Xbox 360
Games for Lunch: Rock Band 3

Posted by Kyle Orland (October 27, 2010)

Games for Lunch chronicles the first hour of a different game every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Each hour ends with the answer to the only question that matters at that point: Do I want to keep playing? For more information, check out the Frequently Asked Questions.

Developer: Harmonix
Publisher: EA
Release Date: Oct. 26, 2010
Systems: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, Wii
ESRB Rating: T
Official Web site

In a nutshell: The piano, man.

0:00 Been looking forward to trying this one since I received the game from Harmonix a week ago, but I held out because I didn’t have a keyboard controller. Now that they’re available in stores, I’m looking forward to expanding on the ten minutes or so I spent with the keyboard at Gamescom this summer.

0:01 The game just came out yesterday and already there’s a title update available? Whatever, it downloads and installs incredibly quickly.

0:03 Looking out a hotel window. Close ups of an amp, a guitar case, a lone uncovered light bulb. The Doors’ “Break on Through” plays with its heavy keyboard part. Quick jump cuts of the band playing close-up and guys running through alleys and across the tops of buildings to get to the impromptu rooftop concert. Well shot, but a bit confusing.

0:04 I skip the calibration and the band customization because I want to get to rocking! Play Now, Quick Play, Choose Songs and we’re ready to rock! The new menu seems quite a bit more streamlined.

0:05 “25 or 6 to 4” is right there at the top of the list, and how can I resist a song with such a tight beat and such incomprehensible lyrics. I’ll start on Medium difficulty and play the five-key normal mode rather than the 25-key pro mode, for now.

0:08 I’m a bit surprised this mode doesn’t use any of the raised black keys -- just five white keys near the middle of the keyboard. Anyway, the keyboard part matches with the trumpet for most of the song, but for the rest it doesn’t seem to match with anything in the actual music. I find myself having real trouble finding the appropriate keys with my fingers, occasionally tapping two keys when I meant to only tap one. I’m also having trouble hitting two-key chords when they involve my ring or pinkie fingers, which don’t respond quite as quickly. I lose my focus and fail about half way through. That song had an awful keyboard part, anyway. Moving on...

0:10 A bunch of songs on the menu are highlighted with a green “recommended” bar, but they all have no keyboard part. Every single one. Um, the keyboard is the only controller I have plugged in. Why would you recommend keyboard-free songs?

0:11 OK, I know that John Lennon’s “Imagine” has a good keyboard part. I turn the difficulty up to Hard because the song is only ranked 2/5.

0:14 I feel like I’m learning Expert-level guitar all over again, having to train myself how to shift my hand and remap my brain to make four fingers work five different keys (I refuse to use two hands). My ring and pinkie fingers continue to be the weak links, to the point that I shift my other two fingers over for support at points. Occasionally I lose my positioning on the keys altogether and have to look down to reassess. This is TOUGH!

0:15 The new results screen shows me that I’m #427 on the song’s leaderboard. I like that I can review the song’s quality with a few taps of the X button. Also, I beat my first in-game goal, which gets me more fans. That’s surprising, since I’m not even in career mode!

0:18 Spent the last few minutes scanning the entire song list. There are lots of good ones, but I decide to stretch myself with Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab.” It’s has a 4/5 keyboard part, but I bump it up to Hard difficulty anyway.

0:19 Well that was fast. I fail only 21% in to the song, mainly because I simply can’t seem to get my ring and pinkie fingers to coordinate with my other fingers for split-hand chords. I am determined to make this work, though. Let’s go again!

0:22 Oh, apparently there’s now a “Continue Playing” option that lets me continue the song from the point where I failed. Nice feature, even if the remainder of the song doesn’t keep track of my score or overdrive or missed notes. Still, I feel like I was doing better after the failure. I’m slowly learning to move my entire hand up and down to hit chords, rather than just flexing my fingers. It feels really good when I hit a tricky transition without really thinking about it. Can’t wait until that’s a common occurrence.

0:23 I know David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” well enough to tackle it on Hard, I think. We’ll see if I’m right.

0:29 OK, I finally gave in and decided use two hands this time around -- my left hand handling the two leftmost keys and my right hand on the next three. This makes hitting and holding those split power chords a lot easier, even though I fell lame for spreading them across two hands. I’m still not quite used to which finger is supposed to do what, so I mess up a bit, but my 4 star performance shows how well the new strategy worked. It was good enough to score in the top 83% of the leaderboard. I know the game is new and all, but man, everyone else must really suck.

0:31 OK, enough of this wimpy five key stuff. I jump in to the training mode to learn how to play the pro keys. The first lesson is “simple notes.” Sound simple!

0:32 So the pro keys note path shows roughly half the keyboard at once, signifying different sections of keys with color-coded areas that correspond to strips at the top of the keyboard controller. It still takes me a second to interpret the note on the screen and apply them to a key on the controller.

0:33 The first lesson recommends I hit the middle C with the thumb of my right hand. Oh my god... I forgot I could use my thumb! THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING!

0:35 Stepping from white keys and across black keys with my index finger, now. It’s still a little awkward using the side of my thumb to hit notes. How do real pianists do it? I need a fingering lesson, here!

0:36 It’s surprisingly tough stepping down from the higher black keys to the lower white keys as I make my way through some simple note patterns with my right hand. Luckily the pro mode seems surprisingly forgiving with timing.

0:44 Just finished a whole mess of boring scales practice, but it is helping me get used to stepping from finger to finger as the notes progress. I still have to look down at the keyboard a lot, especially when I’m switching between black and white keys, but even professional pianists look down sometimes, right? RIGHT?!

0:45 All right, training is getting a bit boring, lets dive right in. J. Geils Band’s “Angel is the Centerfold” is ranked 4/5 on Pro Keys, but if I stick to Easy difficulty I should be OK, right? RIGHT?!

0:50 I’m still running into trouble matching up the on-screen notes with actual keys on the keyboard... the different sizes for the colored strips of keys don’t help in this regard. Still, there are so few notes in this easy mode that I have time to look down, match up a key, and look back up in time to hit it. My 4.75 star performance puts me in the top 89% of the leaderboard. This percentile ranking thing is gonna be addictive, I can tell...

0:51 Attention: I have unlocked new pants. That is all.

0:52 I bump it up to Medium Pro Keys for Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” I am so brave.

0:57 I’m almost sure I’m using improper keyboarding form here, playing two-note chords with two hands instead of one. I don’t care, though, because it works. My problems come when I have to jump across a large section of keyboard quickly The interface makes it hard to tell exactly how many keys I’m supposed to shift over by, resulting in some semi-random stabbing that’s usually off by one key. This is going to take a lot of practice...

0:58 Just for fun, and since my hour is almost up, I decide to try INXS’ “Need You Tonight” on Expert Pro Keys! Don’t worry too much, the song is ranked 0/5 for the keyboard part.

1:02 Wow... the keyboard part was literally one three-key chord played over and over in a semi-consistent rhythm. I missed the first one out of sheer unpreparedness, but after that I just keep my fingers glued to the keys and go up and down. The simplicity means I get a good chance to look at the animated band playing in the background, which seems much more lively and better synced with the song than in Rock Band 2.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? Just when all the existing Rock Band instruments were starting to get overly familiar, the keyboards present a welcome new learning curve. Plus there are at least two dozen more songs on the disc I can’t wait to try on various other instruments.

This review was based on a retail version provided by the publisher, with an extra controller purchased by the reviewer.

Check out hundreds of archived Games for Lunch reviews on the official Games for Lunch blog.

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