Rock Band: from the makers of three-quarters of the Guitar Hero series

While on a routine shopping trip for my next external hard drive, I happened by Best Buy’s “Guitar Hero” displays. The guitar-and-TV with “Guitar Hero” playing setup has been a mainstay for as long as I remember.

This time, right next to “Guitar Hero” was the demo for “Rock Band,” a game officially released more than a week ago still labeled as “upcoming release” at the store.

Let’s compare the two.

The latest iteration of the “Guitar Hero” series, “Guitar Hero III” is a pretty awesome game. It features a guitar-shaped controller, four difficulty levels and a whole bunch of awesome songs. “Sunshine of Your Love” has never been so satisfying.

With controller, it’ll cost you a good $79.99, plus tax. Without controller, its MSRP stands at the standard new-release cost of $49.99. “Guitar Hero III” is or will be available for PS2, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, PC and Mac.

“Rock Band” includes not only playable guitar and bass parts in its songs, but also drumset and vocals. From playing the demo, I could tell that it has a good amount of visual panache, like the “Guitar Hero” games. However, when compared to the “Guitar Hero” series, the graphics are nothing special.

“Rock Band” costs about twice as much as “Guitar Hero III” packaged with the faux guitar — its MSRP is high at $169.99. “Rock Band” is available for PS3 and Xbox 360.

Both games are musical rhythm games, and both are fun to play. Both feature some sort of guitar-shaped controller.

While I played the demo, a passerby commented that “Rock Band” is ripping off “Guitar Hero.” That depends on how you look at it.

“Guitar Hero III” was developed by a different studio than either of the previous two games in the series. Harmonix Music Systems, rather than develop said “Guitar Hero III,” moved on to their own project — “Rock Band.”

Backstory aside, comparisons to “Guitar Hero” are going to dominate any actual reviews of “Rock Band.” So how does it compare?

That’s hard to say from the short demo I played at Best Buy, but the game would be almost worth it for the drumset alone. The drumset there at the store was half-broken and had parts missing, but it was still fun and probably more satisfying than “Guitar Hero,” for my money.

The set of songs available in “Rock Band” is just as strong as any “Guitar Hero” game, with a number of more recent popular hits — “Here it Goes Again” and “Dani California” — sharing time with Deep Purple and The Who.

The karaoke microphone was unavailable — who could blame Best Buy for that one — but if it’s anything like the one from “Karaoke Revolution” — another Harmonix game — then it’s responsive and unforgiving. More over, it’s a whole lot of fun.

Having sampled both guitar and bass parts, the guitar-shaped parts of the solo game are certainly the weakest part of “Rock Band.” The controllers have a completely different feel than that of the guitars from the “Guitar Hero” games — more nebulous and not quite as responsive.

Good thing the “Guitar Hero” guitars are rumored to be fully compatible. I couldn’t quite test that in the middle of Best Buy, though.

Once they sell drum set and game separately, I’m going to get one of my friends to buy it. Unfortunately, I can’t afford even this much fun.

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In other news: Leno’s staff fired, despite promise of job security; lead of Iowa frontrunners still within margin of error; and speaking of frontrunners, Huckabee’s “anemic” support not so much these days, is it, Washington Post?

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