Version tested: Wii
It's about time Rock Band made it to the Wii. After all, Nintendo's little white box is the ultimate social gaming machine, and Harmonix's big expensive box is the most fun you can have with friends you don't want to sleep with. The perfect match, in theory. In practice, the core gameplay is present and correct, making for a highly enjoyable experience. But if you've played Rock Band on the PS3 or 360, you can't help noticing that something's missing. Quite a few things, in fact.
At least the instruments are up to scratch. The full kit retails for GBP 129.99 (though it's easy enough to find if for under a hundred quid online). For that you get a USB hub, wired microphone and wired drum kit, plus a wireless guitar and receiver. The game must be purchased separately, as with Rock Band for other consoles.
Side-by-side, the Wii peripherals look almost identical to the Xbox 360 ones - the most obvious exception being the drum kit is white instead of black. The pads are identical and make just as much noise. The spring on the Wii kit's foot pedal feels like it has slightly more recoil, meaning a little more effort is required but less accidental presses are likely.
The microphones are the same, except the chunk of plastic near the USB end of the Wii mic's cable is much smaller and neater. The guitars are indistinguishable, apart from the fact the Wii one is wireless. So if you're one of those people who complained about the 360's guitar for having spongy fret buttons and a click-free strum bar, you won't get on any better with the Wii version.
Once again, basic gameplay involves watching coloured notes scroll down the screen and hitting the relevant buttons or pads, or singing the right notes. It's instantly familiar to anyone who's played a music game before, and easily accessible to anyone who hasn't. The gameplay works just as well on the Wii as it does on other consoles, and the arrangements for the songs are just the same.
The list of songs you have to choose from, however, is slightly different. There are 63 in total, which includes five bonus tracks not featured on the PS3 or Xbox 360 discs - "Dirty Little Secret" by The All-American Rejects, "Roam" by The B-52s, "Rockaway Beach" by The Ramones, "Roxanne" from The Police and Oasis' "Don't Look Back in Anger" - although all are available as downloadable content for the bulkier consoles.
The remaining tracklist will be familiar to anyone who's played Rock Band on another machine. Expect contemporary hits ("Are You Gonna Be My Girl" by Jet, The Killers' "When You Were Young") alongside nineties classics (Nirvana's "In Bloom", "Sabotage" by the Beastie Boys) and golden oldies ("Gimme Shelter" by The Rolling Stones, "CSI: Miami theme tune" by The Who).
Not a bad selection of songs, then. But you'd hope so, because you're stuck with it. Unlike the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game, Rock Band for Wii has no online functionality. Obviously, this means you can't play with other people over the internet - not a massive deal, considering the large number of Wii owners who couldn't give a fig about Friend Codes.
However, being able to build your own library of tracks is a key highlight of Rock Band on other consoles, and it's a real shame there's no option to do so in the Wii game. (At least it makes a change from waking up with a hangover to realise your friends spent all your Microsoft Points on No Doubt records and the Jimmy Buffett track pack, though of course "Cheeseburger in Paradise" is worth every penny.)
Online functionality isn't all that's missing from Rock Band Wii. There's no proper World Tour mode, so no faffing about with fans, cash or different venues. Just like in the old Guitar Heroes, you play through groups of four songs to unlock the next level of difficulty and set of tracks. There are those who will prefer this more straightforward approach, specifically those of us who don't care about being able to buy a new fictional guitar that sounds like the old fictional guitar but has a funny shape.
There's no character-creation option either. You can choose a name for your band (or use the excellent random name generator - say hello to Men With Hat and enjoy the smooth sounds of Pixelface Horse) but that's it. Again, not everyone will mind. In fact, it'll come as a relief to those who of us are bored senseless of creating avatars, and would rather anally ingest a drumstick than choose which t-shirt to put on yet another virtual representation of ourselves as a plasticine robot with learning difficulties.
The reason there's no character-creation option becomes clear as soon as you play your first track. If you've experienced Rock Band on the PS3 or 360, you'll know songs are accompanied by footage of the band members you've designed "rocking out" in real time. If you play Rock Band on the Wii, you get pre-rendered videos of random characters that have been compressed within an inch of their lives. There's been some effort to hide the poor quality of the images by dressing them up as grainy film footage, but it's been in vain. Rock Band Wii looks rubbish, especially if you're playing on a HDTV.
Of course, Harmonix is constrained by technical limitations, and a Wii game is never going to look as good as one for PS3 or Xbox 360. Perhaps said limitations also explain why Rock Band Wii has no character-creation, World Tour or online options - they just couldn't fit it all on the disc. Except they could, judging by the Wii version of Rock Band 2. Released in the US just before Christmas (with a European date still to be announced), it's got World Tour, both online and offline, character-creation and real-time videos. Plus, they're working just as fast as they can to open up the music store to Wii owners.
In short, although the visuals might not be up to the same standard, Rock Band 2 for Wii offers all the same functionality as the PS3 and Xbox 360 games, and it's a shame they couldn't do the same with Rock Band 1. It's also a shame they didn't think more carefully about the Wii's appeal and its demographic, and tailor the game accordingly.
That's not to say they should have dumbed Rock Band down, or replaced the excellent core gameplay with maths problems and cooking mini-games. But why not make all the songs accessible in multiplayer from the start? Instead you have to play through the entire career mode to unlock them all. Many gamers will enjoy doing this, of course. But many gamers, especially Wii owners, will just want to get some friends round, boot up Rock Band and go mental to "Don't Fear the Reaper" - without having to play through 25 other tracks first.
But that's a problem with all versions of the first Rock Band, as are things like the fact you can't carry on a multiplayer career without your bandmates. So is the Wii version worth the considerable investment? If the Wii the only console you've got, if you're desperate to experience Rock Band and if you just can't wait for the sequel, then yes.
Otherwise, hold off. Rock Band for Wii may not have been stripped down to the point where it's no longer enjoyable, but this is a pretty lazy conversion. Unless you're in a hurry or you plan to buy both games eventually anyway, you're better off waiting for Rock Band 2.
7 / 10