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Music games fell on hard times in 2010. What was once a profitable quasi-yearly money tree along the lines of the twitch FPS or sports genres dried up for a number of reasons, among them oversaturation and the still-wan economy of 2009. Both Guitar Hero and Rock Band saw their last major titles. Now, in 2015, both franchises are back to see if the gaming market is ready to sync up plastic tab-strums once again. New features are being named right and left, but the most welcome announcement of Harmonix’s upcoming release, Rock Band 4, might be backward-looking: all previously purchased songs will be compatible, and Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 legacy controllers will also be integrated with the Playstation 4 and Xbox One, respectively (although the Xbox One requires a “low-cost” adapter).

This is a remarkable contrast to the upcoming Guitar Hero Live, which, in part due to a redesign of the guitar peripheral, is not compatible with either previous songs or controllers. Rock Band 4 has chosen to innovate in other areas, instead. An improved user interface promises “seamless” difficulty switch without interrupting the song, as well as creation of multi-song sets. The crown jewel is “Freestyle Mode,” an open-ended mechanic that allows guitar players to create their own solos. Another feature will reward vocalists for improvisations of their own.  Rock Band 4 also promises a co-op campaign mode accomodating up to four players – a complete band – and their customizable in-game avatars.

Rock Band 4 also upgrades the infrastructure of the game. Controllers will be made by Madcatz, and the game’s sound will be generated with Positive Grid’s BIAS software, a digital amp designed to replace familiar tube-based counterparts. While Madcatz has received mixed reviews for some of their offerings in the last few years, Positive Grid’s product has generally enjoyed a warm reception in the real-life rock community. The new controllers will include several durability improvements, an area in which Madcatz has received high marks.

Rock Band 4 will release with a base track list of 60+ songs sampling a number of eras, with artists including Elvis Presley, Scandal, Jack White, and Avenged Sevenfold. Harmonix promises the song database will eventually be over 1500 tracks, presumably including legacy carryovers. Release is set for October 6th on Xbox One and Playstation 4.  There are two bundles available for preorder: the “Guitar Bundle,” which comes with a guitar controller and a copy of the game, and the “Band-in-a-Box Bundle,” which includes the new drum kit and the USB microphone.  You can view pictures of the Madcatz instrument lineup here.

Which would you prefer – backwards compatibility or new controller innovation?

Francis Kelly

I'm an enthusiast writer who grew up in the 64 tradition - Commodore, then Nintendo. In the following years, the Internet has given me both online publishing and online multiplayer. It's a wash.