Boots’ Top Ten Video Games of All-Time #4: Rock Band 2/3

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?

Fuck. No.

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.

The Top Ten Games of the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3/Wii Console Generation

WARNING: Game spoilers lie within. BEWARE.

When I first decided to do a blog about the last generation of console games, I wasn’t sure whether to go with my favorite games or favorite moments. There’s a lot of games from this wave of consoles that I’ve yet to play, but then again, who played everything?

No, you didn’t. Don’t lie.

Looking at my list, I was surprised to see how limited it seemed. With my Xbox Gamerscore just over 84,000, I felt like the list would’ve been a bit more extensive. Turns out I just had a lot of time to farm in fewer games, I guess. All that unemployment during this console gen really “helped out.” While I still have so much to get to, I’m going to list my Top 10 favorites of the PS3/360 years that I’ve played through to date.

Sorry, Wii. I never got around to owning you.

This list is not based on any technical prowess of the games, but rather, my immersion and fun level with said games. That’s why there are no fighters on it. I don’t enjoy fighters. I also didn’t play any. Go figure. Anyway, let’s get this shit started…

10: Braid

Braid

This specific puzzle was super frustrating.

Prior to playing this instant classic, most downloadable titles seemed to be arcade-style games designed for bite-sized consumption. 2008’s Xbox “Summer of Arcade” changed all of that. Designer/programmer Jonathan Blow’s debut title took conventional side-scrolling mechanics and turned it on its edge, infusing a time-manipulating element that added a whole new layer to its gameplay. The plot was a bit vague, but the reveals were rewarding in their own way, with a special twist coming in the final stage that had me reeling.

Braid set a new bar for the “downloadable” scene and changed the landscape of gaming forever as it headed into the digital age, leading the way for independent games to grow and thrive.

9: Mark of the Ninja

Mark of the Ninja

Go ninja, go ninja, go!

As you can tell by the header of this blog, I am a huge fan of this game. I kept hearing how exceptional its mechanics were and once I finally got my hands on it, I agreed with every praise the game had received. Sometimes a game can make the player ask “What do I do now,” but not this one. Its design choices were perfect, giving just the right amount of information to teach you everything you needed to know about its stealth and combat systems. Playing this game felt natural, and there were very few moments where I struggled to pull off whatever strategies I attempted. Personally, loving this game led me to having a chance to interview its lead designer Nels Anderson on my podcast early last year, which will always be a highlight for me. But seriously, play this game if you haven’t yet. You won’t be disappointed. I promise.

8: Lost Odyssey

Lost Odyssey

Fun Fact: The woman in the middle is the grandmother of the little girl.

My first foray into RPGs on this gen came in the form of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. It did not go well, at the time. I was very lost and unsure of how to approach that sprawling world with endless possibilities. Lost Odyssey, however, felt more like the JRPGs of old that I had grown up playing. It made perfect sense, given that it was the brainchild of Hironobu Sakaguchi, formerly of Squaresoft and the original creator of the Final Fantasy franchise. Though a challenging game early on, it played like those games I was so familiar with from my teen years.

As comfortable as it felt to play, it was certain aspects about the story that hooked me. Protagonist Kaim struggled to remember aspects of his life (Amnesia!) but would be reminded of them every so often via events happening around him, leading the player into short narrative on-screen novelas that you had to read to understand. It gave the memories a sense of importance and emotion that I hadn’t felt from a game in a long time and it made Kaim much more relateable. Full of interesting characters and environments, Lost Odyssey is a game that any RPG fan should be required to give some time to.

7: Dead Space

Dead Space

Do you hear that?

Survival horror has had its ups and downs over its lifespan, but Dead Space nailed what it should be quite expertly. Sure, it had its share of jump scares, but that’s an inevitable event when it comes to scary stories in media. What Visceral Games created was not only a freaky and claustrophobic setting with horrible abominations coming for you, but perhaps a Master Class in sound design. Clanking heard in the distance and the increasing amount of creepy whispers throughout the game do more to raise your pulse while aboard the USG Ishimura than any of the twisted necromorphs you face. I highly recommend playing this with one headphones. Throw in an interesting dismemberment mechanic along with creepy plot easter eggs and you get a near-perfect representation of how horror should always be done in video games.

6: Portal 2

Portal 2

“Oh, it’s you.”

Innovation fell to the wayside for a while during the last gen. Enter Portal, a bite-sized pack-in on The Orange Box. Valve’s experimental puzzler set the industry ablaze with its inventive mechanics and super vague but captivating story. Four years later, Portal 2 came out to even further acclaim. The story of Chell again attempting to escape the labyrinthine confines of Aperture Science was more fleshed out this time around and introduced us to everyone’s favorite personality orb, Wheatley.

Portal 2

The gang’s all here.

Personally, this game was hugely important as the multiplayer campaign became the unofficial initiation ground for the BlankShowCast co-hosts. The show was born when Tim and I were playing through the levels, and later Isabel would also join me for a run. It’s always a fun one to go back to after a while to flex the brain around. Also, Potato GLaDOS.

5: Red Dead Redemption

Red Dead Redemption

You missed.

Whenever I think of this game, I briefly remember Grand Theft Auto IV and how unsatisfying it was. With the buzz that Red Dead Redemption was getting, my hopes were that Rockstar would redeem themselves in a genre that they had pioneered. I was happy to not be wrong.

The “old West” setting was perfect for a sandbox game. I kept marveling at how beautiful the environment was. I also loved the way the music elements would swell in and out depending on the action level.

When I started the game, I unfortunately had the BIG late-game moment spoiled for me. I was initially angry, but the more I played the game, the more I was anticipating that moment. It gave me a level of tension that I don’t think would’ve been present had I not been spoiled about it. Because of this, the time just before it happened had me on the edge of my seat, wondering what events were going to transpire. It was a better game for it, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

4: Saints Row: The Third

Saints Row: The Third

We’re taking over this town.

Speaking of the GTA franchise, there was a long time between the PS2’s San Andreas and GTA IV, during which the Saints Row franchise came to fruition. The first was fairly similar in style, but incorporated a better shooting mechanic and its sense of humor was slightly more absurd. SR2 brought in a better story and the writing went even deeper into silliness. By genius or by accident, someone at series developer Volition went completely nuts and created the wackiest, goofiest, over-the-top open-world game ever created. And it was glorious.

The opening mission has you AIRLIFTING A BANK VAULT from its home inside a tower. Later, you fall through the air after forcing a plane out of the sky from within, dodging debris as you careen toward the Earth. The government sends a military airship to stop you and your crew. A psychopathic wrestler causes major grief for the Saints. Oh, and you play as a toilet for a short time.

Saints Row: The Third

Here’s your damn Superman Punch, Roman Reigns.

SR3 is nothing but total joy and fun wrapped in a crazy box filled with insanity. Everyone should play it. Go do that.

3: The Last of Us

The Last of Us

Survival isn’t pretty.

Naughty Dog’s look at a post-apocalyptic world doesn’t seem like much on paper, but is perfect in its execution. The story of Joel escorting Ellie across the country is expertly crafted, and I can’t give enough praise to Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson for their masterful performances. Helping them survive in a world full of infected people is constantly tense and you can’t help but care about their fate. The game also does a marvelous job of pacing. One moment, you’re put in a high-risk situation among waves of aggressive enemies, while the next moment has its characters reflecting on where they’ve come from and why they’re continuing on. It’s a very emotionally heavy journey, but TLoU handles it so well. In fact, the character of Ellie quickly became my favorite in all of games. A revelation that only became more cemented in me after playing the Left Behind DLC.

I can’t stress enough how wonderful this game is. It’s a true must-play for everyone.

2: Mass Effect 2

Mass Effect 2

Don’t fear the Reaper.

The Mass Effect franchise might be the most highly acclaimed of this console generation. BioWare managed to build themselves up into a powerhouse developer with this and the Dragon Age series, but it was the journey of Commander Sheppard that ruled narrative-driven gaming.

All three ME titles had their strong points. However, it seemed that the consensus among most is that Mass Effect 2 is, by and large, the best among them. The game introduced a large number of shipmates to the universe, and gave you a chance to get to know each and every one. Players formed bonds with these characters. Some so close that genuine emotions were felt as they learned more about them. Their backstories shaped their world and our allegiances within it. Throw in the fact that many – or ALL of them – could be killed off during the final mission and you had an experience like no other. Getting through with everyone surviving became the goal for many, and it only served to strengthen our ties to each character.

Except for Jacob. He’s a bit of a dolt. And his teeth are way too large. But the priiiiiiizzzzzzzzzzeee……

1: Rock Band 3

Rock Band 3

Hey now… you’re a rockstar!

Gaming is something I’ve had through my entire life. I can’t remember a time without it. Music was always the other constant. A childhood pizza place that my family would often visit had both a jukebox and an arcade game, and I would struggle with the choice of which to partake. I later taught myself guitar, and when Harmonix created Guitar Hero, it was a perfect marriage of my two hobby loves.

Fast-forward to the Rock Band series, and while I never had many chances to do any full-band play, I was intrigued by the prospect of trying other instruments. Of course, I always fell back to guitar/bass and I loved every minute of it.
Rock Band 3 is the final installment – at least, for now – and it perfected the genre. In its heyday, new DLC songs were being released weekly, and it had something for everyone. I managed to find almost all of my favorite bands at some point on there. Avenged Sevenfold, Dream Theater, Rush, System of a Down, Metallica, Pantera, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest… I lived out so many rock fantasies with this game. In fact, I was so fond of this series that I had a 14-month period where I played an hour or more every day.

Sadly, the rhythm game bubble broke a long time ago, and Harmonix has ceased production of new content for the game, but that didn’t make me love it any less. While I would LOVE to see a Babymetal track pack, I am perfectly content with what I’ve purchased and what remains on the Rock Band Store. I will never not love this game.

Guitar Hero III Controller

Art.

…and there you have it, my Top 10 games of the 360/PS3 generation. I realize that I probably left off some that others would include, but again, I didn’t play everything. And that’s perfectly okay. I’m working through my backlog and loving every second of it. I just love games. All of them.

Except Final Fantasy XIII. What a steaming pile of shit. The literal worst.

So what made YOUR lists? What games did I not mention that you loved? It wasn’t Final Fantasy XIII, was it? If not, tell me what your faves of the gen were. Leave a comment here and tell me your choices, or you can hit up the show on Twitter (@BlankShowCast) and tell us what your Top 10 are. I’d love to see what you all pick!