Soapbox: The era of rock band, guitar hero and plastic instruments was silly but special
Over the past few weeks, it’s been a lot of fun sharing a huge range of music-themed features at the Nintendo Life VGM Festival. Much of our focus, and rightly so, has been to showcase the incredible talents behind the soundtracks and audio design that we enjoy in games. For a change, however, I wanted to reflect on a bygone era when plastic instruments and wish fulfillment were all the rage – the era of Rock Band and Guitar Hero.
Like The Beatles vs The Rolling Stones, or Blur vs Oasis, these two brands went head-to-head during the 2000s, and in a few dizzying years, we’ve had a whole bunch of rhythm sets and matching props that flooded the world. Marlet. I had no allegiance anyway, jumping between IPs depending on what game I liked, and the Legacy is a pile of colorful plastic instruments in the attic, dusty and in a boring, barely working case. Yet, just last Christmas, I dutifully dusted them out for some cooperative music.
While some families play Mario Party and Mario Kart, when it comes to multiplayer games over the holidays – as well as real board games, of course – it’s a little different in my parents’ house. Of course my parents are retired and my brother and I are rushing into our fifties [aren’t you already middle-aged? – Ed], but we still get together at the end of the year and do pretty much the same things as 20 years ago. Our routines are well established and I don’t think we’ll ever change them on purpose.
Even in the old days, we weren’t exactly the photogenic 20-year-old group of the commercials – my brother and I would swap between bass and lead guitar, and my parents sometimes joined in too. Then there’s the Rock Band drums, silly stuff that’s actually really loud like a toy.
We also happen to be a music loving family. My brother played the clarinet back to the dawn of time, and in my teens I was serious enough in my musical studies to flirt with the idea of ââbecoming a professional classical musician. My parents are huge music fans too, so for years these games – the Wii versions in this case – were staple. Last Christmas one of the Guitar Hero guitars barely worked, but we still made the most of it. The allure never fades.
We have a few Guitar Hero inputs, which are ideal for classic rock tracks. My absolute favorite though, and the one that brings everyone in the room, is The Beatles: Rock Band. My dad plays all the games the least, but adores The Beatles, and growing up listening to their albums, I feel like I know pretty much every lyric they wrote. This is the game where we get closer to a full band – guitar, bass, and drums, and it’s still one of the best fun.
And really, as a project, it was probably the peak of the time. There’s no question that EA, MTV Games, and Harmonix had to bend over backwards to secure the rights to the most famous band of all time, and what’s fascinating is that the work they did by mixing the tracks has provided copies of the music of The Beatles of the highest quality. had been heard so far. Giles Martin – son of famous Beatles producer George Martin – painstakingly deconstructed and improved the source recordings, which were then converted into “stems” that can support each part and their gameplay. The type of work done on the game is still used now to produce iconic record mixes.
Even on Wii, which of course was 480p standard definition, the game looked fantastic. The development team clearly respected and admired the band, as the style and quality of the clips / performances of each track was magnificent. It was like playing through a historic reimagining of a golden age of music. Absolutely wonderful.
And look, neither of us claimed that it made us good at real instruments. The drum parts have been simplified, and while I can play some instruments, the guitar isn’t one of them – being able to kill rock pieces on a plastic ax with colorful knobs doesn’t make me one. guitarist. But what a silly pleasure it was, a real wish fulfillment, executed with aplomb.
Sadly, EA and Activision – as publishers – overplayed their hands during this time, flooding the market with too many sequels and variations on expensive props. Sales plummeted and an attempt to return a generation later failed.
Like many great moments, it was a flame that burned too hot. But still, come on vacation, I’ll dust off these instruments one more time and âplayâ wonderful music once again, with a little help from my friends.