Say what you will about music games’ slumping sales. Activision’s “Guitar Hero” and MTV’s “Rock Band” still enjoy incredible name recognition, even among nongamers. Seemingly everyone is aware that there are video games in which players use instrument-shaped controllers to pretend to play along with recorded music tracks. It stands to reason, then, that to break through against these two juggernauts, any new music game needs to differentiate itself from the industry leaders, as well execute perfectly on gameplay and marketing.
When Seven45 Studios’ “Power Gig: Rise of the SixString” was first announced, back in March at the Game Developers Conference, it had a great hook: Its guitar controller was an actual, entry-level guitar that was compatible with existing “Rock Band” and “Guitar Hero” games. And the developers hinted that the game would have more of a story beyond the usual, “form band, grow band, get famous” tale at the heart of past music games.
But what a difference a few months make. This June at E3, “Rock Band” developers Harmonix Music Systems announced that Fender was making a real guitar that’d be compatible with “Rock Band 3.” Meanwhile, Activision trotted out “Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock,” a sort of mashup of “Brütal Legend” and past “Guitar Hero” titles in which players embark on a heroic quest in a world inspired by heavy metal album covers, narrated by Gene Simmons.
In other words, the big boys stole “Power Gig’s” lunch.
Nonetheless, I was eager to make my way over to Seven45’s E3 booth and try my hand at “Power Gig,” as well as gauge the mood following Harmonix and Activision’s unveilings.
The prevailing sentiment could best be described as defensive enthusiasm. The folks at Seven45 were more than happy to get me acquainted with their controller, which does indeed look and feel like an actual guitar. But I detected a hint of annoyance when I asked the Seven45 rep closest to me if he’d heard about the Harmonix-Fender guitar controller, or “Rock Band 3’s” Pro Mode.
The Seven45 rep was quick to remind me that, though “Rock Band 3” is due out around the same time as “Power Gig,” no release date has yet been announced for Fender’s guitar controller. And besides, “Power Gig’s” ax will likely work with “Rock Band 3,” anyway.
As for the controller itself, it took my non-guitar-playing self a while to get used to because of the obvious lack of buttons, but once I started sliding my fingers along the fret, rather than pressing the strings as if I were still using buttons, my performance improved. I played through Derek and the Dominoes’ “Layla” a couple of times, and performed noticeably better the second time through.
One feeling it was hard for me to shake, though, was the feeling of being a little kid, plucking away at some grown-up’s guitar. I half-expected one of the developers to come running up to tell me that I was ruining the strings and it’d take him an hour to retune the guitar and couldn’t I just put it down and not touch anything? Why am I always breaking things, anyway?
So yeah, the controller works. But with a bundle of guitar plus game costing a steep $180, will gamers buy it, or sit idly by to see whether Fender’s offering is better? It’s hard to imagine a casual fan of the “Rock Band” games such as myself plunking down that kind of coin for “Power Gig,” especially when its overall aesthetic isn’t quite up to “Rock Band” standards. (The graphics are noticeably less crisp, and the announced song list so far has left many gamers cold.) Instead, “Power Gig” seems destined to appeal primarily to hardcore fans of music games itching to try a whole new way to play them.