I’m currently $200 into Rock Band 3.

It started with the typical visit to GameStop, where I had the same “Did you pre-order? No? You shoulda pre-ordered! I hope I have one left! Wow, I did have one left! But next time you should pre-order or… who knows?” conversation that I’ve had countless times before. Enduring that unpleasantness was worth it, though, since it allowed me to return home with a copy of Rock Band 3 and the keytar peripheral. That was $130-ish.

Then came the chore of importing my songs from Rock Band 2. They were able to pack most of the songs up into a 2gb download, though a few didn’t make the cut. These are all songs I’ve played absolutely to death, but many of them are old favorites I’d never willingly give up. Anyway, that was another $10.

Finally there’s the problem of all these new game modes. Keyboards! Harmonies! Pro everything! Except… you can’t do it all right out of the gate. I only had one microphone, for starters. The game supports up to three, but I knew I probably didn’t need more than two, so I invested in a very slick wireless microphone ($30). In order to fully enjoy pro drums you need three cymbals. I already had two, but my green one was fritzing out and registering double hits. We decided to just splurge and get a brand new set of three, which was another $30.

That didn’t fix the green cymbal problem. I’m going to have to look into it some more.

So we’re $200 deep, Peanut and I, and that’s not counting the pro guitar I’ll eventually have to buy. Or the hundreds of DLC songs I’ve purchased over the past two years. Or the hard drive upgrade. Rock Band is, without a doubt, the most expensive video game I’ve ever played.

So… initial thoughts!

Keyboards! Keys are way fun, but extremely difficult. I didn’t see any point in playing regular keys, so I jumped right into pro. Never having touched a piano in my entire life, the learning curve is excruciating. I think the first major hurdle is going to be developing a feel for the distance between the keys, and where they’re located in relation to each other. My thumb always wants to drift to the right, which causes me to overcompensate and always hit one key further to the left than I wanted to hit.

Non-pro keys are really easy, if you’ve developed any aptitude for plastic guitar games at all. You only have to worry about five colors; it’s just like playing a long series of hammer-ons. So similar, in fact, that they let you play any guitar part with the keys. That means you can put your keyboard to work on all of your old songs, too, which is a novel experience.

The big question, of course, is whether or not we’ll start getting keyboard charts for old songs. It’s a sin that I have 13 Queen songs in my setlist… but only a keys chart for one of them.

Pro Drums! The old Rock Band games already knew whether you were hitting a pad or a cymbal, so the pro versions of every drum chart ever released already exist. I sort of always ignored my cymbals when I played, so having charts that force me to use them actually makes me sweat quite a bit. I plateaued at Hard on drums a long time ago, and Pro Hard isn’t much more difficult.

I will very likely play drums more frequently in Rock Band 3, simply because it’s so easy now to switch instruments. Like, say you’re playing some guitar songs online in Rock Band 2 and you figure you want to do a set on drums. Here’s the procedure:

  1. Disband your current group, and drop from your Xbox Live party.
  2. Turn your drums on.
  3. Sign out of your Xbox profile on your guitar.
  4. Sign onto your Xbox profile on your drums.
  5. Turn your guitar off. (Important to do #4 and #5 in order! Otherwise the game will just yell at you to turn your controller back on.)
  6. Wait for your friends to send you an invite to the new party and group — if they haven’t disowned you.

The whole ordeal is a pain in the ass. It takes as long to switch an instrument as it does to play a song. If you played any Rock Band online, you knew you were pretty much married to the instrument you came with.

Now, here’s the procedure for the same thing in Rock Band 3:

  1. Turn your drums on.
  2. Press a button to switch with the person who is on whatever instrument you want to switch to.
  3. Turn your guitar off.

Now it takes three seconds, tops. Amazing. This was always a gaping hole in the online experience of Rock Band, and the fix was so obvious I figured it had to be a hardware thing Harmonix couldn’t do anything about. Like, maybe juggling Xbox accounts from controller to controller isn’t something Microsoft wanted develoeprs to be able to play with. Whatever the reason was, though, they found a way to make it work. Expect to see a lot of instrument-juggling from now on.

Pro Guitar! I don’t have one yet. I don’t want the one with hundreds of buttons.

Pro Trainers! I’ve only used the keyboard trainer so far, and I’m not sure how much it’s helping me. It’s like, one lesson is “press these notes over and over again”. Easy! First try. Then the next lesson is, “now do these complicated chords” and my brain decides to tell my fingers to all tie themselves into knots. The goal of these trainers is to help bridge the gap between “toy” and “real instrument”. Time will tell how effective they are. I feel like the piece of the pro keys puzzle I’m missing involves knowing how and where to position my hand — and there’s nothing the game can to do help me with that. I can only imagine how much trickier the guitar trainer must be to use.

Still, if I end up making any progress at all, that will be a huge step up from the amount of keyboarding I was able to do before I bought the game. Who knows? Maybe ten years from now we’ll be dealing with an entire generation of musicians who learned to play from Rock Band. Weirder things have happened. Look how many plumbers turned to a life of gorilla-poaching after Donkey Kong Jr. came out.

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