The following is a part of my list of my Top 10 All-Time Favorite Games. There may be spoilers ahead, so read with caution. Please make note that I rated these games not out of quality relative to other titles but in the order of how much fun I had with each of them and how important they are to my personal gaming history.
Allow me to start from the beginning.
Growing up, I had two main passions in life: video games and music. Both of these creative art forms were simultaneously infused into my environment at a very young age and to this day, they both occupy a permanent space in my life. I love them both almost equally, but if I am being totally honest, music will always remain the champion.
As a child, I had access to a keyboard that my uncle owned. He was in a band and would often practice his synth work as well as fiddling on a guitar or bass from time to time. This led to me being inspired to learn basic melodies on his keyboard in my youth, and I would eventually self-teach myself guitar as I went through middle school.
Naturally, I had fantasies of performing onstage in bands or with my idols. I often wondered if I would have what it takes to succeed at the craft of rocking a live audience. Granted, I never really pushed for an opportunity at it, but it was fun to speculate.
Fast-forward to 2005. Harmonix borrows the formula from Konami’s Guitar Freaks and puts it onto the console market with Guitar Hero. After two successful titles, the studio abandons the franchise and returns to the scene with a full-band version entitled Rock Band. This new iteration had a few different features, but the core gameplay of jamming along to favorite popular songs remained intact.
I was never what one would call a songwriter, so my extent of musical talent was strictly in the avenue of “covering” my favorite bands’ work. What Rock Band did was not only give me an extended selection to do this with, but it also provided me with an ever-growing list of new tracks to choose from. The weekly DLC packs were hit-and-miss, but more often than not, I was happy with what was coming out and I know I spent a good chunk of change purchasing extra songs.
(That’s myself on the ol’ six str… uh, strum bar.)
While the original Rock Band was great, it really found its stride in its sequels. Gameplay didn’t change much from the core mechanics, but RB3 added the keyboard as an instrument and also implemented a Pro Mode which, if you had a special peripheral, would essentially require you to learn how to truly perform the song on a real instrument. I never made the jump into that stuff, but it was a nice touch for those interested.
But what I was interested in was just “playing” the songs and feeling good about it. Some people made the argument that the game should only inspire people to learn a real instrument, but my motivation in playing Rock Band solely centered on having fun. Was it an exact facsimile of guitar? Gosh, no. But what it did do was give me a good time along with the occasional challenge and the satisfaction of rocking out with my favorite songs and bands.
Could I ever hope to accurately play Dream Theater’s Constant Motion and be as good of a player as John Petrucci?
Jesus fuck, that fuckin’ guy.
As low-skilled as I was on real guitar, it never stopped me from playing those types of songs on the game, and I had a blast doing so whenever I did. It fulfilled my rock dreams, and that was all I had ever wanted from it. Of course, not every song was as difficult and some were maybe a tad boring, but I enjoyed the experience, regardless. It was even more fun when the developers would release an unexpected novelty song as DLC. A few of my favorites were the Eric Cartman (South Park) version of Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face,” Parry Gripp’s “Girl At the Videogame Store,” and the Hockey Night in Canada Theme song.
Perhaps one of Rock Band’s greatest achievements was its propensity to introduce new music to all that played the game. There were so many songs/bands that I would’ve written off if I came across them in the real world, but playing them in Rock Band helped me respect the tracks in a more organic way. My first exposure to The Strokes left me thinking that they were likely something I wouldn’t be into, but I’ll be good-goddamned if “Reptilia” isn’t a killer tune.
I could go on forever about how hooked I got on these games. Rock Band got me so good that when RB2 came out, I played it for a minimum hour every day for what I swear had to be 2+ years. I probably hit well over 1,000 hours of total playtime, and I don’t regret a single second of it.
Of course, all of this doesn’t even include the local multiplayer modes that spawned a sizable movement in bars and homes alike. In fact, to this very day, Rock Band parties are still held at various gaming conventions around the world.
In the pantheon of music/rhythm games, this franchise is the masterpiece, in my opinion. Great gameplay and excellent music collided to make a compelling experience that most games have yet to accomplish, and I will always consider it as one of the best in all of video games.
And all it had to do was play into my two greatest loves.
…and speaking of novelty songs, let’s get Metal Gear Solid 3’s “Snake Eater” in the game. It deserves to be there.