Konami NYC Media Day: Hands-on with the Xbox 360 version of Rock Revolution

I don’t think anyone is going to argue the fact that developer Bemani started this whole “play rhythm games with plastic instrument” thing. There have been some 20 versions of GuitarFreaks released in Japan, and nearly as many DrumMania titles.

But for whatever reason, Konami never thought to bring those titles to America, which left the perfect opportunity for Harmonix to swoop in with Guitar Hero. After enormous success and the introduction of the multi-instrument Rock Band, Konami got the memo: people like fake instrument games. 

This fall, Konami are finally entering this space in North America with Rock Revolution, a game that adheres closely to the formulas of the original Bemani guitar and drum titles released as far back as 1999. 

Konami had a playable build of the Xbox 360 version of Rock Revolution, along with their drum peripheral, at their New York City media event this week. Hit the jump for impressions. 

So, to get it out of the way, Konami knows that they’re up against some giants in North America. With that in mind, they’re not even attempting to introduce a new guitar peripheral to the market. With two similar games already available and dozens of guitar peripherals to choose from, it simply wouldn’t make sense, especially considering that Rock Revolution utilizes the same number of notes and similar gameplay mechanics.

Like just about all Bemani titles, notes scroll down from the top of the screen. I’m personally more familiar with 3D note highways that scroll towards the screen, but picking up the guitar and rocking out wasn’t too difficult. Because I was familiar with the basic mechanic (hold down fret buttons, strum at the right time), I had no problem playing on higher difficulty levels.

But there were a few problems. For one, the 2D note highway just looks ugly and archaic compared to modern rhythm games. And while I understand the desire to stick with the classic look and feel, I’d argue that an upgrade might be necessary. But beyond that, the bigger issue is that the rate and speed of which the notes falling simply wasn’t consistent.

While in Guitar Hero and Rock Band notes will scroll at a constant speed — one that makes sense in time with the music — that’s not the case with Rock Revolution. I would see notes falling to meet their target at one speed that would then, I swear to God, slow down to meet the target. I was able to keep up and adjust, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit confused and thrown off by this little oddity. I certainly hope this curious little issue is fixed before the game’s October release.

Rock Revolution‘s drum peripheral is a monster, with more pads than any other peripheral on the market. We’re talking six pads — of varying shapes and sizes — and a bass pedal. To say sitting down in front of the kit is intimidating would be an understatement. The pads actually feel great when you hit them with the sticks, and have a nice bounce that I’d say is even better than Guitar Hero World Tour’s kit. There’s even a place hide and store your drum sticks right in the set up. 

The problem with there being so many pads, though, is twofold. Beyond it being completely frightening, the pads are not only different sizes, but they’re all extremely tiny. As if I weren’t having enough difficulty following the seven on-screen notes, I was also having problem meeting my targets and bashing the plastic that surrounded them. I’d imagine this is something you’d get use to once you started to understand the set up, but I certainly wasn’t able to in the five or six songs I had a chance to play.

I also felt that playing the drums felt closer to something like Pop N’ Music — a game where you hit large buttons on a non-instrument peripheral that’s mapped to various sounds and melodies in a song — than playing actual drums. On the easiest mode, there were few notes, and they seemed completely random: a bass hit here, a snare there, a high hat or tom thrown in for good measure. And while the more difficult levels may have been mapped more closely to the actual drum parts, it was incredibly challenging with all of the on-screen notes. Simply put, the easier modes weren’t much fun, and the harder difficulties that seemed like more fun were just too overbearing for a beginner.

Rock Revolution will ship with some 40 songs, with songs like “Diary of Jane” (as made famous by Breaking Benjamin) and “Am I Evil” (as made famous by Metallica). Yes, all of the songs in the game are covers, and from what I was able to hear, they didn’t sound that bad. Because they’re not relying on master tracks, it’s possible we’ll see some interesting content in the future — Konami are promising downloadable songs and track packs post release. Castlevania tracks, anyone? (Note: This is only a wish, not a confirmation from Konami, by the way.)

Rock Revolution can be played with up to three players (bass, guitar, and drums), and offers both cooperative and competitive modes. While it’s hard not to compare it to its competition, it’s entirely possible that hardcore Bemani fans will love the more classic feel and look.

Of course, a cover of Megadeth’s “Holy Wars … the Punishment Due” is completely different than “Riff Riff Paradise” by Mutsuhiko Izumi, and part of me wonders whether or not Konami would have been better off simply localizing older GuitarFreaks and DrumMania titles for the purists.

Nick Chester