Rock Band Review

Rock Band for iPhone and iPod Touch Title ScreenThe iPhone/iPod Touch version of Rock Band suffers from inadequate controls, poor performance and sub par audio quality, but it is also the most full-featured rhythm game available on the platform. The base from package represents a decent value, offering 20 songs for $9.99, however these are all carried over from previous editions and Rock Band fans are likely to have played them already.

This version offers many of the features found in the console editions of Rock Band such as integrated leaderboards, an in-game music store and a truncated version of World Tour mode. It also offers a form a of online play and local co-op play via Bluetooth should you have a friend with an iPhone/iPod Touch and a copy of the game. Read More…

The first thing I noticed when I started up Rock Band and went into World Tour mode is that this version does not have any customization options at all. You cannot create or edit your own musician, or even choose a band name. You simply select one of four preset musicians that is associated with guitar, bass, drums or vocals and begin playing.

Drumming is Probably the Most Fun in this VersionNot all of the game’s 20 songs are unlocked in Quick Play Mode by default, so there is incentive to play through World Tour mode at least once. In fact, I had to play a few songs more than once in order to get enough fans to unlock the final song. In this version the World Tour mode takes you through five cities that have four songs available to play in each and it takes about two or three hours to complete.

The entire song list can be viewed here and at launch it includes ten songs available through the in-game store as $0.99 two-packs. The pricing of songs in this version of Rock Band is quite good compared to other versions of the game in which songs generally sell for $1.99 and the songs are even half the price of a standard song purchased through iTunes.

As the old adage says though, you get what you pay for.  The fidelidty of the songs in Rock Band could best be described as substandard. The audio quality and mixing in the console versions has been excellent to this point, so I was very disappointed when I heard how poor the songs in the iPhone/iPod Touch version sounded. Obviously, some sacrifices needed to be made to create manageable download sizes, but the music itself really does suffer.

The songs were likely encoded using the AAC codec established by Apple, but sound as bad as some of the very first MP3 files I downloaded almost ten years ago. At first I thought the songs were encoded in mono, but upon repeated listening it seems as though they were done in joint stereo. If I had to guess at a bitrate and sample frequency, I’d guess 80 kbps and 32000 Hz at most.

The songs all suffer from watery-sounding compression artifacts, scratchiness and worst of all, muffled high and low end frequencies. The end result is similar to listening to music through a phone line when playing the game with headphones on. Ironically, the game sounded better when playing through the internal speaker of my iPod Touch.

Besides the lacklustre audio quality, Rock Band also suffers from control issues in its translation to a platform that has no real buttons to play with. The gameplay that Harmonix pioneered years ago in Frequency remains intact and anyone that has ever played a Rock Band or Guitar Hero game will be greeted with the familiar note chart, though this time there are only four lanes instead of five.

While the core game is as fun as ever, the lack of any tactile feedback greatly affected my ability to play, especially at a high level. Rock Band is meant to be played with your thumbs and with your device held vertically. When playing one of the three instruments, you will find four buttons at the bottom of the screen and you simply have to tap them as the notes pass the target line.

The game effectively uses the multitouch capabilities of your iPhone/iPod Touch to have you play two-note chords and Overdrive is activated by simply shaking your device. In practice, playing is much more difficult than it needs to be because it’s very tough to tell where one button ends and the next begins and there were many times I felt I was missing notes for no reason or break my combo by accidentally sliding a thumb onto the wrong button.

Vocals were Frustrating to PlayThough it did not create too much of an issue on the Easy difficulty, missed notes became all-too frequent when I moved up to the Medium and Hard levels and became very frustrating. Designing the game to run with your device held horizontally would have made a huge difference and given more space to put the virtual buttons, though the view of the note chart would likely be affected.

Even more frustrating was trying to play vocals. Here, your four buttons are placed vertically down the left hand side of your device while the “vocals” scroll from the right side. This essentially forces you to play with your left thumb, as playing with your right will obscure your view of the vocal stream. As someone that plays the console versions of Rock Band left-handed and  who suffers from limited dexterity in my left hand, I found it almost infuriating that no lefty flip option was included for any of the instruments, especially the vocals.

Rock Band doesn’t perform exceedingly well on the iPhone/iPod Touch platform and this version certainly shows its mobile phone roots. Band performances are limited to small video loops that repeat quite often at the top of your screen, though this sacrifice does not really detract from the experience. What does however, is a poor frame rate that stutters and slows down frequently. Even when it’s running well, I would be shocked if Rock Band was hitting 25 frames per second, which is quite jarring when you are used to the silky-smooth console versions. It’s not unplayable, but it is very noticeable.

Even with all these complains, I still feel that Rock Band is probably the best rhythm game in the iPhone/iPod Touch platform. At the very least, it is definitely the most full-featured when compared to titles like Tap Tap Revenge or Fame.

You are able to upload your scores to an integrated leaderboard that for some reason runs through Facebook. You can also “play” with people online by completing a song and then uploading your progress for people to add to using another instrument. Notifications and messages will arrive via your device’s push feature. If you happen to have a friend with an iPhone/iPod Touch and their own copy of Rock Band, you can play local multiplayer sessions with up to four people at once in a more traditional, real-time manner.

Hopefully EA Mobile, Harmonix and MTV Games support the iPhone/iPod Touch version of Rock Band as well as they do the other versions when it comes to getting songs added to the game's library. The quality may be suspect, but the pricing is most certainly right. I’d also like to see an update that allows users to play along with their own libraries as they could with Phase, an iPod Click Wheel game developed by Harmonix.


+ Online Leaderboards
+ Console-Style Experience


- Audio Quality is Bad
- Touch Controls are not Ideal
- No Lefty Flip Option

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Game Forward Score: 3/5

Brian J. Papineau > Game Forward


Rock Band (iPhone/iPod Touch) Quick Facts:

Genre: Rhythm / Music
Developer: EA Mobile Montreal
Publisher: EA Mobile / MTV Games
Release Date: Oct 15, 2009 (v1.00)
Price: $9.99 US/CAN
iTunes Rating: 4+