It’s been two years since the last true Rock Band game, andHarmonix used that time to offer something awesome for those willing to lay down some extra coin. While the core game hasn’t changed really at all since Rock Band 1, the new additions of a keyboard and 100-plus button Pro Guitar offer gameplay unlike anything before.
For some, this will be just the same ol’ Rock Band. For others, this is the beginning of a whole new way to experience music. It really depends how much you want to put into Rock Band 3. Not just financially (and that is an investment in itself) but also time and effort. Do you want to learn a totally new way to play or would you rather just do the same thing you’ve done for years? That choice really affects Rock Band 3’s overall value. It’s either something completely new and challenging or just more tracks to rock out to. Ultimately, the choice is yours to make.
You know how this works. You and your buddies are part of a band. Someone sings. Someone plays guitar. You’ve got a drummer. Everyone hits the right notes at the right time, you score points, you become rock Gods. No big.
Except now there are some new instruments that flip Rock Band on its head.
First up is the keyboard. This thing is solid and has received the seal of approval from IGN’s own resident piano teacher. The only catch is that the keyboard’s half-sized. Other than that, you really couldn’t ask for a better piece of hardware to change the way you play Rock Band.
There is a really gimped-out version of “easy” keyboard for people. You play with just five keys that are all next to each other, which really amounts to playing guitar without strumming. It’s really boring and really not worth the money you spend to get the keyboard. If that’s all you want to do, save your money and just keep strumming the guitar.
The value is in playing Pro keys. It ain’t easy, but you can straight up play songs note-for-note and even learn a thing or two about playing piano. It’s hard at first, but if you dedicate some time, keyboard becomes this really amazing way to experience Rock Band 3. I got this special little feeling the first time my fingers easily found keys for unexpected notes. It was like my hand was learning.
Adding keyboard allowed Harmonix to include songs you’d never think to see in a Rock Band game. Like Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London” or Elton John’s — well, anything by Elton John, really. Some songs are just so much fun to play and keyboard completely rewrites the idea of challenge in a Rock Band game.
The one catch is that none of your previous downloaded songs have keyboard support and only 63 of the 83 songs on the disc use keyboards — and a few of them have some pretty sparse keys. Not exactly the strongest song list for someone who wants to be the next Liberace.
Another option is the pricey Pro Mustang Guitar from Mad Catz. This guitar has more than 100 buttons, which correspond to the strings and frets on a real guitar. You can learn to play guitar using this and Rock Band 3, if you can manage to understand the somewhat insane tablature Harmonix has created.
The numbers and bars on screen tell you how to play every chord. It’s a real challenge to read and requires a ton of practicing on each song in order to master them. But you’ll be playing much faster than you would if you were just learning guitar on your own or even in a class.
But, ultimately, the Pro Guitar is kind of dumb. If you’re going to pay this much for a fake guitar with buttons that make it hard to slide your fingers on, why not spend a little more and buy the real thing? You’re just upgrading from one guitar with plastic buttons to another guitar with way more plastic buttons.
A full-stringed guitar is in the works but won’t be available at launch. Though Pro Guitar totally changes how you play Rock Band 3, and is brilliant in its implementation, buying it isn’t going to get you groupies (why else would you learn guitar?). Get the real deal at this point. Stop living your rock fantasies through cheap plastic toys.
Also available are some additional cymbals for your drums so you can play the true drum parts for songs. It’s cool if you’re a drummer, but doesn’t revolutionize gameplay in the same way as Pro Guitar or Pro Keyboards.