Are the updated Rock Band 2 instruments worth your money?

Harmonix’s decision to not launch the Xbox 360 version of Rock Band 2 with instruments was a curious one, but understandable. The thinking is that with the original instruments completely compatible with the full game — and so many of them already in gamers’ homes — offering it up as a bundle on day one wasn’t necessarily a priority.

Instead, those who already have the instruments can pick up the standalone version of Rock Band 2. And those who are getting in to the game for the first time can now pick and choose their hardware from the new wireless guitar and wireless drum set, both of which are available for standalone purchase. 

But what about everyone who already has a drum set and a plastic guitar or two (or three or seven) in their home? Are the new Rock Band 2 instruments worth it? After a few weeks of fairly heavy use, I’ve compiled some information that might help you out with your decision.

[Note: If you’re looking for our review of the Rock Band 2 game, that can be found here.]

Rock Band 2 Wireless Guitar

The good: 

  • It’s wireless, which isn’t new to those who already purchased the original wireless guitars, but good news for anyone who purchased the game as a bundle last year.
  • The battery cover doesn’t require a god damned screw driver to open like the previously available first-party wireless controllers. Like most consumer electronics, there’s a tab you press that will release the cover. Thank. God.
  • It feels sturdier and more substantial, despite the fact that it’s the same size and shape.
  • The sunburst style on the body looks way fancier than the original black. The neck and head have a wood grain look, as well — also fancy. The neck actually also feels “grainy,” which is nice on your palms … which sounds totally weird, I know.
  • The strum bar is still super quiet, and doesn’t feel as “mushy.” When strumming up and down you feel like you’re hitting the “up” and the “down.”
  • Has a camera and mic that will interface with Rock Band 2 to auto-calibrate lag, which can be useful if you travel with your set up a lot. Or want to blame lag on your failure to complete “You Oughta Know” on drums.

The “meh”:

  • The fret buttons are still kind of loud when you press them down, which is in stark contrast to the extremely quiet strum bar. “Clickity clack, clack clack, clickity.” That right there is what Judas Priest’s “Painkiller” sounds like on Expert.
  • The strum bar feels “less mushy” sure, but the keyword here is “less.” For those of you who like the click of the Guitar Hero guitar peripheral, you’re not going to find that here.
  • The auto-calibration is nice and works well most of the time … except for when it was daytime and I tried to use it. It seems that it doesn’t work well in bright rooms, which could be a problem since most people live in homes with windows, not caves. Also, we can’t control the sun or the weather. 
  • The strum bar on one of the two guitars I have is already jacked after two weeks; sometimes it gets “stuck” going down. The good news is that the fantastic “We’ll replace your broken crap” warranty is still in place. The bad news is that we have to act on that so quickly after opening the box.
  • It’s not super different than the first peripheral.

Verdict: The guitar is improved for sure, but not nearly enough to necessarily justify a purchase. If you still have the original wired guitar and you like it, this is a good alternative if you’re tired of dealing with cords. If you’re fine with what you have, there’s no need to spend $69.99 on a new peripheral. The auto-calibration is a nice feature, but not completely necessary considering you may only use it once to calibrate your set. And if you hated the original, you may appreciate the slightly improved strum bar, but it likely won’t change your mind.

Rock Band 2 Wireless Drums

The good:

  • It may seem like a small thing, but removing the wire from the drums is actually huge. The freedom to move the set around is great.
  • Moving the set is made even easier by the update construction, as all of the parts snap together way tighter and more snug than the original. You can lift the set straight up off of the ground, and the pedal won’t fall off and the poles won’t fall out.
  • Speaking of the pedal, it’s steel reinforced, so it’s definitely sturdier. You shouldn’t be breaking it any time soon unless you’re Frankestein’s Monster. In that case, stay away from my house, and yes, I lit these torches to scare you away.
  • It’s velocity sensitive, meaning the harder you hit, the louder the sound. This is nice for drum fills and the drum trainer in particular.
  • The new drum pads are quieter and have more bounce to them.
  • The kit picks up fast rolls and fills better, for sure; there’s definitely less (or no) “cross talk” between pads.
  • There are four expansion ports on the kit — three for cymbals and one for … well, Harmonix and MTV Games aren’t talking about what the fourth one is for. What it’s certainly not for is a second kick pedal; they’ll be announcing how they’ll be dealing with that “at a later date.”

The “meh”: 

  • Yeah, the pads are quieter, but that’s relative; the engine of a bus is quieter than the engine of a jet. They’re still pretty loud when you’re rocking out, and you’ll still have to turn up the in-game sound to hear the game sometime. There are plenty of after-market sound-dampening pads you can get; the set I have on the new kit doesn’t seem to have much of an impact on the velocity sensitivity, either. I suppose cost is the reason they didn’t include similar pads, but it’s disappointing nonetheless.
  • The whole velocity sensitive thing is nice, but outside of fills, you can’t really hear it much while playing through a song.
  • The fact that you have to buy cymbals after the fact stings a bit, and outside of fills and a more “authentic” feel, there’s no indication that they will change how the game is really played. 

The verdict: The kit looks pretty much the same on the outside, but is definitely improved overall. The fact that it’s wireless and more sturdy is a good reason to upgrade. Unlike guitars, stores like GameStop won’t buy back your used drums, so you’ll have to take a loss or sell your old kit on Ebay or Craiglists. There’s always the option of keeping both sets and staging some eviction-inducing head-to-head drum battles.

Nick Chester