iPhone game: Rock Band for iPhone

| October 20, 2009

If you’re a Rock Band virtuoso with an iPhone, you might be jazzed about Electronic Arts’ ambitious new app. While not a perfect game, Rock Band for iPhone does offer fans of the original the familiar graphics and popular rock songs they’d expect from the mobile version.

As colored “notes” or rectangles zip down the screen in time to the music, players hit the corresponding colored inputs when they land at the bottom. This mixture of graphics and audio seems like a natural fit for the iPhone. (And it is — there have been a number of similar iPhone game apps, the most popular of which may be Tap Tap Revenge 3.) Rock Band takes advantage of the handset’s display with its colorful interface and animations, the tracks are MP3 quality tunes, and the in-app music store makes for easy buying of additional songs (2 for $1). BlueTooth multi-player capability also allows users to rock out with friends to earn unison points, and they can even save each other, just like the console version.

The major difference is obviously the inputs. Instead of using plastic music instruments that mimic the rocker experience, mobile players obviously can only tap on the screen. And the gameplay is similar, regardless of band member — lead guitar, bass payer, drummer or even singer. So iPhone users take note: There won’t be any warbling into the handset’s mic.

Unless you have great eyesight (I don’t), those skinny little on-screen rectangles are tough to distinguish against the background graphics. And playing measures that require multiple notes/chords feels way more awkward on a small display than on a big plastic stratocaster. But my difficulty didn’t really lie in the game levels, just the interface. The nimble-fingered with 20/20 vision could find themselves longing for harder challenges.

But maybe it’s unfair to compare a mobile phone game to its full-featured predecessor. Comparing apples to apples, the Tap Tap Revenge 3 iPhone app has an easier interface (with glowing, hard-to-miss dots for notes) and features like chat, friending, and direct messages. TTR’s store offers a bigger, more diverse selection of songs for purchase, including rock, hip hop, dance music, as well as cover songs and other tunes that many have never heard of before. But current glitches make buying and downloading songs an almost painful experience.

Rock Band’s store isn’t plagued by these difficulties, but its inventory is kind of meager (with something like 20 songs). Hopefully, that will improve over time, but for now, the catalog — which features music by original artists — skews to the rock and alt-rock crowd, including Lynyrd Skynyrd, Foo Fighters, Smashing Pumpkins, Blink-182 and more. So if you’re not a fan of this genre, you probably won’t love this selection. What I sorely missed in the mobile app is the ability to dress the musicians or give the band a cool name. But hopefully, if enough users request this, it could be added in a future revision.

Even so, if you’re a Rock Band loyalist, there may be enough here for you to justify the initial $9.99 investment. Budget-conscious gamers, however, may want to wait for a later, more refined version with more social features, a fleshed-out store and more advanced/expert levels. 

To learn more, hit up the info page on Electronic Arts’ site, or click here to go to the App Store.

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