Konami's late entry into the rhythm wars has the pedigree, but the execution just isn't there.
The current craze of plastic peripheral-based rhythm games clearly started with Guitar Hero, but realistically, Guitar Hero wasn’t the first of its kind. Konami has been producing music video games for years, through their Bemani division. Though there were clear arcade roots, many successful ports were made, scaling down full featured, custom arcade setups for home translations of titles. However, very few were ever released in the United States.
It may be that Konami didn’t choose to pursue these properties in the United States because of a perceived lack of interest. Alternatively, they may have thought the pervasive J-Pop soundtracks integral to the experience, and not transferable to American musical tastes. In any case, Guitar Hero was not only able to adopt the Bemani formula, but also, by focusing on the American affinity for rock music in particular, was able to successfully make the title interesting to American gamers. This was particularly notable given its relatively high price point.
Now that Rock Band and Guitar Hero have achieved full-on icon status (with an incredible 8 titles between them in the 3 years since the first Guitar Hero was released), Konami has chosen to try its hand at the same market with Rock Revolution. Clearly Konami has the pedigree to create enjoyable music games, and Guitar Hero and Rock Band have essentially created a successful template for them. Yet Rock Revolution is largely a disappointing effort, mainly because it doesn’t follow this template very well, and the specific ways in which the game departs from it serve to be fairly frustrating.
Rock Revolution has a fairly meager song list, and as yet, the available downloadable content does not contain anything on the level offered by Rock Band. While a drum, bass, and guitar are supported, there is no support for voice, arguably one of the most enjoyable aspects of these games in a party setting. The now ubiquitous presentation of notes arriving from the horizon has been eschewed in favor of a classic Bemani look, where the notes fall vertically from the top of the screen. This approach allows for far fewer notes to be on screen at the same time, making difficult sections even more challenging. One of the things Rock Revolution does right, however, is that it accepts various third party peripherals, making it unnecessary to purchase expensive instruments just for it. In fact, the only branded Rock Revolution peripheral is a drum set, but critical response to this kit has been overwhelmingly negative.
As of this writing, Rock Revolution is available from a variety of retailers for $19.99, a full $30 off its original MSRP. Already a budget title to begin with, perhaps this better positions Rock Revolution to essentially function as a song pack for people with existing Guitar Hero or Rock Band peripherals. In fact, its open acceptance of various peripherals potentially positions it to be just that. Still, whether players will be willing to sacrifice the overall polish and experience they’ve become accustomed to from the competition for Rock Revolution simply for a few extra cover songs remains to be seen.