Saturday, November 20 2010 03:51

A Plastic Drummer's Journey from ROCK BAND to ROCK BAND 3 (Review)

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While my "advance" copy of ROCK BAND 3 arrived just a few days prior to the game's official launch last month, there was no way to accurately review the game in such a short period of time. My fondness for the ROCK BAND franchise goes back to the release of the first game - and in fact, is the reason I got into gaming on the XBOX 360 in the first place. As a guitarist for (now) 18+ years, I was once one of the people that didn't take an immediate liking to rhythm games. That was until ROCK BAND hit and brought drums into the mix.

Attending a party where the original RB was being played (about a week after release), I jumped in with "the band" and immediately found myself hooked on the plastic drums. Conversing with other players (others of which were also musicians), something interesting seemed to surface: Real-life guitarists took to the drums, while real-life drummers took to the guitar. Three years later, I'm still not entirely sure why.

As music gaming has evolved, the growing question that always seems to get asked is "can a music game teach someone to play an actual instrument?" When it comes to drums, the answer is YES.

After the aforementioned party, my wife bought me my first XBOX 360 (I've never seen a piece of electronic equipment have to be sent back for repair so many times) and the ROCK BAND full band kit. Eventually mastering the game on the plastic drums, it became apparent that the fundamental elements of coordination were there. Getting the hang of working with the kick pedal and the four plastic pads, I took a chance jumping on a real kit as a goof the following year at my sister's house. With the hi-hat, snare, and kick, I was able to carry a very basic beat.

When ROCK BAND 2 hit the scene along with an included "drum trainer," it became possible to expand upon those bare minimums with some fills and "freestyle" drumming. An add-on kit offered cymbals, but those were merely triggers for the existing color pads... until now.

With ROCK BAND 3, those looking to learn drums or expand upon skills already gained can do so with the advent of "Pro-Drums." While my software was provided for review by Harmonix, I made a trip to the local Gamestop and purchased the new ROCK BAND 3 drum kit.


A huge step-up from prior versions, the base drums are crafted of an improved material, and are touch-sensitive (a feature introduced with RB2). Also improved are the cymbals, now included along with the wireless kit, and permanently fixed at a 10-degree angle for more accurate striking. The kick pedal is the reinforced version with a metal plate, and for added "kick" (literally), you can plug in a second pedal for the holy grail - double bass! In this case, I used my old RB1 pedal for this purpose.


Charting the drums in Pro-Mode by distinguishing between kick, snare, toms, and cymbals with different "gems," ROCK BAND 3 takes things to a new level of challenge and authenticity.

It took a little while to adjust to the new layout of the charts, as it's easy to associate things with color instead of shape based on habit alone. After a few hours of gameplay, it got easier, but it's still difficult to master. The drum trainer itself is also improved with a ridiculous amount of tutorials that I still have not made it all the way through.

From the moment RB3 boots up, you know that you're in for something different. As the ROCK BAND platform has evolved, so has the opening cinematic from CGI to live-action. The essence of being in a band is here, from the small clubs to the major arenas. The reward system is expansive to the point that it would be nearly impossible to master all elements in an effort to unlock all of the possible achievements.

Overall, any game that can help broaden the player's musical horizons is a good thing, and when it comes to music gaming ROCK BAND 3 is second to none. It's the perfect music game for casual players, seasoned pros, and anyone that loves to rock.  With the ROCK BAND franchise being my first love in the world of music gaming, it would be easy to be soft on reviewing it, but I've searched for faults and simply can't find any. In fact, my only gripe - the only fault I've found has nothing to do with the game itself, but with the half-assed relaunch of RockBand.com during the week of release. Certain features of the game enable social linking, and since the website wasn't functioning, those features weren't either.

But bringing it all back to the beginning...

The next time someone asks if a music game can teach you to play an instrument, I offer you the following:

Thanks to ROCK BAND, I now own and play a real drum kit - also purchased last month.


James Zahn

James Zahn is best-known as The Rock Father™, a media personality, commentator, adventurer and raconteur. He is the Owner, Publisher, and Editor-in-Chief of THE ROCK FATHER™ Magazine. In January, 2019, after nearly a decade of publishing The Rock Father™ Magazine, he joined Adventure Media and Events as Senior Editor of The Toy Book—the leading trade publication for the toy industry since 1984, as well as The Pop Insider — a destination for all things pop culture, and The Toy Insider — the leading consumer guide for toys and games. He is also editor of The Toy Report, a weekly newsletter published by The Toy Book each Thursday. Zahn has over 27 years of experience in the entertainment, retail and publishing industries.

He regularly serves as a Brand Ambassador and spokesperson for several Globally-recognized pop culture and lifestyle brands in addition to consulting for a number of toy manufacturers. 

Creatively, James has directed/edited music videos, lyric videos, and album trailers for bands such as FEAR FACTORY, has appeared as an actor in feature films and commercials, written comic books, and performed in bands. He currently serves as an artist manager and video director for PRODUCT OF HATE, whose debut album was released by Napalm Records in 2016, distributed by ADA/Warner Music in the U.S. with Universal Music handling global. A new album has been completed and is set for release this year.

Zahn and/or his work have been featured in/on CNN, NBC, ABC, WGN, CBS, GCTN, G4, The Chicago Tribune, Forbes, MarketWatch, Reuters, BusinessWire, Fangoria, Starlog and more. He's appeared as a music expert on CNN's AC360 alongside Anderson Cooper, and has been interviewed by Larry King. In the past he served as a writer for the Netflix Stream Team,  Fandango Family and PBS KIDS, penned articles for Sprout and PopSugar, and was a contributor to Chicago Parent.

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