I’ve got a 26er of Wild Turkey, and I’m going to need it. I’m going to a Rock Band party. The bourbon’s to counterbalance my insecurities about holding a plastic guitar that resembles the kind of Fisher Price-type toy you’d use to teach toddlers their first chords.
There won’t, however, be a single child at this party. No balloon animals, clowns or people under 20. You could write it off as sheltered nerd gamers doing what they do in the privacy of their parents’ basements, but you’d be wrong. Rock Band, like its Guitar Hero cousin, swallows all who come in contact with it, including socially well-adjusted adults.
I latched onto the Guitar Hero franchise years ago as one of those “niche” people developers first targeted with the game. But its unexpected mass appeal, especially when combined with your choice of liquid courage, helped make it a billion-dollar hit.
It also forced a buyout rupture between Guitar Hero’s two makers. Activision forked over $100 mil for GH co-developer Red Octane, and continues to market the Guitar Hero brand, while co-developer Harmonix went to MTV for $175 mil. Rock Band is their baby.
The fact that both GH and Rock band can thrive shows the popularity of fantasy rock games, but Rock Band, with its wider assortment of instruments, works better in large groups.
Guitar Hero is still a rad party accessory, but Rock Band makes the party, especially if you set up three sets of the game (for battle-of-the-bands-style showdowns), encourage costumes and add party favours.
Arriving at this particular party, I’m met by my co-host, a woman named Sarah who’s dressed like David Bowie as Aladdin Sane. Her boyfriend, Ben, wearing a black mullet wig and white Wayfarers, is already rocking out in the living room.
When I say “rocking out,” I’m not talking testing the Easy setting and getting used to the coloured frets or drum pads. These are pros working on besting a 90 per cent success rate on Expert.
In case you’ve never played Rock Band, the game is a collaborative effort in which four people act as a collective unit playing widely known rock tracks. There’s a bass, a guitar, vocals and drums. If someone is outclassed by his or her bandmates, like Ringo on drums, the whole band suffers and must compensate for their weak link.
If everyone’s in sync, it’s magical. High fives are thrown around, bands earn cred, friendships are strengthened and spectators cheer.
Part of what’s keeping Rock Band hot is the fun of seeing a bunch of friends get emotionally invested in karaoke on steroids, then watching their skills degrade as more drinks and drugs are consumed, kinda like a real rock band on tour.
Occasionally, players have to admit they’re no longer capable of performing, sit around for a bit and reform with other players whose skills have been worn away by hours of partying. It’s a concentrated rock life in one evening. It makes you feel like you’re actually watching Scott Weiland’s career – Stone Temple Pilot to Velvet Revolver, back to STP, with a stint or two in rehab along the way.
Well, maybe not, but there’s defi-nitely an air of rock fantasy in the room. People who honed their skills at home over the years come out to test their mettle.
It can get intimidating if you mess up around strangers (I got scared by how good some players were), but the game’s still gaining mainstream love faster than you can say “Fallout Boy.”
In fact, in the first three months since its November 2007 release, the game has sold more than 1.8 million units. Considering they go for $160 to $180, depending on the platform, that’s a disgustingly huge take.
And come June, all those Wii people who helped usher in the low-on-graphics, high-on-playability gaming craze will be able to get their hands on Rock Band, too. I wonder how many adults will be crying at Christmas 2008 when they find out Wii for Rock Band is still sold out everywhere.