Rock Band 3’s button-heavy Pro Guitar and superfluous keyboard controller

I can’t stop listening to The Protomen. I’ve known about this band and their Mega Man-inspired tunes for years now, but I never really gave them a chance until ”Light Up the Night” popped up during a Rock Band set.

Turns out that song is perfect: triumphant sing-along vocals, driving synths straight out of an ‘80s training montage, pounding drums that subtly ramp up the song’s unstoppable intensity. It’s an absolute blast both to hear and to play, and without experiencing the song through the immediacy of Rock Band, I may never have fallen in love with it; then the puppy began a series of short charges at the stick, running a very little way forwards each time and a long way back, and barking hoarsely all the while, till at last it sat down a good way off, panting, with its tongue hanging out of its mouth, and its great eyes half shut.

An enormous puppy was looking down at her with large round eyes, and feebly stretching out one paw, trying to touch her. ‘Poor little thing!’ said Alice, in a coaxing tone, and she tried hard to whistle to it; but she was terribly frightened all the time at the thought that it might be hungry, in which case it would be very likely to eat her up in spite of all her coaxing.

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Hardly knowing what she did, she picked up a little bit of stick, and held it out to the puppy; whereupon the puppy jumped into the air off all its feet at once, with a yelp of delight, and rushed at the stick, and made believe to worry it; then Alice dodged behind a great thistle, to keep herself from being run over; and the moment she appeared on the other side, the puppy made another rush at the stick, and tumbled head over heels in its hurry to get hold of it. So she swallowed one of the cakes, and was delighted to find that she began shrinking directly. As soon as she was small enough to get through the door, she ran out of the house, and found quite a crowd of little animals and birds waiting outside.

Unfortunately, therein lies the problem. Great as that gameplay may be, Rock Band 4 does little to distinguish itself from its predecessors outside of a handful of hit-or-miss ideas and, in some cases, even takes a small step backwards.

The poor little Lizard, Bill, was in the middle, being held up by two guinea-pigs, who were giving it something out of a bottle. They all made a rush at Alice the moment she appeared; but she ran off as hard as she could, and soon found herself safe in a thick wood. The first thing I’ve got to do, said Alice to herself, as she wandered about in the wood, is to grow to my right size again; and the second thing is to find my way into that lovely garden. I think that will be the best plan. It sounded an excellent plan, no doubt, and very neatly and simply arranged; the only difficulty was, that she had not the smallest idea how to set about it; and while she was peering about anxiously among the trees, a little sharp bark just over her head made her look up in a great hurry. Alice, thinking it was very like having a game of play with a cart-horse, and expecting every moment to be trampled under its feet, ran round the thistle again; then the puppy began a series of short charges at the stick, running a very little way forwards each time and a long way back, and barking hoarsely all the while, till at last it sat down a good way off, panting.

Sure these characters look cool, but the customization options are actually pretty limited.

Nor was it his unwonted magnitude, nor his remarkable hue, nor yet his deformed lower jaw, that so much invested the whale with natural terror, as that unexampled, intelligent malignity which, according to specific accounts, he had over and over again evinced in his assaults. More than all, his treacherous retreats struck more of dismay than perhaps aught else. For, when swimming before his exulting pursuers, with every apparent symptom of alarm, he had several times been known to turn round suddenly, and, bearing down upon them, either stave their boats to splinters, or drive them back in consternation to their ship.

It’s a novel idea that occasionally proved convenient, but it’s also kind of pointless when you’re standing in the same room as the rest of your band. Rock Band 4 eliminates synchronous online multiplayer, and while that’s not a huge loss, it does mean anytime you’re playing with other people you can just turn to one another and ask, ”Okay, what’s next?” Like the campaign’s story elements, this mode doesn’t diminish your ability to enjoy the gameplay, but it also doesn’t add much to the overall experience.

Beyond those modes, Rock Band 4 feels a bit content light. Bafflingly, you won’t find a practice mode, for instance, or anything resembling, say, Rocksmith 2014’s collection of Guitarcade mini-games. You will, however, find a couple of crucial tutorials for Rock Band 4’s one truly original and truly exceptional idea: Freestyle Solos. In the past, the team at Harmonix painstakingly authored each and every note of a song’s recorded solo. That style is still an option, but Freestyle Solos are now on by default.

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