I believe it was just before the release of Rock Band 3 that I predicted to a friend of mine that music rhythm games were going the way of the dodo. With several new releases a year, and a whole slew of plastic instruments to go alongside them, it seemed completely ridiculous that the genre would last much longer.
"You're wrong." He said, or something to that effect. "They're only going to get bigger."
Needless to say, I was completely and utterly right. I wasn't happy about it; I loved getting people round for a late night session of obscure European songs that were only added to pad out the tracklist. But with Rock Band, Guitar Hero, Rocksmith and Rock Revolution all vying for your cash there was no way it could continue to strive. But, a few years later, something is happening that I definitely did not predict.
They're coming back.
Guitar Hero and Rock Band are both getting new iterations for the current generation of consoles, plastic instruments and all. Rock Band looks to be more or less a similar experience to the originals (albeit with a purported RPG styled singleplayer), with Guitar Hero shifting focus to a first person perspective that utilizes live action video. Both games are set to show off impressive singleplayer modes, while still maintaining the multiplayer fun that made the genre truly soar. The tracklists for both games will inevitably end up being divisive, as people will have to make hard decisions about whether they prefer Paint it Black by the Rolling Stones to The Seeker by The Who when deciding which game to get. But truly, I think the real rival the two franchises have right now is themselves. Or rather, their past selves.
I was playing these games during their apex. Between me and my friends, we had several versions of each instrument, and we would always be thinking about our next big gig. Rock Band and Guitar Hero were a major part of that period of my life, being the centerpiece to almost every college party I went to. But despite that, it doesn't feel long enough for me to consider it relevant again. There isn't any feelings of nostalgia for the series', or any elation that they're "finally" back. When I saw the gameplay reveal of Rock Band 4, I got a hollow empty feeling. The only thought swimming around my head was "Oh. This again." The Guitar Hero Live reveal was a lot more interesting, but it still gave me an apathetic feeling. And also slight confusion they've been announced so close to one another.
Maybe one can't live without the other anymore. The competition is what kept them going as long as they did, and now one wants to come back the other has to. Maybe there's a hidden story here about corporate espionage. But almost definitely there's a story here about retreading the same path. The genre suffered originally due to its over-saturation, and immediately bringing it back with TWO games that look entirely similar to the games we as an audience already discarded is a completely strange decision.
That might seem a bit harsh, especially considering the warm reception both games have gotten since their reveals. But I can't see this second wind of plastic instruments lasting. Personally, I'm done with the genre. I'm done with spending ridiculous amounts of money on glorified controllers. I'm done buying a full game release that amounts to nothing more than a song pack. I'm done having to play songs I don't like to get to the songs I do like. It's a genre that rests firmly in the near past, making it not old enough for me to forget its problems, but too old for me to still be playing. How many other people, I have to ask, will be waiting for their friends to get the game so they don't have to buy it themselves?
Jamie also writes a weekly videogame blog for Hiive, a website dedicated to helping creatives in the UK meet and find work. Check it out here!