Developer: Electronic Arts
Price: $9.99
Version Reviewed: 1.0.0

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★★★
Game Controls Rating: ★★★★½
Gameplay Rating: ★★★★☆
iPhone Integration Rating: ★★★★½
Re-use / Replay Value Rating: ★★★☆☆

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

I have to look deep within my soul to really, truly grasp why I can fire up my PS3 and play Rock Band at all hours of the night and have fun every time. Part of the joy has to be in the fact that I am actually holding something, whether it be a guitar, a microphone, or some drum sticks. The volume is really loud, the bass is pumping, and it is up to you not to screw up so bad that the whole band fails. Nobody wants to be that guy. Toss in a few bottles of Shiner Black and you have yourself quite the get together. People of all ages, all genders, and sizes (I couldn’t think of a third) can play together, laughing the night away.

IMG_0363The moral of the story is that the thing that makes Rock Band so successful on the console is the fact that it is a hands on experience. Unlike any other game (minus Guitar Hero), Rock Band makes you feel like you are really fully submersed into the game… really in a band. I could swear to you up and down that I could actually pick up a guitar, drum, or microphone and play along with the likes of Weezer and The Police. It’s rather empowering to master a song to a point that you can play it without even looking at the screen (acoustic Guitar Hero anyone?). So why, why, oh why do you, and I for that matter, want to play Rock Band on the iPhone? Well, because it’s something to do right?

For better or worse, the iPhone version of Rock Band is exactly what you would expect it to be. The graphics mimic the console to a ‘t’, right down to the visuals from hitting the buttons at the right time. There’s none of this ‘press down and hope’ nonsense that you get from other iPhone tap games… this one is dead on. The game also includes all four instruments from the console version, but more on that later. The sound is perfect, with a decent selection, and you can even play with your friends, much like you can on the console, but something is just missing. As the great Peter Gibbons once said, ” It’s a problem of motivation, all right?”.

How is this singing?

How is this singing?

I just don’t get the same tingle of narcissism that I get when I beat a level on the console. Put ‘Enter Sandman’ in front of me on the PS3 and I’ll feel like a rock god, but when I beat ‘Everlong’ on my phone, I just feel like a guy who can move his thumbs around really fast. There is just no joy in getting from Boston to New York to wherever, because all the game boils down to is mashing your thumbs down, in your own little secluded world, onto some dots running down the screen. All four instruments are variations of each other, including the ‘Vocal’ instrument that boils down to just tapping to the sound of the singers voice. I’m not saying that the game isn’t hard or challenging because of this… it’s just not that awesome.

Aside from the lack of awesome Rock Band induced euphoria, the iPhone version of the app is also missing the ability to customize your rocker. Want to name your band ‘Kitten Katastophe” and dress your guitarist like Slash? Too bad… play the console. This one is just about the songs… and the bond you can share with your tiny, glass screened instrument.

Ok, enough whining. I must admit that the second I turned the game on, I thought to myself, “this is the most polished iPhone game ever”. It looks and sounds perfect, and on the 3GS, the loading is kept to an absolute minimum, making navigation a breeze (Expect some loading screens, along with loading screen death, on the 3G. So it goes.). The multiplayer also works quite well over bluetooth and over the internet, just don’t expect a 4 player game to finish glitch free, because there are usually some kind of issue with the connection (phone call, text, 20% battery life message). The replay value is even upped a bit with the ability to purchase new songs from directly in the app, and with the MTV license, I imagine that the in app purchasing pool will become quite large over the coming months.

Rock Band on the iPhone really is one of those games that will make people on other phones jealous. It looks and feels so much like the console version that I wondered if I was looking at a screenshot or not. As cool as it is having the game is, I just don’t see myself playing it for very long. If good music on the phone is what I’m really looking for, I can just play any of my games that can use my iPod music as the sound. I mean, just think about it, do I want to spend $10 on Rock Band where I tap on some dots running down the screen or play the phenomenal Space Invaders – Infinity Gene while jamming out to a Carlos Santana solo? I, for one, will take that latin guitar any day. If this one comes down in price, which I’m sure it will over time due to in app purchasing, I’d pick this one up so fast, but in the meantime I’d hit up Taco Bell and grab 12.645 crispy tacos. The taco memories will never end, but your enjoyment of this game definitely will.

For the record #1: I know that some people will read this review in outrage. I’m sure I’ll hear things like, “it’s the most perfect game ever” and “the multiplayer works so well” and “hey idiot, the game is #2 in the app store, you’re so wrong about that review”, but give it a month or two and tell me how many times you still play Rock Band a week. My guess is that some bug app will come out for the Christmas season that will make you forget that Rock Band even exists.

For the record #2: If EA somehow adds real singing to the vocals part of the game, I fully retract all statements about longevity and will be playing the game along with you online. I may even be bragging about my vocal chords via Facebook Connect while enjoying that same Shiner Black that I had reserved for the console version. Here’s to hoping.

P.S. If you’re wondering what I meant by Gary Cherone-esque, it was a reference to the Gary Cherone era of Van Halen. Sure, they were still Van Halen, but boy did they rock just a little bit less. Would you have really bought Van Halen III if the band was renamed something else? Alternatively, would you really consider buying Rock Band if it weren’t for the brand name recognition?

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