Even though Konami's Guitar Freaks was the first music game to be centered on a music controller, the company never brought it to North America. Instead, Activision's Guitar Hero and Harmonix's Rock Band franchises were left to battle it out. Although Rock Band 3 could technically be played with a real guitar, it only worked with one specific model. Ubisoft's 2011 release of Rocksmith was the first music game to support any electric guitar and it was successful enough to warrant a sequel, Rocksmith 2014, which debuted last month. Now the Rocksmith franchise is about to face its first real competition with the release of Realta's BandFuse: Rock Legends.
Developed by a company jam packed with music lovers, BandFuse: Rock Legends seems to have been built with the experienced musician in mind. This is obvious from BandFuse's UI, which is built around actual guitar tablature, rather than attempting to emulate the Guitar Hero/Rock Band style. There are still nods to the traditional game format, as BandFuse uses color coding to recommend which fingers to use for each fret, but that's about it. If you know how to read guitar tablature, then you're jamming from the get-go.
The music detail extends to the vocal display, which shows the proper note for each phrase. It might not mean much to the casual player, but for a vocalist who's striving for accuracy, it's a nice touch. In fact, if vocals are your thing you don't even have to bother plugging a guitar into BandFuse. It is perfectly playable as a karaoke game.
While there is support for a standard guitar, bass guitar and vocals, BandFuse does not have support for a drum set. Still, there is support for up to four players, so you can get a small band together and rock out.
Whether playing by yourself or with others, one surprisingly engaging feature in BandFuse is the ability to play back any track. Whenever you're playing, the game is automatically recording everything in the background. At the end, you're given the option to listen to your performance or save it for later in case you want to impress (or torture) your friends with your skills (or lack thereof).
Song selection is an important aspect of any music game, and BandFuse manages to impress here. The game comes with 55 songs, highlighting a solid cross section of classic and alternative rock. Alanis Morissette, Blink 182, Jane's Addiction, Pantera, Pearl Jam and Rush are just some of the artists highlighted. Even if a particular song isn't from your favorite style, chances are good it is still plenty playable.
In addition to playing, BandFuse offers a full set of guitar lessons for beginners. For the experts, the game has 33 different backing tracks (and one blank track) in case you just want to jam. Pick a track, configure your effects, and start playing. That's all there is to it.
Hardware-wise, the standard edition of BandFuse ships with a USB audio cable for an electric guitar, headphone adapter and an Xbox 360 audio adapter. The audio adapter plugs into the standard AV port and adds RCA plugs for analog out, a headphone jack and digital audio out. It is designed to work in conjunction with a HDMI cable plugged into the same system, so you can still use HDMI for HD video, but any potential for HDMI audio lag is eliminated.
On the down side, BandFuse does NOT seem to recognize the Rocksmith USB audio cable. If you want to play with more than one guitar, you'll either need to keep an eye out for the more expensive BandFuse band pack, or you'll need to pick up an additional cable separately. BandFuse does support standard USB microphones; a spare Rock Band mic was instantly recognized.
We're still playing our way through BandFuse: Rock Legends, but initial impressions are good. The whole package has a lot of polish, from the slick UI to the inclusion of actual music videos for each song. The included lessons are a mix of pre-recorded videos and practical examples that seem to offer something for players of all skill levels. Ultimately, we suspect that the automatic recording feature is likely to be the biggest draw. Sitting down to record a song is incredibly straightforward.
Be sure to check back later this month for our final verdict on BandFuse.
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