Scotch Corner – Getting the Rock Band Back Together

Read Stuart’s column every week in The Scottish Sun, where he shares his reviews, news and podcasts with the 99.3% of the World’s population not fortunate enough to be able to buy a physical copy of the paper. The following appeared originally in The Scottish Sun on Friday 20th January 2017.

 

Mekazoo (Xbox One, PS4 and PC £15.99)

EVERYONE of a certain age can remember hours spent happily with Sonic.  Well, Mekazoo is a Sonic-style side-scroller with a shiny new coat.  The Good Mood creation sees you play as a group of five different animals.  Each has its own skillset — the panda can climb or the frog can hook his tongue on to surfaces to swing.  The Mekazoo story is very light and plays second fiddle to the gameplay, but the overall thread is that you wake up as the armadillo in a lab and your friends have been turned into evil robots.  You must save your animal buddies.  That’s pretty much all there is to it.

But Mekazoo does stand out on the gameplay.  You must clear levels as fast as you can by switching between your furry friends to let you grab, climb or fly.  It is tough to master the instant switching as you can go from the armadillo to the frog mid-jump then land as the panda — but it is pretty stunning once you have got your head round it.  You need to clear seven worlds that are accessed through a sort of hub and the overall campaign will take about eight hours to clear.  Each world has its own look and feel and each level has hidden depths in terms of level design.  There are multiple ways to complete them depending on how you use your animals.  But, at the end of each world, you will have to hammer a robot boss.

The game looks smart but it doesn’t blow you away.  I am old skool — I reckon strapping neon on to anything it makes it 100 per cent cooler right away.  The soundtrack keeps an upbeat vibe as you clear each level and features a few stand-out tunes.  On the downside, the controls and lack of direction at the start give you early worry lines because it is so different from most other games.  Being dropped in at the deep end isn’t much fun. I also found the framerate dropped occasionally.

Mekazoo intended to take a fresh look at a somewhat forgotten style of game and it almost nails it.  Fans of the original Sonic trilogy will feel echoes of that in the gameplay while newcomers will enjoy the challenge — but only once they have nailed the mechanics.

Score 3.5/5

Rock Band Rivals (Xbox One and PS4 £49.99)

IT’S time to bang out the riffs and live the rocker’s lifestyle.  Rock Band’s slightly underwhelming return last year after a five-year break has been given a chart-busting boost that will turn your living room into a stadium arena stage.  Thank Harmonix and Rock Band Rivals — a huge expansion pack for Rock Band 4.  It adds new modes, a new story-style campaign and has a host of tweaked game mechanics.  You get an ultra-cheesy drama mode — a cross between VH1’s Behind The Music and Spinal Tap.  You follow the rise of your band through the good and bad times in a fake show called Beneath The Tuneage.  It’s all very tongue in cheek, but is still very funny and is well worth a play through.  It clocks in at about the four-hour mark and you’ll unlock a load of new gear for your band and venues.

Long-term fans will love the second addition — the rivals mode.  You form a band “crew” of up to nine of your friends and wage war against other bands online.  There are challenges where you have to complete themed song sets or try to get the highest score on a spotlight song which is picked at random each week — and all in a bid to get as much XP for your team as you can.  You earn XP for each instrument you play in rival mode as well, so one person can play all the guitar parts and leave the drums, bass and singing to other members of the crew.  It is a great idea that really adds something to the gameplay.  It will lead to some truly epic battles between the best bands in the Rock Band community.

You can also unlock XP by playing songs in single player mode — which allows you to level up and you can now rate songs that you like from the track list.  The general interface has been given a clean-up and polish, making just that bit easier to navigate.  It certainly puts a smile on your face although there are still some issues.  The main thing is that there aren’t actually any new songs — depending how you buy it — and that is pretty strange for an expansion pack for a music game.  It is also a bit cheeky from Harmonix because, if you want new tracks and you are a newcomer, you have to pay £1.59 a song.  That might not seem steep at first, but it soon adds up . . . especially as the game has a back catalogue of more than 1,800 tracks.

If you’re a fan and were burnt by last year’s return Rock Band Rivals has fixed a lot of the issues and added to the core game.  But are you willing to pay extra for it?  That is the question.  If you’re a newcomer then Rivals is the way ahead.  It is not perfect but missing modes will soon be available.  Either way, this is still a hit, especially if you have friends round.

Score 4/5

IF you are a rock star on “tour” then you need the new Rock Band app.  It acts as a hub for your crew.  You can keep up to date with what’s going on with the band.  The app lets you see endless amounts of stats on how well you are scoring at that week’s challenges but also lets you check out how the competition is doing.  Plus, you can use the app to talk to any of your crew which is a nice touch because you can plan out what the band is doing all in one place.  The Rock Band companion app is free to download for iOS and Android.

SOME people aren’t happy with just the £40 game — they want to go the whole hog.  Well, satisfy your inner rocker with the Band Kit.  Then you are sorted when the whole band shows up at your house.  The pdp Band Kit has a wireless redesigned guitar in the shape of a Fender Jaguar, a nicely weighted USB mic and the classic Rock Band drum.  Everything feels well-built, but I wouldn’t smash it off the telly.  The only thing missing is an extra guitar so your bass player will have to bring his own!  It does include a boxed copy of the game.  It is sold out in most places in the UK just now but is available directly from pdp.com for $199 (or around £165).

I’ll be back next week with more from North of the Border, catch ye’s…

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Stuart Cullen

Scotland’s very own thorn in the side of the London gaming scene bringing all the hottest action straight from The Sun… well… The Scottish Sun at least, every week!

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