E3: Konami can’t keep time in the music game wars

By Mathew Kumar, Special to CBCnews.ca

LOS ANGELES - Guitar Hero versus Rock Band. It’s one of the biggest rivalries in the games industry right now, with new downloadable content (and upcoming revisions) desperately battling it out for mindshare. While Activision sat out E3 and chose not to show the next Guitar Hero, MTV Games and EA want to impress us so much they threw a free concert for certain lucky E3 attendees with The Who (yes, really) playing a blistering full set of their hits. Music games are a huge part of the industry now, and Konami want a piece of that pie.

With good reason, admittedly! Konami is arguably the originator of the music title - there's its Dance Dance Revolution series (of which several iterations were on show at E3), and also games such as Beatmania and Guitar Freaks that have long been a staple of the Japanese arcade scene.

Featuring instrument peripherals and beat matching gameplay, the original Guitar Hero is, frankly, a bare faced rip-off of Konami’s original idea. But it was the addition of licensed tracks that made Guitar Hero a success, something Konami never managed with releases of the DJ turntable game Beatmania in the west.

Now comes Rock Revolution.

Rock Revolution is a new full-band music game based on the beat matching gameplay Konami has used for its arcade titles (it’s almost exactly the same gameplay as Guitar Hero or Rock Band), except localized for a Western audience and featuring new music peripherals such as a drum kit with seven (yes, seven) different pads.

Rock Revolution's interface - similar but inferior to it's peers.

The problem is that perhaps because they were the ones who truly created the genre, Konami 's developers have created a game that already feels dated. The on screen interface for matching beats is unimpressive, and actually rather hard to understand (playing drums, even on Easy, is very unintuitive.) Even aspects we’ve come to take for granted – such as the ability to perform “hammer ons” when playing guitar – aren’t in the title.

It’s a shame that Konami originated a genre it ibenefiting from, but with Rock Revolution the company isn't going to change that. It’s a case of too little, too late, and if other developers want to get a piece of the music game pie, they’d be far better following Nintendo’s example by trying to do something different.

(The author is a Canadian freelance writer blogging for CBCnews.ca from the Electronics and Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles.)