It’s as simple as that, and as absolute and dividing as that may sound, that’s all I can honestly say now that both franchises have released their newest iterations. Both series are wildly successful, yet they both can’t escape the duality that people and critics continue to establish between them. It’s like comparing PC’s and Apple’s. Both camps have faithful followers, but as soon as one fan messes with the opposite game, a bloodbath ensues.
I’m not going to dispute which game is better, because it’s a worthless pursuit. In fact, both games bring two very different ideologies that seem to go over the heads of critical reviewers and casual fans. If you have ever hated on either Rock Band or Guitar Hero, please keep reading so I can dispel the majority of your grievances.
Stop complaining to Activision
Yes, there’s a new ‘Hero game every year, perhaps two or three. Instead of being quick to whine about how Activision is trying to steal all of your money, you should realize that you don’t have to buy each game. Also, you should realize that the franchise has been slowly diversifying itself with the past couple of releases, and is taking on different pursuits with each entry. I believe the most successful game in the series was Guitar Hero 3 – of all of the Rhythm games that I’ve owned, I’ve purchased the most downloadable content (extra songs) for it, and most importantly, they have been all great purchases in my opinion. Most importantly, it was challenging. When I say challenging, I mean the game is tough enough to make you have to practice, but not ungodly hard that losing is discouraging. Time and time again, I would see myself putting GH3 back in to test my skills, to see if I’ve improved every few weeks or so, I also learned Guitar Hero with this game, so that’s also another reason it’s my favorite.
I’m noticing a pattern with every recent Guitar Hero release. When World Tour (Guitar Hero 4) came out, reviewers welcomed the overhauled game engine, as well as the “more for everyone” setlist. Soon after, Guitar Hero Metallica received accolades as a very successful game centered on the heavy metal band, and after that, things seemed to change. Band Hero, which was posed as the “pop” game, got blasted for being for younger, more casual audiences. Of course, a mainstay band in a Guitar Hero game, like Iron Maiden, had no place here, since the game appealed to fans of Taylor Swift, the Jackson 5, or Dashboard Confessional, to name a few.
When Guitar Hero 5 came out, it garnered a lot of new fans for also being casual-friendly. Many mechanics like ‘Jumping In and Out of Play’, ‘playing with any combination of instruments’, and ‘song challenges’ really helped with accessibility issues, and overall made it a worthy sequel. The only issue with this is that many core fans were alienated by the setlist. Those players who remember struggling to just survive the opening section of Through the Fire and Flames by DragonForce were marooned on an island when they had to slog through songs like You Give Love a Bad Name by Bon Jovi. Guitar Hero 5 tried to please EVERYONE, but it’s really difficult to say that it was as satisfying. Spreading yourself too thin never has yielded great results, and you certainly don’t excel in anything, either.
One major benefit that I see to constant releases is that Guitar Hero has the ability to make many changes to the mechanics; whether that’s by introducing new gameplay elements, fixing issues that players have, or even removing something that didn’t work out so well. I’m looking at you, slider sections. Yearly releases allow this to be possible, and each change brings something new to the table.
Don’t be blinded by the casual crowd
In light of the premise of being able to periodically polish or add a new coat of paint to an existing statue, Rock Band is determined to transcend the Rhythm genre, elevating itself to it’s own platform. Instead of a new game every year, a dozen new songs get released every two weeks. Without fail, Rock Band has consistently delivered new music to players, meaning that there’s always a new song to play, and with the sheer number amount of songs available, simply saying “something for everyone” in terms of the setlist is an understatement. I’m willing to bet that even the most dedicated of players still haven’t played every single song, not to mention with the different instruments.
Rock Band is a lot easier in terms of gameplay. Take a song that was featured on both Guitar Hero and Rock Band. The note track for that song on Expert Guitar for Rock Band would only be as difficult as Hard Guitar for Guitar Hero, on average. Rock Band focuses on more on simpler note tracking – but this isn’t to say that it’s boring or anything. While Guitar Hero shines when it comes to furious songs sporting thousands of notes for a song with breakneck strumming patterns, Rock Band provides a musical experience centered on the group dynamic. I didn’t enjoy Rock Band as much when I played alone, but I enjoyed it a lot more in a party setting than I did with Guitar Hero.
One thing I do like about Rock Band is how easy it is to transfer songs from one game to another. Nearly every song can be moved from one game to the other, except for Beatles: Rock Band. While Guitar Hero 5 offered this, only “some” songs are eligible to transfer. When I popped in Guitar Hero 5 for the first time, I was pleased that I could transfer songs from Guitar Hero World Tour (as well as Smash Hits and Band Hero, but I didn’t own them), but was pretty annoyed when I found out not every song could be transferred over. In fact, under half of the music on the disk; 35 of the 86 tracks, couldn’t transfer. Rock Band eliminates the need to put in a different disk to play, which again, keeps it simple.
Since there isn’t a rush to pump out a new game every year like Madden, each release of a Rock Band game is naturally a lot more momentous. Enough time goes by for the player to invest a decent amount of time in each game enough to play it thoroughly, and when the next game is announced, there’s enough draw to it to feel good about making that big purchase. Walking out of the store with that familiar guitar bundle every year is a little monotonous, not to mention the band bundle, which pretty much requires another person to help you carry. When it comes to Rock Band, you’re definitely getting your money’s worth – and if you ever need to replace a worn out instrument, shelling out the cash to do so doesn’t hurt your ego as well as your wallet.
So what are you getting at?
Both games are great. It’s okay to look at both games when you are aware of the fundamental differences that lie between them, and that’s okay, as the two of them can definitely take notes on each other and continue to improve their respective formulas. However, when a Rock Band enthusiast disses Guitar Hero for having “excessively difficult songs, a close minded setlist that caters to metal fans, or not enough downloadable songs,” it just pisses Guitar Hero fans off. They enjoy the game for what it offers for them, and issues like that are not worth the time to debate over. Similarly, proud shredders who flaunt the ability to score every note will often be the first to complain about how they’re not the star of the show when they’re only one piece of a band. There’s nothing cool about being the “best” in a band, so losing all of the spotlight shouldn’t be a valid complaint.
Let’s just play our games, and leave the ridiculous comparisons out of the conversation. Let’s see how that goes.