Sometimes as Gamers we are neglected. Nintendo is notorious for long droughts with no 1st party titles, no 2nd party titles, and very few AAA 3rd part titles. Square-Enix and Valve and Rare are known for enormous gaps between the releases of their titles. There are also times when as Gamers, we are deluged in a flood of AAA titles all at once, making it impossible to experience all of the big games all at once when they are released. A few years back we had the Hal02 vs Metroid Prime 2 vs GTA: San Andreas vs Resident Evil 4 vs 10 other lesser known great titles that no one played because of the big 4. This year, we have, in no particular order, Super Mario Galaxy, Mass Effect, Rock Band, Assassin's Creed, Halo 3, Call of Duty 4, Crysis, Guitar Hero 3, Phantom Hourglass, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, Orange Box, and Metroid Prime 3 and Bioshock opening the flood gates back in the early fall. That is 13 games just off the top of my head in the past 3 months. If you never felt thankful about game delays (Haze, Super Mario Kart for Wii and Super Smash Bros. Brawl) this is the time to be thankful.
So what have I been playing? You know about Metroid Prime 3, Eternal Sonata, and I toyed around with Orange Box a few weeks back. I would have written about Portal, but there was so much being written about the game, all I would have felt comfortable doing is putting up a bunch of links and telling you all to just play the damn game already. Beautiful Katamari was a big disappointment, mainly caused by a oddly high difficulty level and lack of anything original. Skate was... unique... good for the first 2 hours, but then the sudden level of perfect precision required to get ANYTHING done destroyed any chance of fun. Have I mentioned yet I am starting to get sick of sandbox style games? More on that later.
Most recently, I have spent my time waving my arms around like an idiot (more than usual) and having my forearms throb in pain, (yet become more toned than before. Damn sexy). The big three for me this holiday season are Super Mario Galaxy, Rock Band, and Guitar Hero 3. And over the 4 day holiday, that is what I did. I played 3 of this years biggest titles ad nauseum (literally in Galaxy) over the past week, and felt I would pass along my impressions.
Super Mario Galaxy: A lot has been written about SMG, and I am not in the mood to repeat myself. I am in the mood for Cain's though... mmmm.... While a great game, SMG is not my favorite game of all time, and not even my favorite Mario game of all time. It does come in 3rd behind Super Mario 64 and Super Mario World in the "Best Mario Game EVHAR!" list, but it is still just another Mario game, and not truly revolutionary in my mind. I don't mean to sound negative. It is the most fun I have had with a platformer in a long long time. The nearly perfect controls (still not a fan of the waggle), clever level design (even if 1 level is literally mirrored, and many are rather small), and constant fan service (fire flower returns, along with other power-ups, and lots of old SMB3 music) make this a real gem. A warning to the fairer sex, SMG has caused vertigo in every woman that has played or watched. Not being sexist, just a warning to those who do not enjoy vomit. Strangely enough, one of my favorite parts of SMG is the star bit collecting. Simply point your Wii-mote at the screen, and Mario will collect chunks of stars that fall to the ground and lay around the level. Taking the place of coins (they are still there too), the star bit system is a quirky little addition that is a lot of fun. I have 16 stars left to collect before I get 100%, and the later levels can be challenging. Not groundbreaking, not astounding, but perfectly executed: that is Super Mario Galaxy. Where do I see Mario going next? Despite growing tired of the idea of every game heading down this path, I would like to see a sandbox style Mario game, similar to a Metroid or GTA.
Guitar Hero 3: Yes, I already posted about this one already. After spending almost a month with this gem, I have a few more things to add, and a few things to brag about as well. Guitar Hero 3 is easily the best guitar game out on the market. After replaying a lot of Guitar Hero 1 and 2, and spending time with Rock Band, the guitar experience in Guitar Hero 3 is 2nd to none. Between the blazing difficulty, the simple online gameplay, the fantastic use of hammer-ons and pull-offs, there is no comparison. Neversoft not only did a good job, they improved in a lot of ways over what Harmonix put into place. Some of my recent GH3 highlights including beating one of the developers in an online match (coolest Achievement ever!), getting 100% on The Pretender (go DLC!), FINALLY completing Through the Fire and Flames, and actually getting through about 30% of the game on Hard (Hard is harder than hard was before). For the best solo experience around, Guitar Hero 3 is the best choice available.
Rock Band: So how does Rock Band compare to the Guitar Hero games? In this case, it is best not to compare. Rock Band is pretty damn boring in the single player guitar campaign. There are far fewer notes to play, and in first time playing through all the songs, I got 100% on 32 songs, and no less than 97% on any other on the Medium difficulty. In comparison, I have 100% on 14 songs in Guitar Hero 3. In Rock Band, I would accidentally strum where there were NO notes, even though the guitar in the song would strum 2 or 3 more times. Reptilia should be removed from the game for this specifically. While on the negative comparison track:
-There isn't an obvious Overdrive indicator (star power), and getting Overdrive with the drums can make the orange notes disappear.
-The fret board is translucent, and can be distracting, along with wild strobing and color effects.
-The individual parts, on all instruments except the mic, aren't any louder than the other parts, where Guitar Hero blasted the guitar parts so they could easily stand out.
-Hammer-ons and Pull-Offs are very hard to see and also used rarely. When there are 3 tracks up on screen (guitar, drums, bass) and the frets are even smaller, they can be nearly impossible to see, even on my 36" HD set.
-The guitar itself is less than stellar. The strum bar itself is flimsy and makes no clicking sound, the buttons are stiff and clicky, making it very hard to "roll" your fingers on the frets, and the whammy bar is far too high and too long, making it difficult to use. I will continue to use my GH3 wireless guitar, thank you very much.
Things do get better with the drums, aka the reason 75% of people who own this game bought it in the first place. The drums are damn challenging, specifically, the foot peddle. While I can breeze through any guitar part on Medium, I am barely making it through the songs with the drums. I am finally mastering Easy, getting around 95% on most songs, but as soon as I kick it up to Medium, I am only getting about 60-75% on any song. The foot peddle (the orange button for the drums, literally and metaphorically) takes a lot of getting used to, and I still have yet to find a comfortable sitting position to use in conjunction with the peddle. When you mess up, it takes a long time to get back into the rhythm, so even if I only missed 1 note, I then miss 3 or 4 more just getting back into the rhythm. The challenge so far is what makes the drums more fun than the solo guitar parts. Once I get good at the drums (I will, I hope) the single player experience will hopefully still remain fun, as the drums are a more authentic experience in Rock Band than the guitar. The drums in Rock Band are as good as the guitar in Guitar Hero 3. Physically, the drum kit is big and not as sturdy as I would like. My only real issue with them so far is that there are many dings and dents on the rims of the drum pads from when everyone first learned to play them.
However, I know what it is about Rock Band's single player mode that makes it pale in comparison to Guitar Hero, other than the nit-picking above. Guitar Hero uses songs that are guitar songs. Rock Band uses songs that are band songs. Playing these parts alone can be some fun, but is a much better single player experience with Guitar Hero, because Rock Band is about working together, and the songs are designed to work best when multiple parts are involved. No one part is the main track like in Guitar Hero, each is balanced together. Individually, the parts seem weak because they are MADE to work best when combined, which is where this games rocks, pun intended.
Playing in a band is a completely separate experience in Rock Band. Hmmm, maybe that is why they named it that... When playing as a band, everything falls into place. The easier guitar part is purposeful, because now you can pay attention to the other members of your band, bring them back if they fail out of the song, and during the breaks in the guitar parts, look over at your band mates and watch them play, just like you do in a real band. The drummer is the key member here, as someone with a less than steady beat will make it harder for the others in the band to play along because even with the TV loud, the drums themselves make a good amount of noise. The bass is still lacking, with some songs having too long of a break, or just lots of long notes instead of guitar style strumming. And there is nothing special about the singing parts, it is exactly what it sounds like, no pun intended this time. Singing on Expert is harder than I would expect, with me yet to 100% a song with singing, even on Creep or Say it Ain't So, 2 songs I know as well as my ABCs.
When all of these parts are combined, a unique experience is created. There is no other game that can create the feeling brought out by Rock Band. Unlike Guitar Hero 2 and 3's co-op modes, which is fun yet unsatisfying (the bass being the culprit), the full Rock Band experience is wild and fun, with a true sense of harmony and working-togetherness being generated. Sub par on the single player side, but incomparable to anything else available without actually learning to play an instrument. If you can find the game, afford it (nearly $200 after tax) and definitely have people in your life that will want to play with you, Rock Band is a one of a kind game.
Now my only problem will be choosing between the DLC for Rock Band and Guitar Hero if the same songs come for both....