2010 was a great year for peripheral-based rhythm games. It was also effectively the last year for peripheral-based rhythm games. Rock Band, the multiplayer co-op band game that Harmonix created after separating from Guitar Hero and leaving it to its publisher Activision, was always considered by genre connoisseurs (i.e. me) to be the better, more refined game. The game whose presentation and mechanics worked in harmony to actually make you feel like you were truly in a band with your friends, and that you were actually playing the song. Rock Band defined almost a decade of my life, and Rock Band 3 represented the series at its biggest, best, and most ambitious.
If you remember the era you’ll be familiar with the Rock Band concept–two guitar controllers, one drumset, and a microphone to belt out timeless rock and pop songs in time to a steady flow of colour-coded gems. While Rock Band 2 introduced dramatically improved controllers, a more robust campaign, and comprehensive online multiplayer modes, Rock Band 3 introduced an incredible amount of quality-of-life fixes, like being able to change instruments, difficulties, options, and band members anytime on the fly, as well as a robust character customisation creator that fed into the more intricate career and challenge modes.
But the biggest new additions? Three-part vocal harmonies. Keyboards. And real guitars. Rock Band 3 was the series’ big push into teaching players to transfer their skills over to playing real instruments with a new “Pro” difficulty modifier. Drums were already there, with the inclusion of discrete cymbal inputs in Rock Band 2, and the new two-octave keyboard controller allowed for some pretty accurate note charts that used 26 black-and-white piano keys in addition to the standard five-button ones. But Harmonix (in partnership with Mad Catz) also released a 102-button guitar controller with strings to pick and strum at, while also partnering with Fender to release an actual electric guitar with controller inputs integrated into it. It was bonkers, and it all worked really well even if all of that stuff did cost me an arm and a leg.
And of course, the most important thing is that all of these new features ended up being backwards compatible with Rock Band’s rolling library consisting of literally thousands of songs, a feat that no other rhythm game from this era managed to do. That library has continued to grow to a number that’s closing in on 3000 with the release of the more focussed Rock Band 4 in 2015, and DLC songs continue to release even as I write this in 2020.
For me, nothing will ever beat the hundreds and hundreds of hours I spent playing Rock Band 3 with eager friends at parties, with colleagues in the office until the late hours at night, and by myself, all day every day, climbing the instrument leaderboards. | Edmond Tran