Let's face it: the Guitar Hero controller is not the ideal item for the game. It'd be nice to hold a full-sized guitar in your hands. We've seen people build custom controllers and put them on eBay, but those were one-off deals, and usually rather expensive.
So, in this pre-E3 rush, I got a call to head up to Newark to check out something special: Rock Axe, a mass-market wireless guitar controller for Guitar Hero and Rock Band that has a full-wood body. Not a limited-edition item -- something that's going to be on most major shelves across the country.
I think you know what's going to be after the jump.
Now, I have to admit, I was pretty skeptical when I went up. Not for any specific reason other than my general distrust of 3rd party controllers. Nonetheless, Robert and Richard of Ashley International pulled out the controller, and at first sight, I was pleased with what I saw. It looks and feels like it's a real guitar, mainly because it is.
The guys at Ashley Intl. make guitars. You usually see them in Best Buy, Wal-Mart, and other major retailers, selling electric and acoustic guitars. About six months ago, they started this project and this is the fruits of their labor. What they brought was a prototype model of the guitar, and I'd be the first games journalist to try it out. Of course, I have to be the worst Guitar Hero player on staff.
Putting the guitar on, the weight was a welcome addition. With a solid wood body, after a few minutes of playing the game, the guitar felt even more natural than the original Guitar Hero controller. It feels silly to say this, but the weight of the guitar makes playing all the more enjoyable and serious -- it added another element of realism that had been previously missing.
The fret board was only a preliminary design, but nailed all the important details. During play, the buttons still let out an audible click whenever pressed, but it wasn't as loud as the original controller -- sitting five feet away or so, I couldn't hear the buttons. So, if I'm in the next room, I won't hear constant button-clicking, followed by a string of curses as Necros tries to get a five-star on Freebird for every difficulty -- I'll just hear the string of curses.
The actual design of the buttons is one of the things that'll be changed. For this model, they're just laid out like that for testing purposes. Once it goes back to redesign, they'll widen out the buttons so they'll nearly be touching, just like the standard controller.
Down at the body of the guitar, there was some question of how to place everything. On one hand, you want to make the guitar as easy and natural to use, but at the same time, you want to make the guitar look as much like a Stratocaster as possible. So, you can see the three push buttons (On/Off, Start, and Select) that are made to look like the volume and tone knobs, along with inserting the bridge. The strum bar is of a sturdier build than the standard plastic, and works like a charm. "If you turn it sideways, it might as well be a pickup," said Rob. Again, everything down here works just like a normal Guitar Hero controller -- the only complaint I had on this pre-production prototype was that the whammy bar needed to be tightened up some, which is going into their next round of improvements.
It might be a little heady for me to say this, but I can't imagine playing Guitar Hero or Rock Band with something more realistic than what we have here with the Rock Axe. I went back to playing Guitar Hero with my regular controller, and it felt rather awkward. If you play Guitar Hero or Rock Band at all, you need to pick this up. It'll make the experience all the more fun, and you'll be the cool kid on the block once again.
Now that I've wrapped up my impressions, here are a few questions regarding Rock Axe, answered by Robert and Richard:
When is this coming out, and how much will it cost?
We're expecting to see the guitar hit shelves in October for the PS2/PS3, with versions for the Xbox 360 and Wii to follow. So you'll see it on the shelves before Christmas time. The price will be somewhere in the $100 to $150 range. You'll see some nice deals in stores, I can tell you that.
Isn't that a little soon?
There's no one to go consult with. We own the factories, we make the designs, and so when we want to get something done, we just head back over and tell someone to change it. We cut out a lot of the production and planning time thanks to that.
What are your future plans for the Rock Axe?
Besides the Stratocaster, we're also planning to put out a Les Paul version of our guitar. We're hoping to build the brand into a trustworthy name for music videogames. Our company makes guitars, violins, and all sorts of instruments. With help and feedback from the gaming community, we want to bring the same quality products to them.