2015 might begin to feel a lot like 2007 later this year, when updates to the Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises release to stores and duke it out for control of our living rooms. Skepticism is abundant. Many folks aren’t so sure that rhythm games can thrive in today’s market, or at the very least, flourish as they did the previous generation. The latter may be true, but the gaming community at large will always have room for a rhythm action game renaissance.
1. We never stopped
If the rhythm game market “crashed” between 2008 and 2010, Ubisoft didn’t get the memo. Since the first Just Dance launched in 2009, the series has only expanded year over year, even if sales have slipped the past few years. Before that, Dance Dance Revolution had become an overnight success and a lifeline for the fast falling arcade industry.
Not to mention non-peripheral like Frequency and Amplitude, that have been bridging the gap between controllers and beats for years before we ever picked up plastic guitars. Games whose central focus was music as a gameplay device aren’t exactly new. Especially in the burgeoning indie scene that keeps churning out new and interesting takes on the genre, like Brace Yourself Games’ absolutely brilliant Crypt of the Necrodancer.
2. Backwards compatibility
According to Harmonix, who will be developing and co-publishing Rock Band 4 (with video game peripheral manufacturer Mad Catz), Rock Band 4 will be fully compatible with old songs and old Rock Band equipment. Since the game will play much like the previous games, this makes a lot of sense, though an extra nod should go out to the company for taking the time to wrangle all of the appropriate software to make this old instruments work on modern machines. Even old Guitar Hero guitars and mics will be compatible, which is absolutely awesome.
There’s a catch, though. Those of you who still have a keyboard controller will be out of luck, as there are no plans for keyboard tracks in the latest installment. Same goes with that super sexy pro controller, modeled after the iconic Stratocaster.
3. GH Live and RB4 are the most different they've ever been
When Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock was released in 2010, there was very little discernible difference in the gameplay between it and rival Rock Band 3. Both offered "full band" gameplay, offering instruments other than simply guitars, and track lists that often shared popular songs with each other. Save for the user interface and the more colorful cast of characters in Guitar Hero, the games progressed pretty similarly.
When Guitar Hero Live was announced, the boldest statement it made was the drastic departure from the gameplay it made famous, trading the genre standard five lane, multicolored track to a new, three binary color track. The controller is different as well, with six buttons at the top of the neck, but stacked on top of each other in two rows. Guitar is the only instrument to play, and the focus is putting players in the shoes of a band's lead axe. Rock Band's Harmonix vowed not to change anything about the gameplay we've come to love, meaning for the first time ever, you'd be choosing between the games based completely on how potentially different the games are; It's Tekken or Street Fighter, as opposed to Tekken 5 or Tekken 6.
4. Couch Co-Op is back in demand
For a good chunk of the latter parts of the last console generation, couch co-op had all but vanished. Oddly enough, the popularity and pressure from publishers to add multiplayer modes into games has risen seemingly uncontrollably. Dead Space 3 had co-op, but I had to be on separate consoles from my friends to play with them? What sort of sense does that make?
There is a strong demand, from both the critical games writer sphere to the casual home gamer alike, for games that let me assemble my friends to play - and none did that quite like Rock Band and Guitar Hero. Anecdotally, there was no better party game for me and my roommate back in 2009 than Rock Band, as it provided both music and entertainment for large groups of people for hours. You cannot have that experience without local co-op. Modern indies like Nidhogg (or any fighting game for that matter) are the template to be followed for perfect social interactivity.
If we are on the verge of a rhythm game revival lead by Activision and Harmonix, then the world is more ready for the possibility than we may give it credit for. It may not be to the same intensity as the peak of the last great rhythm game rush, but it really doesn’t have to be. A fraction of that old success can still spell victory.
Agree/disagree? Comment below or tweet @CurseGamepedia.