2017 marks the tenth anniversary of the best damn music game franchise in video game history. I’m talking about the most awesome fake plastic rock game around: Rock Band. Screw your DDRs, your Beatmanias, and all that. Rock Band is where it’s at.
Sadly I didn’t get into the instrument rhythm genre until 2009, the year Activision totally thought releasing six Guitar Hero games at $60 a pop was a sound business decision. GameStop was already giving away excess Guitar Hero II 360 guitars when bought with Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, which was on sale for $10. Needless to say, this gave me an easy way to get into the genre proper, after my previous experience of sucking on Even Flow on Easy in Guitar Hero III. I later snagged the then-recent Rock Band 2 a few months later. Alongside getting The Beatles: Rock Band set for Christmas that year, that was when my Rock Band journey truly started.
The first Rock Band is 10 years old, and I’m gonna celebrate it by pointing out how proud Harmonix was of its new features.
Rock Band was the first western game to implement not just guitar and bass, but drums and vocals as well. Using their experiences from making tons of Karaoke Revolution games, as well as making drums simple and complex, they made a game that became one of the best damn party games around. Provided you had the room and space to hold all the plastic instruments.
But there was another feature that they were particularly proud of: The Big Rock Ending.
In older Guitar Hero games, a fair share of songs ended up with a ridiculous flurry of notes, which was an annoying shift after playing something like “Smoke on the Water”. To counter this, Harmonix introduced the Big Rock Ending. In this, you just strum any note, and bang on any drum to amass points, then hit a specific set of notes at the end. Hit them all, you successfully bank the bonus. A single miss, and it goes up in smoke. Literally.
This solved the problem Harmonix had with the Guitar Hero games at this point. Give them the chance to be a rock star while not making a song harder than it needed to be. They were very, very proud of this new feature. Naturally they had to pad part of the 58-song setlist with them.
In some places, this works out. Stuff like “Flirtin’ with Disaster”, “Timmy and the Lords of the Underworld” or the cover of “Green Grass and High Tides” fits it perfectly considering how the song is. In others, well… Not so much.
Here’s a video montage I made back in 2013 that highlighted some of the more… egregious choices.
Some of them are a bit weird but reasonable, like “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” or “The Hand that Feeds.” Some, like “Cherub Rock” would probably omit it in lieu of a more traditional ending if it was released as DLC today. Even the cover of Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” has it, which (unsurprisingly) didn’t have one when the original master track made it to DLC a year or so later.
But then you got some real head scratchers in terms of Big Rock Endings. “Black Hole Sun”? “Welcome Home”? “Vasoline”? Someone on the development team on the first Rock Band was probably jockeying hard for this feature, in one of the best examples of “You were too preoccupied with whether or not you could that you didn’t stop to think if you should.”
Of course, this is the first year of a new franchise and platform, so everybody’s still figuring out what works and what doesn’t. I’m not saying Harmonix should be ashamed for this, but these are unusual decisions for their new “bang on instruments to get bonus points” feature.
Thankfully by the time Rock Band 2 came out the following year, they had their ducks in a row and scaled back on Big Rock Endings considerably, usually saving them for songs that really deserved it. Well, in most cases anyway, I don’t think “Love Shack” or “Hot for Teacher” needed them, but that’s just me.
While Rock Band in 2017 isn’t nearly the juggernaut it was 10 years ago – hell, even five years ago – it’s still a great franchise if you wanna play music games with fake instruments. Bonus if you like playing drums, cause playing drums on expert is probably the best learning tool you’ll get short of actual lessons. It’s still a fun party game even in a world where stuff like The Jackbox Party Pack has usurped it, and I’m glad Harmonix is still trucking along with this game even in 2017.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna rock out and hope I don’t randomly have to mash notes in a slow song.
This is a “remaster” of an old post I wrote about the same thing back in this blog’s early days, to commemorate the game’s fifth anniversary. But like all old pieces of art, there’s always that moment where you go “I can do this better.” And after writing things for about five years straight, it’s time for a refresh. I fully expect to do this again in 2022 when we celebrate the game’s 15th anniversary, provided we all don’t die from rocking out too much before then.