As the originator of peripheral-based rhythm gaming with “Dance Dance Revolution” and its foot-stomping pad, it’s no surprise that Japanese publisher Konami is jumping into the instrumental fray against “Guitar Hero” and “Rock Band.” What’s surprising is that it’s making the move so late and with such a disappointing entry. “Rock Revolution” is overly complex where it should be simple, and soulless where it should be rich — in short, it’s just a pretender, not a contender, and has no chance of overthrowing the kings of the genre.Although “Rock Revolution,” which lacks a singing component, is compatible with instrument peripherals from the two market leaders, its distinguishing feature is an original drum kit (available in November). With six quiet, springy drum pads to “Rock Band’s” four, it looks promising for wannabe Neil Pearts, but the execution is awkward and impractical. The game recommends — and its note layout requires — players to drum with hands crossed for an “authentic drumming experience.” It’s a nice idea for those who want the type of challenging complexity that “Guitar Hero” offers for its instrument. However, the too-small drum pads are difficult to hit, and players are more likely to whack themselves and the pads’ plastic edges more often than they hit the note. While the on-screen interface mimics the scrolling notes used in “Guitar Hero” and “Rock Band,” it has a few tweaks that work poorly. Drum’s foot pedal, indicated by a long bar in “Rock Band,” is signaled here by an oddly-shaped orange note that sits alongside the beats to be played. It’s not visually intuitive and, to make matters worse, the missed note sound cue is rather percussive on its own, making it difficult to tell success from failure. There’s also the bizarre addition of “poison notes” that players have to avoid hitting. They’re placed in completely logical locations for real notes and feel like punishment for those who are getting into the rhythm instead of paying attention to subtle visual clues. This type of stereotypical videogame element completely prevents immersion in the rock-fantasy experience that gives the genre its appeal. Rhythm games live and die by their song lists and “Rock Revolution” fails to distinguish itself here as well. The 41 included tracks range from socially sanctioned “classics” (“Blitzkrieg Bop” again?) to generic top 40 corporate rock (Fall Out Boy, Papa Roach). There isn’t a single major artist not present in other music games that could give “Rock Revolution” a competitive advantage. What’s more, they’re all covers, and while most music games mix those in with master recordings, “Rock Revolution’s” reproductions are only passable at best. The game also is absent any sort of stylistic flair — the selectable characters are generic and the venues feel basic and hollow, meaning the sense of progression from garage-band newbie to rock god just isn’t there. “Rock Revolution’s” one interesting feature is the ability to record and mix one’s own music in a separate “Studio” mode, where players will probably enjoy themselves more than in the main game. It’d be even better if players were able to turn the songs they create into playable levels, as will be possible with a similar feature in the upcoming “Guitar Hero: World Tour,” but inventing music and playing it back is a neat perk. Perhaps not coincidentally, the game’s packaging features the same blue glow and rocker-silhouette motif as “Rock Band.” That makes “Rock Revolution” look like a generic — if not cheap — knockoff, and sadly, that’s exactly what it is.
Rated T. $30-$50 (game); $130 (with drum kit).
A Konami presentation of a game developed by Zoe Mode and HB Studios for the DS, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii. Reviewed on Xbox 360.