By Jared Newman | Thursday, February 11, 2010 at 6:09 pm
If Activision or Harmonix never released another Guitar Hero or Rock Band, I’d be satisfied with the existing plastic instruments and gobs of downloadable songs. But there’s still potential in music games, as shown by the upcoming Rock of the Dead.
IGN ran a preview of the Wii game, a cross between the zombie shooter House of the Dead, the keyboard skill-builder Typing of the Dead and Guitar Hero. Each zombie gets its own sequence of notes to play on your guitar controller, and you must enter the sequences correctly to destroy your foes.
As a concept, Rock of the Dead rules, but I’m not as enthused after watching a video of the action. This would be so much better if each note produced a crunchy guitar riff, instead of a dull thwacking sound against a bland backing soundtrack. Nonetheless, there’s a lot of potential in using music game instruments for games that aren’t explicitly about karaoke.
Rock of the Dead isn’t the first one to try. A new game called Fret Nice mimics the platforming style of Super Mario Bros., but with the option to use a guitar controller. Sadly, critics said the experiment didn’t work, and the game is better off with a standard controller. The problem is that Fret Nice tried to map a new control scheme onto a genre that’s already too familiar. In a sense, Rock of the Dead is doing the same thing, even though on-rail shooting games aren’t as universal of a genre.
Still, imagine if a music-themed adventure game like Brutal Legend incorporated the guitar controller, or maybe there are ways to experiment with music games that don’t involve popular songs or straight-up performance (for instance, Rez). There’s fertile ground here, and I’m glad Rock of the Dead developer Epicenter is playing with it, because the music game genre, left alone, is stagnant.