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FWD Progress 10-19-2009: Rock Band iPhone Hands-On

Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter GamesI tend to not get much real work done on Mondays and today is unlikely to be an exception to that trend. I usually take the day to do stuff like site maintenance and in the case of today, I’m harvesting an old computer for its hard drives so I can find a font I’m looking for.

Woke up with an unusual pain in my heel today. I think it may be from the time I spent with the Island Biking activity in Wii Fit Plus yesterday. Sadly, it seems that the majority of the new activities will not be playable sitting down and that my second Sit on It! experiment probably won’t go as well as the first did. Read More…

I’m pretty much finished with Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games on Wii now. I really liked the game at first, especially the Balance Board skiing, but its appeal was stretched quite thin while playing through the main Festival Mode. The Olympic and Dream events are all decent enough, but like many Wii games, sketchy, inconsistent and inaccurate controls mar the experience. I’ll be starting my review of this game sometime this week.

Nathalie and I started playing the a boy and his blob remake from WayForward this weekend and we both like it quite a bit so far. The original is one of my favourite NES games and I am not disappointed in any way with how the remake was handled. The art is beautiful and the music is quite pleasant as well. The only knock I have against it is that there is little to no direction for the player, though it is easy enough to figure everything out.

Once I’m done with my website maintenance stuff and old computer part salvaging, I’ll be turning on my Xbox 360 and playing Brutal Legend some more, tackling a few levels of Axel & Pixel and hopefully polishing off South Park Let’s Go Tower Defense Play!

I meant to pick up .detuned and Mushroom Wars on PSN over the weekend but never got a chance, I’ll likely get around to that after lunch too.

[10:33 AM] I managed to salvage the font I was looking for from my old PC and I tweaked the Game Forward logo a bit in anticipation of the upcoming redesign.

Rock Band for iPhone and iPod Touch[10:47 AM] Feeling pretty nauseous right now, which is always unpleasant. I'm downloading Rock Band for iPhone/iPod Touch right now and will likely add my impressions to this post later on if I manage to play it enough. 20 songs for $10 is a pretty good deal as far as I'm concerned though, I can tell you that much already.

[12:17 PM] Well I played through the first two cities of the World Tour mode in Rock Band for iPhone/iPod Touch and I can't say that I'm very impressed at all with the product. On the plus side, you are getting 20 songs to play for $9.99 and current offers in the in-game music store are two songs for $0.99. These songs are all recycled from previous Rock Band games however and their sound quality is suspect to say the least. The compression used here is heavy and the songs have a muffled, scratchy sound. At first, I thought they were mono, but it seems more like they used joint stereo encoding here.

When starting or continuing a World Tour, you have the option of playing solo or online. I'm honestly not sure what playing online does, but it is certainly not what I was expecting. Once you do that, you are presented with five cities to choose from, each of which has four songs to complete and 20 stars to obtain. After selecting a song, you choose which musician to play as. The band members are pre-set and you are not given a chance to create or customize the rockers, or even choose a band name.

I got frustrated with the controls of Rock Band for iPhone/iPod Touch very quickly. The game is played with your device in the vertical position and when playing one of the three instrument a series of buttons appears at the bottom of the screen. The gameplay is straightforward and familiar and it makes great use of the multitouch capabilities of the iPhone/iPod Touch .The on-screen buttons however simply feel too small and I find myself missing notes, seemingly for no reason. The lack of any tactile feedback hurts and can make it difficult to nail multi-note chords.

Another thing that I frankly find very odd is that the game doesn't seem to be calibrated properly. I find myself having to tap the buttons a bit early to score properly, even though the hit timing window feels very loose. This could have to do with the fact that this version of Rock Band is seemingly running at about 15 frames per second and is really showing its mobile phone roots. I'm not sure, but in any case it doesn't feel quite right compared to the console versions or Rock Band: Unplugged on PSP.

What frustrates me the most so far is the lack of a lefty flip option. While it really doesn't make a lot of difference when playing the instruments, I found the vocals very hard to control. The vocal mode places all of the buttons vertically along the left side of the screen. It is expected that you'll play using your left thumb only, but in the case of someone like myself with limited dexterity in my left hand this is next to impossible. I found myself flipping my device on its side in order to play the vocal mode. Had Harmonix provided the option to flip the game to a horizontal mode it would be much easier to play, despite having less room for the note highway.

Even with these complaints, Rock Band is the most full-featured music game on the iPhone/iPod Touch platform and most definitely worth playing for rhythm game fans.

I can't help but feel like Harmonix missed an opportunity here though. Since Apple now allows apps to access your iPhone/iPod Touch music library, they could have incorporated an option to play along to your own music like they did with the iPod game Phase some time ago.