All Rock Band Needed Was a Hiatus

Review copies of Rock Band 4 are starting to go out, which means it's almost time to gather the plastic instruments and live out rock star fantasies again. It's unexpected on some level, as a lot of people thought the genre might die with Rock Band 3 back in 2010. Music/rhythm games with instruments appeared to reach the height of popularity at that time, and thus an inevitable crash took place. No more Rock Band, no more Guitar Hero. But here we are in the year 2015, and the return of both series has generated a lot of buzz. I guess it's true: you don't know what you got 'til it's gone.

I became a plastic instrument convert all the way back with Guitar Hero a decade ago. The idea of using a guitar as a controller felt revelatory, and it generated plenty of interest from people who don't typically pay attention to video games. My parents tried Guitar Hero, and I even took it to my school to show to my English class. The genre hadn't even branched out to other instruments yet and it already felt like a kind of party game to show to friends and family alike. The debut of Rock Band in 2007 elevated that to a whole other level.

The Rock Band series marked Harmonix's transition to full-fledged party games, and each Rock Band game shined in larger group settings. Any time I invited friends over, Rock Band was the go-to game. I can think of multiple birthday parties I went to during that time in which Rock Band was a notable attraction. In fact, one of those birthday parties is the only time I ever sang in public. Rock Band convinced me to sing in public… trust me, that's a big deal once you hear my voice.

Then it all went away shortly after the release of Rock Band 3. Everyone had their fill of the genre, and it seemed like the plastic instruments would be put away forever. I even felt fatigue at that time, despite the introduction of the keyboard as a new instrument. Each subsequent release felt like the same game with a new soundtrack, and it wasn't enough to sustain the series past a few entries.

The way in which the genre faded away didn't bother me at the time, but with each passing year I felt the urge to dig out the instruments from the closet and play a few songs. I actually did so late last year, and then Harmonix officially announced Rock Band 4 just a few months later. All that time away didn't encourage the developer to reinvent the wheel. In fact, Rock Band 4 is very similar to the past games. The difference is the time in between games.

It's been five years since the last main Rock Band, and the hiatus works in Harmonix's favor. Series often become stale because they don't tweak mechanics along the way, but that usually happens in a short period of time. Rock Band 4 doesn't make a lot of changes aside from the addition of freestyle guitar solos, but it doesn't need to because it's been so long since Rock Band 3. At this point, more Rock Band is enough because of the hiatus.

Hopefully the time away for the Rock Band series translates to strong sales for Rock Band 4. Harmonix found plenty of success with its DLC model, and I'm more than ready to buy additional songs and fill out the soundtrack when Rock Band 4 hits stores on October 6. Maybe I'll even invite a few friends over, just like old times.