School of Rock
Josh Harmon, Associate Editor: I have to say, I going hands-on with BandFuse was a pleasant surprise. I feel like my brain started to block out any new music games after Activision started releasing 500 Guitar Heroes a year, but BandFuse might actually get me to hop back on that train. As someone who started learning to play guitar a few years back but petered out, I actually think this could be the game that makes me follow through. I know you’ve got less experience as a rock god than I do, so I’m curious to know your first impressions.
Andrew Fitch, Managing Editor: Unlike you, Josh, I never even dabbled in the guitar. My musical path came to a screeching halt after my low lung capacity—combined with my temperamental Italian-American band teacher—derailed my budding saxophone and clarinet careers in 7th grade. And I’ll admit that I found my time with BandFuse a little intimidating; I couldn’t even hold the guitar the right way. Still, if any professor could get me to pick up an instrument again, I think it’d be Slash, who makes his long-awaited music-game return in BandFuse.
Josh: Ah, Slash. Is there any music game you won’t sell yourself out to? Seriously, though, it’s clear that Realta Studios has put a lot of thought into making sure that this’ll be an effective teaching tool. I know they’re not the first developer to try to build this sort of game, but as someone who’s actually taken real-world lessons, they seem to be going to great lengths to ensure that everything will transfer on a 1-to-1 basis. You’re not just learning to play the parts for individual songs; you’re learning to read tablature, you’re learning scales, and you’re learning how Slash gets his hair to be so frizzy. Well, two out of three, at least.
Andrew: Yeah, though it’s hard to tell exactly how effective Slash’s lessons will be based on the small snippet we played. We saw him mumble for a couple of minutes during the demo, but I’m curious to see exactly how well BandFuse‘s training will teach the fundamentals and really help students grow as guitar players, regardless of previous training. In theory, this should be able to teach someone like me exactly how to hold, strum, and eventually rock out on a guitar. I hope that it allows for various bars of entry, too; based on what I saw, I’m not totally convinced that’ll be the case, but I’m definitely interested in seeing if the game lives up to its teaching promise.
Josh: That’s certainly something I’m curious about. I’m not just worried about newcomers like you being able to pick up the absolute basics, but also how the challenge ramps up. We only got to see three of the difficulty levels—the two easiest and the hardest—and it’s going to be tricky to make sure an intermediate player like me doesn’t hit a wall or plateau in the middle. Being able to slow things down, move through one note at a time, and focus on individual licks should help, but I really want to feel like I’m being constantly pushed to grow. I guess the more game-y side of it will help keep me motivated, though, and they seem to be striking a good balance there.
Andrew: While I haven’t taken guitar lessons at all, I’ve studied languages and other things over the years—and the “intermediate” level is always the biggest hurdle to overcome, so that’s a major concern for me as well. I will say that this feels a lot more like a game than a series of “lessons,” though, and my time strumming one string to Living Colour’s “Cult of Personality” was enjoyable enough and made me want to get better. My concern with music games always comes down to the tracklist, though: Is this going to give me enough variety to keep playing—and, in this case, learning? I may be cool with Jane’s Addiction’s seminal 1990 larceny anthem “Been Caught Stealing,” but I have a feeling you may not be.
Josh: Well, I will say that some of the tracklist does skew a bit old for my tastes, but I think there’s a decent enough mix of vintage and modern, at least from what they’ve revealed so far. I mean, I am so excited to learn how to play that intro riff on The Strokes’ “Reptilia,” for real. I suspect people with very narrow tastes might find the selection a little wanting, but I’m really hoping they start releasing track packs à la Rock Band to remedy that. Beyond just the songs, though, they seem to be really smart about including all the features you’d expect from a straight-up rhythm game: scoring, online leaderboards, and co-op band play with support for bass and vocals.
Andrew: I’m a fan of the tracklist in general—though I’m mostly into rock from the ’60s through the ’80s, so I’m not really the typical player—but some of the choices are a little confusing. I’m all for Blue Öyster Cult’s “Godzilla,” but “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” obviously has a much more iconic riff, so it’s odd they didn’t go with that one. One element I really liked, though, was how the game shows the actual music videos while you’re rocking out. While I play “Cult of Personality,” anyone who watches can be mesmerized by the too-tight, vintage-late-’80s yellow spandex that dominates the video. I don’t need to see some silly avatar-ized version of myself; I want to feel Geddy Lee’s legendary Canadian falsetto belting out “Limelight.” Frankly, that gives me much more of an incentive to improve and do better.
Josh: It’s a little unfortunate, but my biggest doubt about this game has absolutely nothing to do with what’s actually in it. I’m mostly concerned with the timing. For my money, BandFuse is definitely shaping up to be the best hybrid of Guitar Hero–style gameplay and actual musicianship out there, but I don’t know if there’s a huge market for that anymore. If this were 2005, I’m pretty sure this thing would be a phenomenon. Nowadays, there’s a lot of music-game fatigue they’re going to have to overcome.
Andrew: Well, I’m thinking that they’re not trying to sell this to the Midwestern mom who already has a Rock Band guitar collecting dust in the closet; that casual market is gone now. Nowadays, music games have to target the hardcore—people who are really into music or interesting in learning how to play an instrument. I think that’s indicative in BandFuse‘s tracklist; there’s no throwaway pop song nobody’s going to remember 10 years from now. There’s pop, sure, but it’s stood the test of time. To me, it looks like they’ve done just about all they can to appeal to that hardcore market—now, we just have to see if it proves popular at all.