking at Rock Band 3... But not any version. I'm looking at the Nintendo DS version.

How can there be a Nintendo DS version of a game like this?” You ask me. “Aren't these games all about pretending you're really playing music?” You're right, but at the same time, as I've learned recently, money is money, and to many companies, more money is always welcome. Besides, multi-platform ports of the same game are rather common. The true question is rather: How do you adapt this concept to a handheld console? Guitar Hero succeeded by having a fret controller plugged right into the GBA slot of the first Nintendo DS (which also means you can't play that game with a Nintendo 3DS - Whoops). Here? Let me explain.

Guitar, keyboards, drums. Two of the 4 (technically 5) instruments that you
must play.
Note how the white symbols are getting some orange on top.
You don't just pick an instrument and start playing. Oh, no: You ARE the band. The whole band. You have to switch between instruments by pressing L or R. There are four instruments, from left to right: Bass, drums, voice and guitar/keyboard. Yeah, the fourth track switches between the two instruments. That must get pretty messy during a Dream Theater song... Anyway, once you're on a track, a section will be highlighted. You play all the lit notes on the track. When you're done with that track, the notes will either disappar or darken, which means you can switch to an adjacent track. Lather, rinse, repeat. When you miss a note, the section you're playing readjusts itself. On top of every track, there's a white symbol of the instrument you're playing. When you miss a note, a bit of orange takes over. The more you miss, the more orange will appear on the symbol. Once the symbol is entirely orange, and you still miss notes, the orange will turn to red. When an instrument's symbol goes all red, boom! You risk losing the entire song! You have three "strikes", three times that you can risk failure without losing, but once you have used up all your saving graces, fail again, and BOOM! You lose! Also, when you spend too long without playing an instrument, its symbol also gradually switches to red. Think that's complicated? That's not all.

Sometimes, during the song, you may encounter a Solo section. You're automatically redirected to one track on the song, and you have to play the solo in its entirety. There's even a percentage counter that tells you how many notes you've hit! Once you've completed the solo, the song resumes as usual. When you perform very well on a song, you get stars. If you miss zero notes on the easiest difficulty, you can get 5 stars halfway through the song! You can only get golden stars on the highest difficulty setting (appropriately named Expert), and only if your performance on that difficulty is spectacular. ...Then again, in a game where the entire point is to have your band go on tour and make shows, it HAS to be spectacular. Also, it doesn't matter what your band members wear, it doesn't matter if they've got white stripes or purple polka-dots with emo bangs; On Hard and Intense difficulty, every song has moments in which you'll find the hardest button to button.

That's the first of 25 cheap puns.

Nintendo DS cartridges have a lot of data storage space, but apparently not enough for full songs. Or, well, the shorter songs haven't been modified, but all songs above three minutes in length have been shortened, with maybe one verse cut from the full song. I strongly suggest you find the original songs, just to get an idea of their sound outside of the game (actually, that's why I'm showing you the full versions here). In a way, I can understand why they shortened the songs: It's difficult for the fingers. Seriously, on the harder difficulty settings, there are so many frets to hit that you will go crazy. I remember when I first tried the hard difficulty on a song; Since I'm from Quebec, I was cursing like there was no tomorrow, like a white snake had poisoned me or something. I was yelling choice words such as ”Tabarnak!” or “Ostie!” ...Oh, ha ha, here I go again with my expressions. I'll never change, will I?

All this to say that it takes a LOT of practice to hit all the frets on any of those songs on any difficulty, but it's particularly awesome if you manage to do it on any song on the later difficulties.

Alright, so... Now that we got this out of the way, what shall our band's name be? ...I have a penchant for Cowardly Covering Coven. Or Hardcover. Or Cover My Eyes. As long as it has “cover” in it, to make it clear we're making covers of songs. Hm, I like Hardcover.

And yet, somehow our singer will always sound exactly like the singer of the song... regardless of the original singer's gender! It can lead to hilarious moments where a man sings like a woman (sometimes) or a woman sings like a man (which will happen most of the time!)

After you've picked a name, you pick a logo, and then you can design all of your band's members. The game works with a system of achievements, so I strongly suggest you do all those things right now. Why? Because every new achievement gains you a few new fans, which means you can start off with many fans even before you've performed even once! Take the time to customize your band. You'll get many achievements this way.

Let's see... I'll call the bassist Nicolas (Hey! This is not vanity! The bassist is the least recognized member of the band! Just ask Scott Pilgrim! ...Okay, bad example), I'll call the drummer Michael (or Keith, why not?), I'll put a girl as singer because I find it way too funny to hear her sing like a man on stage (let's call her... Natalie?), and last I'll call the guitarist/keyboardist.... Um... Corey. Any Canadians reading this article? Have you watched Grojband? Man, this is one crazy show.

Seriously, if you like rock music, off-the-wall
Scott Pilgrim-esque comedy and adventures,
and cartoons in general, check it out. The titular
band's songs are all short (1 minute or less), but
they can get friggin' EPIC

Now you're ready to go on tour. And if you think God will help you, faith no more. Many musicians who are way past their midlife crisis will tell you that on the road, you're on your own. ...Unless your manager is along for the ride, but it seems there's no such thing as a manager in the world of Rock Band.

It's not like you absolutely have to go on tour right now, either. You can familiarize yourself with the 25 songs in the game first, by playing each of them once. ...Yes, you heard right: 25 songs. Regular Rock Band games have over 50 songs, but this one only has 25. Once again, you could justify that by saying that there wouldn't be room on the cartridge for more songs (and besides, all 25 songs come in four difficulties and two modes), but even then, the selection is rather... weak. One of the reasons other music-playing rhythm games are so fun is that there's a large selection of songs to pick from. Some Guitar Hero games had over 70 songs. Alright, alright. 25 is diverse enough to keep you busy for a while. But to put it simply, that “while” will be a lot shorter than if there was a larger selection. More songs means more things to try, right? So less songs means you'll get bored faster. Right? Okay, that's a nitpick, but still, I would have liked more songs. I checked: Even if you put together all the full songs, you only have 95 minutes of music.

Well, then again, each song comes in eight versions. There's still 4 difficulty settings, but there are two Modes: Normal, in which you play a sequence of notes and then switch to the next instrument... and Pro. For Pro Mode, you could, in theory, play the same instrument through the entire song and still win. Pro Mode is special because it never splits the instruments' tracks into “sections” like Normal mode does; it just darkens the incoming frets and turns the track blue as a way to suggest to you that it's time to change to another instrument, and you can make the choice to stay on the same instrumental track or switch to another one – which you must be quick to do. The game never forces you to switch. Except for the solos, of course. Like I said, you could play only one instrument and it would still work. Your goal is to maintain all the tracks to best health by preventing them from turning all orange or all red. You've got a bit of help, though; if you activate the Trance (a mechanic that turns the tracks golden-ish and doubles your score), all the instruments will regain health a little, regardless of which one you're playing. But of course, all of you night rangers out there knew that; get out of your comfort zone, leave your sister christian, and give Pro Mode a try sometimes! (Not like you'll have the choice; some Tour challenges require you to play in that mode.)

Oh yeah, by the way, you can also play the Tutorials, which will give you a few more fans, or go in Practice Mode, which will also give you a few fans. Always keep that in mind: No matter how many tours you do, the achievements you can earn are a great source of fans. ...Boy, that's one sentence you don't say very often... Well, I guess now is the time to start going on Tours. To do this, you select the first option on the main menu, and after that you've got three choices: Quick Play (just play the songs you want to play, or create a playlist), Random Song (the game will randomly select a few songs for you to play), and then Go on Tour. NOW we're talking! Don't shut your smash mouth up, you're gonna need it to sing all these songs! And you'll see, going on tour and be acclaimed wherever you play feels like walkin' on the sun!

Get used to the bad puns. If I want to put all the song titles and their artists in the review, I need to make them. Yeah, it's silly; I admit it.

When you start playing in Tour Mode, you'll see there are 10 different tours. In the first ones, your band is playing around a city (made evident by the map on the top screen), and traveling in a metro. It must be rather difficult to travel by foot with all the instruments... These drums aren't tiny, you know! However, as you amass fans, at some point you'll earn a minivan, which will make transportation much easier and will also give you the opportunity to go from city to city, and start getting fans further away from your hometown. Once these Tours have been beaten, you'll get a bus. And NOW you'll be traveling a lot. You'll have a tour in Canada, one in the south of the United States, and one that goes through the most famous cities on the West Coast. Once these are completed, you've earned a private jet for your band, and NOW we're talking worldwide tours. One on the American continents, one in Europe, and a final world tour. Your band members will be the kings and queens of the musical scene. You'll just have to make sure you still respect the law, because none of you wants to go through the same stuff as the character from Bohemian Rhapsody.

...Yeah, I couldn't find any other way to insert this one in the text. Sorry! But now, I realize it would be much better if I discussed this Story Mode of sorts in the next part. Tune in next week, as me and my “band” rise to fame and discover what it's like to have fans!

Well, I kinda know what it's like. This site has had well over 75,000 views, and I've got a few people who keep reading my reviews. Thanks to all of you guys and gals who do that! It makes me feel great to know that I bring a smile to you!

OK, see ya next week!