Five Things I Miss About Guitar Hero and Rock Band

The rush of holiday game releases is just about over, and for the first time since 2005 neither Guitar Hero nor Rock Band were part of the madness. In a twist that no one could have predicted just two or three years ago, their absence went pretty much unnoticed — except by me. You see, I loved both of those games to itty bitty pieces, and while their popularity fell off a cliff over the past couple of years I was holding on like grim death.

So yeah, I missed being able to get on Amazon or moseying over to GameStop to pick up the new edition. I not only miss the opportunity to rock out to new music, but I also miss what the games represented when they were at their peak.

Why did I love the games so goddamn much? Well …

They brought casuals into the fray …

One of the biggest reasons for the success of Guitar Hero and Rock Band is that they were both games that any schlub could pick up and play. As games today swell into mammoth epics that demand that you sink dozens of hours into them while growing more complex, music games allowed casual gamers to just grab a plastic guitar and rock out for an hour.

As video games continue to evolve as a medium, it’s still important to reel in curious onlookers and convince them that there are worthwhile experiences to be had if they give them a chance. If the road to Skyrim starts with a plastic Les Paul, so be it.

… while still being super hardcore

If there’s one thing that both Guitar Hero and Rock Band did extremely well, it was putting casual fare and a hardcore experience into one package. Sure, your aunt could play a few chords from “Barricuda” on Easy, or maybe even Medium, but tearing ass through all of the songs on Hard and Expert was a different thing entirely.

Remember Freebird at the end of Guitar Hero II? Or “Through the Fire and Flames” in Guitar Hero III? How about spending several hours tearing through Rock Band‘s Endless Setlist, only to be stopped in your tracks by “Green Grass and High Tides”? And just when I was getting good at Expert drums, Guitar Hero: Metallica introduces a second pedal and an Expert+ difficulty.

The principle of “easy to learn, hard to master” is lost on much of today’s casual game selection. You definitely won’t be seeing Kinect Adventures or Carnival Games in any competitive gaming circuits, at least.

The feeling of being in a band is still unmatched

I could go on for quite a while about the little moments in games that make them so gratifying to play. Nailing a headshot from across the map in Battlefield 3. Snaking through the Nürburgring Nordschleife in a tuned Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG and not wiping the hell out anywhere along the way in Gran Turismo 5. Clearing out a room full of thugs in Batman: Arkham City. Slaying your first dragon in Skyrim.

All of that is great, but for me they never quite reach the level of excitement I reached when I finally learned how to play that last orange fret on the guitar and beat my first song on Hard (“Shout at the Devil” by Mötley Crüe, by the way). Using Star Power or Overdrive to power through a solo that would otherwise kick your ass as the in-game crowd cheered you on. Learning the drums and making my way up all the way to Expert+ in Guitar Hero: Metallica (a game I played to death, if you can’t tell by now). These are some of my most cherished gaming memories, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

Which leads me to my next point …