As a child, I was never really the “musical” type in my family. As a matter of fact, I went out of my way to avoid it. Trying to read sheet music was like trying to decipher some kind of secret code that I really had no interest in even attempting to crack. So while my sisters picked up their clarinets, violins, and eventually their guitars–I picked up my pencils, paintbrushes and eventually controllers. When I first heard of BandFuse’s existence, I rolled my eyes and silently cursed whom ever thought we needed yet another music game. What makes this one so special? Hasn’t that trend already died circa 2009? Well–the answer to that one is yes and no. BandFuse: Rock Legends is in its most basic form a rhythm game, but it is mixed with a guitar training platform that is geared towards people like me, the guitar novice/musically challenged as well as the people I envy: the Rock Gods who make it look soooo easy.
Anyone who has played one of these games before knows that trying to get the visuals and audio to sync properly with your HDTV is excruciatingly annoying. You can spend anywhere from 20 minutes to 45 minutes messing around with hardware that doesn’t want to cooperate and it can totally spoil your mood when all you want to do is plug in and play. BandFuse detours around all of that with the AudioLink adapter, which is a simple kit that plugs into the back of your console and lets you stream the audio out to your TV or stereo through composite cables. There’s no lag , works perfectly, and the sound is incredible. The adapter also includes a separate headphone jack so you alone can hear how bad (like me) or good (like how I want to be) you sound.
After plugging in, and tuning up (which is blessedly very quick) you can jump right into any selection in BandFuse’s entire 55 track list which ranges from Kansas to Blink 182 with a quick play session, explore them all in the tour mode, which is the equivalent of a traditional campaign mode, and Shred U, which is chock full of tutorials both pre-recorded and playable, that will help you learn the basics and the more complex aspects of guitar playing. I found the Tour Mode to be initially unapproachable, and the Shred U mode easier because it provided some helpful learning tools. The Skills Lab offered some easy-to-follow tutorials, including interactive skill-building techniques, while the Lick Lab allowed me to dissect a song into several standalone sections, which provided a simple practice space to let me focus on particularly tough riffs. There’s also the large cast of Rock Legends ready to guide me through BandFuse, including Slash (Guns N’ Roses), Jason Jook (Five Finger Death Punch) and Mike Ness (Social Distortion).
BandFuse’s biggest strength is the way it balances its gameplay elements with more serious guitar practice so that the fun of playing a game and boosting your score isn’t lost in the mix. Notes are charted out on a side-scrolling horizontal fret board that mirrors a standard guitar tab. Every sound produced is as clear as it is authentic, complete with professional-sounding amp and pedal effects. When I did hit them, the notes registered beautifully, and I was constantly surprised by the accuracy and responsiveness of the guitar–but then again that could be because I’m just a horrible guitar player and hitting one note made me feel special.
The scoring system is pretty forgiving and leaves lots of room to improvise between the notes and chords you’re meant to play. There is no penalization unless you miss the notes entirely, and even then it’s impossible to fail a song completely. This flexibility is awesome for those who want to experiment on the lower difficulty tiers, where newbies like myself can really benefit from the freedom to ease into more complex playing styles. However, the higher the difficulty you go, it all but vanishes when you have to play songs note for note as your fret board fills with mind-numbing chaos that is meant for pro-level players. Yes, I quickly tried and failed at that one. I can’t tell if it was me or if it is just simply a severe spike in the difficulty level as you progress in the game.
What really sets BandFuse: Rock Legends apart from other real-instrument games is that it truly feels like an evolution of the rhythm game genre. Your ultimate goal is to follow the song as closely as possible with color-coded tabs that dictate hand positioning and what notes you should be playing. It’s a structure that helps familiarize Guitar Hero vets with its skill-building gameplay, and provides a starting point for rhythm game newbies with its animated tablature. And while I can’t say that this game turned me into a lover of all things guitar, I can say that it’s a music enthusiasts’ dream come true. I am not into music enough to appreciate its pitch-perfect execution, but I can recognize that it is the most successful approach to learning how to play a real guitar via a console. I can’t say if it will transfer to outside of it.