Review – Rock Band 3 on the Wii

Rock Band 3 has been in the works for over 2 years. Are the years of development worth it? Or does it amount to just another music game? It’s the holiday season, and with it comes another slew of music games. Guitar Hero has had its fun with their latest installment, Warriors of Rock, and Harmonix is responding in full with Rock Band 3, the latest installment in the wildly successful franchise from EA.

In the two years that have passed since the last true Rock Band (The Beatles: Rock Band created new characters and game play, but it wasn’t a wholesale rewrite of the basic engine) came out, Harmonix has been hard at work on Rock Band 3. The core game play is the same as it’s ever been (you play guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, or sing, you hit notes at the same time as your friends, and everyone’s happy). But Rock Band 3 includes tons of new features that totally blow every other music game out of the water, the most notable of which are the introduction of new instruments: the keyboards and pro modes. The keyboard hardware has a half-sized set of keys, is shaped like a keytar, and looks really cool. Pro Modes in Rock Band 3 actually teach you how to play real music, using peripherals that are extremely realistic and mimic real instruments. However for this review we concentrated on the upgrade path using Rock Band 2’s existing instruments.

Without the keyboard and other expensive hardware, certain features become useless, and the new version becomes a refinement with new features built upon the old. However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The core game play remains and it’s still a lot of fun. But the UI and Career modes have really changed quite a bit. The home screen has been cleaned up, with models of your characters walking around a city as a background, and it’s fairly minimalist. The character creator is far more in-depth than it has been in the past, and there are a ton of new things you can do. The graphics of the game are also an improvement over Rock Band 2, but at times they try too hard, possibly hitting the graphic limits of the Wii resulting in some odd appearances for the characters.

World Tour mode has been completely abandoned, and replaced with something called Road Challenges, which are set lists that you play through to beat a challenge, very much in the same vein as RB2‘s challenges. You go through these challenges playing your best and collecting points, which in turn unlock cooler outfits and better instruments, which make you look cooler. I’m not really sure I liked this idea, because it kind of throws a lot of songs at you without really giving you a say, as opposed to World Tour, where you get to pick everything you do. But I digress.

The set list this time around kills. You’ve got everything from Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London” to the Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated” to the eternal “Free Bird.” There are many classic tracks that everyone will recognize, along with songs that are difficult, but fun. Rock Band 3 probably has the best set list of all the games. You can also import all of your older content, albeit for a price of $10. While it’s annoying that you have to pay for songs you already own, it’s great that you can still access them in one game. The 1,000+ songs available as DLC (downloadable content) are also a real treat. Each individual song is priced at $2, or available in specific bundles. DLC makes up a large part of the Rock Band experience, because with an ever-expanding library, your experience is always changing and fresh.

While this new version of the game was certainly great, there were a few complaints. I couldn’t quite get into the total overhaul of Tours and Challenges. It seems like a lot of my favorite features from years past have been either replaced or changed so much to the point that it’s difficult to recognize some old features at first. I also found the emphasis placed on DLC problematic. While DLC is definitely awesome, challenges can be dependent on it, and a lot of people aren’t going to buy DLC, whether it is because they have no Internet connection (is that even possible?) or due to a lack of interest, and those people are certainly missing out. Not to mention that all those songs get expensive really quickly!

If you’re willing to shell out some extra moolah and buy the new instruments, then you can get some brand new features that are the real show-stoppers. But if you choose not to, then you’re kind of getting Rock Band 2 on steroids and a solid upgrade, which isn’t bad at all. In these troubled economic times a lot of people are going to go the upgrade route, and that’s fine, because Rock Band 3 will still draw you in with its enhanced fun multiplayer capabilities and deep challenges. You can always add additional instruments later on. If you’re looking for the ultimate party game, then look no further than Rock Band 3. Available as standalone software ($50), or as a bundle with the keyboard ($130). Highly recommended!

For more information on Rock Band 3 visit:

Thomas Fogel, Posted 11/27/2010