It's tempting to call this game Typing of the Rock Band and call it a day. But Rhythm Zone is more than just a Rock Band clone you play with a computer keyboard; it's also an inexpensive way to finally play all of your favorite songs and artists. Even if the concept isn't very original, this tiny PC game is well worth the $10 asking price.
In Rhythm Zone you swap a fake plastic instrument for your keyboard's home row. Much like Guitar Hero and Rock Band, the music is displayed on a note highway and your job is to hit every note before it passes by. You can use either side of the home row, so the game is perfect for both right and left handed players. The space bar triggers your overdrive, which adds a multiplier to your score. If you've played any other recent music game, then you'll feel right at home typing away at Rhythm Zone.
Although the game comes with a diverse track list (made up of mostly indie bands), the real draw is the import functionality. The people over at Harmonix may crow about their 2000+ songs in Rock Band, but they've still managed to miss some of my favorite artists. Where is the Sigur Ros and Pavement? I want more Radiohead, Emily Haines and The Thermals. I want to finally play songs by Frank Zappa without worrying about licensing problems. And for $10 Rhythm Zone will let you do that.
The good news is that the game does a reasonably good job charting these imported songs. It may take a couple minutes to process (depending on the length of the song and the speed of your computer), but once complete you'll have a level with four difficulty settings and an online leaderboard. Obviously this game doesn't separate the different instruments, so some of the charting can feel a bit random. Also, missed notes are represented by an annoying static cue. Still, this option far exceeded my hopes going in and should help keep this game fresh.
Even if the charting isn't perfect, I had a great time experimenting with different types of music. I figure that this may be the only way to play along to Bjork and Portishead. It also gave me a chance to interact with my favorite podcasts. And best of all, it offered by the ability to play along with the SEGA rock opera I'm writing and recording. No matter how diverse the Rock Band musical library gets, I doubt there will ever come a day when I'll be able to jam out to my favorite podcasts and homemade music.
Unfortunately this functionality comes with a few noteworthy problems. I was disappointed to see no real campaign to tie all this music together. I'm not looking for lengthy cinemas or even a story, but maybe they would work in some of the ideas that made Rock Band's world tour mode so much fun. Include set lists with random songs or venues where you can only select from certain genres. Rhythm Zone does have a leveling up system, but it's not the most compelling reason to continue playing.I guess I can't say that there's no random set list, if you click the Quick Play button you'll be instantly warped into a random song. But that's the closest this game gets to a single-player campaign. There's a mode where you can select from your library of songs, however you are forced to play them one at a time. Being able to create a simple set list or play a full album are simple options that would go a long way. Instead I felt like the game was fighting the way I like to experience music games.
Although it doesn't stray far from its Rock Band influence, Rhythm Zone does offer at least one bizarre addition to the genre. To offer an addition challenge, from time to time the note highway will start to move. It will sway from side to side, which forces the player to move their eyes and pay closer attention. For the most part this isn't a big deal, but I found the game more enjoyable with this option turned off. The swaying back and forth felt like a gimmick; I want the song itself to challenge me, not some artificial obstacle.
These minor complaints aside, I had a fun time typing my way through some of my favorite albums. With a few additions and changes this could be a must-have for Rock Band addict away from a home console. It may not be the most original game on the market, but Rhythm Zone is a good value at $10.