The latest version of Rock Band to come to the DS doesn’t just deliver a stripped-down, button-tapping version of the popular console game; it also seems to find some inspiration from a classic ’80s arcade game.
I loved Tapper when it hit arcades in the early ’80s. In the game you had to move a bartender between four horizontal bars, pulling down on a spring-loaded plastic keg tap handle to fill mugs and send them sliding towards thirsty customers. It was a game of constant management, making sure no one bar got allowed an angry customer to make his or her way to the end where they could grab you.
While Rock Band 3 doesn’t feature any drinking or angry customers, it does force you to constantly keep an eye on four sections of the game, in this case instruments, not bar counters, making sure that none of them go unattended long enough to make you lose the game.
As with all Rock Band games, the heart of Rock Band 3 is rhythm. In this case, you use the left and up buttons of the DS’ directional pad, and the X and A buttons to tap out the music for different instruments. The four buttons are represented by four tracks on the screen. To enter Star Mode, you press the down and B button at the same time. This is all pretty straight-forward Rock Band.
But the twist is that not only do you have to control all four “instruments” – guitar, drums, keyboard and vocals – but you have to manually switch between them on the fly, making sure none of them fail out.
Note: I misspoke at the beginning of this video. They actual controls are up, left, A and X.
Here’s how it works. You play through the song, shifting between instruments with the left and right shoulder buttons. After you complete a phrase of notes, the instrument you completed it on locks into autoplay for a bit, allowing you to quickly eyeball which instrument is in most need of manual gameplay. Then you use the shoulder buttons to hop over to that instrument and take over.
Small icons at the top of the screen show you how well each instrument is doing and whether they’re starting to lose the audience, a potentially game-ending problem in Rock Band 3.
This shifting between instruments adds a level of strategy to the rhythm game that helps make up for the lack of physical instruments and the nuanced gameplay of the console version of Rock Band 3.
It also brings enough to the table to make me think that it could be a worthwhile addition to the franchise.