When game maker Harmonix Music Systems introduced "Guitar Hero" and the guitar-shaped controller that accompanied it, gamers and nongamers alike found common ground in a love not for gaming but for music. Actually, it was more like a fever that spread like wildfire.
Urban hipsters and geeky college kids all got in on the fun, and as the series continued, so did the increasing ubiquity of the game. So much so, in fact, that the musicians featured in the game saw an increase in sales of their music.
So, when MTV whipped out its very large pen to write a very large check, and acquired Harmonix to go for a ride on the video game cash cow, music fans and gamers watched with nervous anticipation.
The result is "Rock Band," a game that silences the skeptics who doubted Harmonix's ability to deliver a music game to rival "Guitar Hero."
If you're not familiar with "Guitar Hero," the concept is simple. Players strum and hold down frets on a guitar-shaped controller. A guitar neck appears onscreen, and as the colored notes travel down the neck, players must play the notes by holding the corresponding frets and strumming the guitar pick-shaped button on the face.
The faster and more complicated the song, the harder it is to play.
Now comes "Rock Band" to kick it up to 11! (That's a reference to to the classic rock mockumentary "This Is Spinal Tap.") By adding the ability to play drums, bass, guitar and to sing vocals, players can take on any role they want in solo play, or get up to four friends together and rock out as a band.
Even though you can buy the game or any of the instruments individually, the best value is a bundled pack that includes a four-port USB hub, a guitar controller, a durable four-drum kit, a microphone and, of course, the game, and retails for about $170.
The instruments are pretty easy to pick up and play — though the drums require a bit of coordination — but you will need a pretty significant space to set up if you plan on playing with friends.
As players rock through the cities and play lists in the game, they perform in clubs, arenas and concert halls filled with screaming fans who love to sing along when you're playing well, and will turn on you like you're Ashley Simpson on "Saturday Night Live" and boo you offstage if you're playing poorly.
And while Harominx delivers game play that's intuitive and fun for players, MTV has delivered a roster of music and musicians pulled right from the Billboard Top 40. From Radiohead and Weezer, to Black Sabbath and the Rolling Stones, if it ain't a hit, it ain't in the game.
It's hard to imagine where we go from here; how to "up the ante." But it may not matter if Harmonix and MTV are able to offer new music through the Xbox Live and PlayStation Network stores.