It's going to be a lean Christmas for most gamers this year, so it's time to make a choice: Rock Band 2 or Guitar Hero World Tour?
Joining me on stage to help put these two rhythm heavyweights to the test was fellow tbt* crony Ellen Freiberg, "So Tampa Bay" blogger and tampabay.com paparazzo Leigh Armstrong and a ringer — Giddy-Up, Helicopter drummer Ryann Slauson. (For the record, we tested both games on the Playstation 3.)
This version of Rock Band offers more of an update than any real improvements over the original, but if it ain't broke, don't fix it. The presentation was stylish, the song list varied and the instruments solid. Leigh dug the '60s concert-poster graphics, and Ryann was impressed by the amount of indie tunes sprinkled in with the more mainstream stuff.
With World Tour, Guitar Hero adds the components needed to go toe-to-toe with its cousin: a drum kit and microphone. The playlist is close to that of Rock Band since the two games include many of the same songs. World Tour offers exhaustive character-creation tools (with perhaps too many options) and a new music creator, too, but the file compression makes everything sound like a MIDI version of the music. Not fun.
"I really like the idea of using cymbals, but they don't work well," Ryann said of the Guitar Hero drum set, which features two quarter-pads to replicate a crash and a ride, or hi-hat, depending on the song. "The hit detection isn't very good. It's really frustrating."
Indeed, the hit detection has been a widely reported problem for publisher Activision, which has gotten so many complaints that they offer a free tuning kit through activision.com/support. But if you have the problem we ended up having — the red pad ended up not working at all after just two, two-hour sessions — head over and make a warranty claim with developer Red Octane at redoctane.com/warranty.
This, no doubt, would be very frustrating to any gamer (or parent) who just dropped $190 on a game only to discover it quit working after a couple days. Activision's PR folks say it's a problem with early versions of the game, and hasn't been reported much with later versions. Our set was replaced promptly.
Ryann said the Rock Band drums were similar, but felt much more solid.
Rock Band features a Fender Stratocaster knockoff with buttons at the top of the neck and at the base near the body — all of which came in handy during game play. In comparison, the Guitar Hero guitar felt really cheap — "Playskool," Leigh called it — and the new slidepad for solos didn't seem to register finger movements well. And what happened to the Gibson Les Paul replica?
The hardware aside, Guitar Hero provides a superior guitar experience, keeping the guitarist more occupied than Rock Band.
"Guitar Hero's guitar sections are more challenging, in a good way, " Armstrong said.
But is that enough to compete? Meh. "World Tour would have been awesome if it came out two years ago," he said.
The mic, easily the controller everyone wanted least because it involved a modicum of real skill, was a wash. Rock Band keeps its previous scrolling method; Guitar Hero offers both a scroll and a karaoke-style static mode, in which the words are onscreen and light up as they are to be sung.
"The microphone was easier in Rock Band," Ellen said. "You could hear it in the game, and made it more fun."
"It felt so much easier to just start up Rock Band and play," Leigh said. Plus — and this is important — Rock Band offers a "no-fail mode" that prevents your party from getting booted off the game stage if one or more of your members miss too many notes.
"Can we go back to Rock Band?" Ryann asked after a few World Tour songs.
And despite Guitar Hero's huge back catalog of songs (a strength even Rock Band can't overcome yet), that's exactly what we did.
— Joshua Gillin writes about video games and entertainment news for tbt*. Feel free to challenge his opinions at email@example.com.