A new feature that should appease the competitive folks out there is the Battle of the Bands mode. Various challenges will be put up from achieving a high score with a certain instrument to getting the longest note streak. You'll compete with those online who participate in the event. To keep it interesting, there'll be new events daily so you can check in and play whenever you want and expect something new to try your hand it. Some will only be available at certain times of the day so there's a good variety in challenge lengths. Harmonix has done a great job in making Battle of the Bands interesting by mixing up the challenges and when they are available. Given that a lot of people like to show off their skills on YouTube in Rock Band and Guitar Hero games, the Battle of Bands is another nice way to brag to everyone how good you really are.
For those that aren't too good at the game or play with little ones, there's now a no fail feature which is greatly appreciated as my little one loves to bang on the drums while I play. You won't be able to earn any achievements but it will let anyone play and not be hindered if the skill levels vary greatly within the group. Not everyone can be experts and it's also nice to be able to try another instrument if you want to and not hold back the rest of the group if you are unfamiliar with it. No fail really opens up the game to the casual players who want to have fun and I'm really happy Harmonix put this in without having to enter in a cheat code to access it. Combine this with the cheat code to unlock the songs, those that just want to jam without having to go through the World Tour and don't want to be pressured in playing well can do this with ease. Entering in the cheat code to unlock the songs for Rock Band 2, which is the same as Rock Band 1, will open up an option to enable all songs unlocked without having to enter in the code each time you start up the game. There are other extras unlocked as well via codes so it's nice to see you only have to enter the code once and select that option the next time you start the game.
Rock Band 2 will also bring forth a new guitar and a new drum kit. If you liked the Rock Band guitar, you'll like the new one as well. Physically, the shape is the same as the first one but it now has a wood finish. The strum bar seems to bounce a little better and the fret buttons are quieter with a little better feel. I've heard that the build quality is improved as well but I won't be able to tell until many hours are logged in strumming to the game. To help facilitate calibration, the new guitar has both a mic and an optical sensor so you can hold the guitar up to the game for auto calibration. Results will vary though as it seems to not work well on Chuck's TV but worked fine on mine. A nice addition is that there's a guard around the start button so you have a lesser chance of hitting it when you really want to activate star Overdrive by pressing the back button. You can still tilt the guitar to activate Overdrive and I didn't have to tilt the guitar too high to do it. For the Xbox 360, the guitar is now wireless and yes it will work with Guitar Hero World Tour when it comes out. There aren't really huge improvements over the wireless Rock Band 1 guitar that I think would warrant a new purchase if you have one already though.
The drums though get the biggest make over and are a nice improvement over the first set. It's not wireless so there's one less cord for my son or animals to trip over. For those with broken foot pedals, there's now a metal plate on top to try and strengthen the piece. I can't tell if the hinges are improved as well though but the spring is thicker. The drum pads bounce a lot better and are also quieter although with the way I hit the pads, the softer pad doesn't sound quieter at all. Also, the drums are now velocity sensitive but to be honest, I couldn't tell in the game other than seeing bigger sparks the harder I hit. It might be a feature you can tout but it's not something that really adds to the game at all. Later on, you can purchase a cymbal and a high hat to plug into the set expanding the drums. If you plan on using the kit with Guitar Hero World Tour, the game will modify the note line to fit the four pads from the five that will be available in World Tour. To help you get better with drums, Rock Band 2 has a drum trainer that lets you practice different patterns and fills. You can increase or decrease the speed at which the notes come down so you'll be able improve gradually with practice. While the guitar changes aren't too drastic, the changes to drum really do warrant a new purchase.
Even with the new instruments, you can still play the new game with the original versions so you don't have to go and spend another $190 to enjoy the second game. We play tested with both the new and old instruments and had no problems at all. Given that, it's nice to see Harmonix not forcing new instruments on you so for those that want to save a few bucks or don't feel the need to update their instruments, just go pick up the game itself and bypass the full bundle and know you'll get the same experience as everyone else.
Rock Band 2 is not a huge improvement over the first one but it's a nice addition to the series. Like Guitar Hero 2 comparisons to Guitar Hero 1, Rock Band 2 can be considered the same as being a more polished version of the first game. Harmonix has made improvements where it was needed, added some small new features, and given you a boat load of songs to play. It's the case of if it ain't broke, don't fix it and the gameplay isn't broken so no changes were needed here. The game's still a blast to play with three others and there's no denying the fact that Rock Band 2 will score big. I'll have a lot higher hopes for the third game but for now, Rock Band 2's a hit and one that all music gamers should pick up, especially if you already have the first one.
There's nothing revolutionary about the second game and it's more evolutionary but it's still a fun game to play with others. Having access to both Rock Band 1 songs and DLC is a great plus. The World Tour mode hasn't changed much but it's nice that you can now play it online. Battle of the Bands is a nice addition to the game.
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