After the rise and fall of the rhythm game genre – at least those that involved plastic instruments – it’s nice to see that publishers are still willing to give one of my favorite types of games another chance, though BandFuse: Rock Legends certainly takes a more advanced and realistic approach than the five-buttoned guitar controllers of old. Offering support for real electric guitars and bass, along with support for vocals, it’s a promising title at first glance.
And, indeed, it does mostly deliver on its advertised goal of teaching budding guitarists of varying skill levels to play various hit songs for real on their stringed electric instrument of choice. The problem is that there’s already a competitor on the market in terms of real, guitar-based teaching tools, in the form of the Rocksmith series. And while BandFuse has some features it can boast over that series, like proper vocal support and tablature display, there’s a definite difference in its game structure and learning curve that makes it difficult to fully recommend over the other option.
Structurally, the game is very similar to the duo of now-retired plastic instrument titles. All 55 tracks in the diverse setlist, which contains songs from Kansas to Coldplay, are immediately available to play guitar, bass, or vocals on via a Quick Play mode. Additionally, the meat of the game comes via both the Tour mode, which is the equivalent of a traditional campaign, and Shred U, which is chock full of tutorials both prerecorded and playable, that will help you learn the basics and the more complex aspects of guitar playing. Finally, as a fun bonus, there are prerecorded backing tracks to practice your improvisational guitar playing with.
Shred U offers lessons from such established guitar players as Slash, Zakk Wylde, and Bootsy Collins, which is a neat touch for fans of those particular artists. The lessons are in-depth and explained fairly well, but I will say that even some of the earlier ones bring with them some spikes in difficulty, like several fairly complex chords to switch between in one of the tutorials meant for beginners.
Tour mode works similarly to the main campaign in Rock Band 2, as you’ll find yourself playing certain songs more than once in sets of multiple tracks. Also included are individual song challenges, which often encourage you to reach a certain score rating out of 5 stars on a specific track. It should be mentioned that scoring and ranking works almost identically to Guitar Hero and Rock Band, as you build up a score multiplier while you increase your note streak and fill up stars one at a time for a final grade upon completion.
Let’s get the obvious elephant in the room out of the way – BandFuse is not a carbon copy of Rocksmith, especially compared to the feud between Guitar Hero and Rock Band, where the graphical presentation was the only key difference at times. For starters, the game’s layout is entirely unique, foregoing the 3D note highway of most other titles for a flattened, horizontal 2D setup.
The problem here is that the extra depth the 3D view can provide is sorely missed, as it left me with less time to prepare for more complicated chords. There is an upside for more advanced players here, though, and that is the fact that the layout bears more than a faint resemblance to traditional guitar tablature. As a result, if you’ve been playing guitar and reading tabs like that for a while already, your mileage with the layout of BandFuse may vary.
Another drawback of sorts is the difficulty system. You have up to five difficulties for each song, and while I didn’t have issues with the actual progression of difficulty, I found myself missing Rocksmith‘s unique dynamic difficulty system, which would change on the fly based on my performance, by comparison. It’s hard to go back to a more rigid system after seeing it done better.
Regarding the option to sing each song: it’s perfectly functional, which makes sense considering that Harmonix farmed out the voice recognition system that it used for the Rock Band series to this game’s developers. I will, however, say that it seems less forgiving on the maximum difficulty than Rock Band did on Expert. Furthermore, it’s not the game’s main selling point, and many of the on-disc songs are already available in Harmonix’s series. Still, it’s a nice addition.
When all is said and done, BandFuse: Rock Legends is a well-made, perfectly playable title. The problem is that I feel like Rocksmith 2014 does a lot of the things that this one does but better. This may actually be a smarter choice for longtime guitarists who are used to traditional tablature layouts, but for those like myself who are still getting into playing real instruments, the learning curve can be a bit steep at points due to the visual approach it takes. If there wasn’t a competitor that functioned a bit better, this game have received a higher recommendation. However, as it is, I think that those who are curious about BandFuse: Rock Legends should still look into it. Just don’t consider it a must-buy.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game, which was provided to us for review purposes.
BandFuse: Rock Legends works as both a guitar teacher and a game, but a heavier learning curve and a less user-friendly interface than the competition make it a slightly inferior product in comparison.