We Will, We Will Rock You - Maybe
Recently, a friend and I went out and caught a metal show. High on Fire headlined, with Kylesa and Torche opening. It was a long, brutal night of punishing, eardrum-rattling music, exactly as we both knew it would be. To someone who isn’t a metal fan, it might have sounded all the same, but there was actually a lot of variation between the three bands. Kylesa creates complex, percussive music, Torche’s songs are shorter, uptempo and borderline poppy, while High on Fire offers up the most guitar-forward, growling death metal.
Even in the somewhat niche metal genre, there’s still a lot of variety to be found.
And yet, the current crop of music games basically all offer the same thing. With so much variety in every genre of music, why are music games all offering up the same set of features?
Sure, there are some variations in the genre, like DJ Hero and Power Gig. But let’s face it – when we talk about music games, we’re really talking about Rock Band and Guitar Hero. These two brands are the driving forces in the genre, and ever since Guitar Hero World Tour, the two franchises have been locked in a battle for “feature parity.” Rock Band offered up a full-band experience, so Guitar Hero added drums and vocals, and they’ve basically been two versions of the same game ever since.
Yes, there are differences, and the gap seems to be widening between the two franchises. But don’t kid yourself – if Rock Band 3 does huge business, you can bet your ass that the next Guitar Hero will add keyboards; perhaps even double-decker keyboards.
Is this music game arms race really leading to better games? Activision was clearly aware that the Guitar Hero franchise had strayed from its path and turned out a more guitar rock-centered game in Warriors of Rock. But of course, the full band play options are still there. That seems like a half-step to me. If you want Guitar Hero to be the premiere guitar game, make it a guitar game. Cut the drums. Cut the vocals. If you want to put out another full-band game, there’s always the Band Hero franchise.
Even seemingly focused music games like Power Gig and DJ Hero are guilty of this feature creep. DJ Hero 2 features vocals. Power Gig’s main selling point is that it features a realistic guitar – and yet it also comes with a drum controller. Guys, just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean you have to do it, too. Nobody who was interested in buying Power Gig would pass on the game if it didn’t have drums. Not to mention that the guitar and drum bundle for Power Gig costs a whopping $230.
I’m a big fan of music games, and I’m happy to see publishers sticking with the genre despite slumping sales. But that said, I only have so much money to spend on these games, and only so much space for plastic instruments. Instead of trying to be everything to everyone, I’d rather see these games blaze their own paths and offer up different experiences. Sure, there’s only so much you can do. But there’s an infinite variety of music out there, so surely we can come up with a few new ideas for music games.
Jeremy M. Zoss is a veteran of the gaming industry. He’s written for Game Informer, OXM, G4 and many more. He’s also worked in games PR, but don’t hold that against him.