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Critical Reception: EA/Harmonix's Rock Band 2 (Wii)

The important Nintendo Wii port of Harmonix's Rock Band 2 was much-delayed, but has just debuted -- but how has it fared with reviewers? Gamasutra's Critical Reception looks at an apparently much-improved sequel to a feature-deprived Wii Rock Ba
This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to the recently released Nintendo Wii port of Harmonix's band simulation title Rock Band 2, which reviews claim is "identical to what Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 players have been playing since September." Controversy followed last year's late Wii release of Rock Band, which lacked many of the features that defined its Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 ports. The Wii version of Rock Band lacked downloadable content, featured no online multiplayer functionality, and included no character customization, instead opting to display generic full-motion video backgrounds during band gameplay. Series fans wondered if Rock Band 2 would suffer the same fate. Though the Wii port of Rock Band 2 wasn't as severely delayed as its predecessor, it still arrived on store shelves several months after the release of its PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 counterparts. Critics have found the resulting product to be worth the wait, however, as Rock Band 2 on the Wii currently earns a Metacritic-averaged score of 92 out of 100. Alan Kim at Games Radar scores Rock Band 2 at 10 out of 10. "If the first Rock Band was the opening leg of a full-blown concert tour, with four players living the rock and roll dream via color-coded buttons and plastic guitars, drums, and microphone, Rock Band 2 is like the final show of that same tour," he says. "It's not radically different from its already brilliant predecessor (at least not yet), but everything is tighter and runs more smoothly, and there’s an explosive, extended encore." Though the gameplay is similar, Kim welcomes Rock Band 2's many small improvements. "There are several very welcome tweaks, like the ability to switch instruments and even entire band members mid-career, a 'no-fail' mode, and custom setlists," he notes. "Bassists can have a full career now, and there's an online-enabled battle of the bands that should prove marvelously addictive. There’s also a drum trainer that will teach you the basics of actual drumming, should you wish to exchange this virtual band with a real one someday." Rock Band 2 also features a bigger tracklist, thanks to the inclusion of downloadable content. "There are more than 80 tunes right on the game disc, and you can download 20 more," Kim says. "Unfortunately, you can't rip the songs from the original Rock Band onto your Wii memory card like you can with the 360 version - the Wii's lack of a hard drive means there's nowhere to put them." "However, the Wii version does have its own online store, complete with downloadable songs," Kim continues. "Plus, you will be able to access downloaded songs straight from the game even though they're located on a memory card instead of in the Wii's measly built-in memory." "The only thing to complain about with Rock Band 2 – and it's barely even a complaint - is that it polishes rather than reinvents," Kim concludes. "But you know what? We’re okay with that, at least for this year. We're thrilled that Harmonix didn't try to fix things that weren't broken and add in silly things just to add bullet points on the box – the original Rock Band was nearly perfect already." IGN's Daemon Hatfield also finds Rock Band 2 to be an improvement over its predecessor, rating it at 9 out of 10. "When the first Rock Band hit the Wii last summer, it was a shell of its former 360 and PS3 self," he recalls. "Major features like World Tour mode, character customization, and downloadable content had been gutted. Well, the band has been in the studio remastering Rock Band for Wii, and the sequel more than makes up for the original's problems." "The Wii version of Rock Band 2 is feature identical to the PS3 and 360 versions," Hatfield continues. "World Tour mode is here for both local and online play. The full character editor is here (except for the tattoo creator, but only sailors and ex-cons have tattoos anyway). Your band is now rendered in real-time during a performance, rather than appearing in generic video. And the online music store will go live 'very shortly' after the game's release, according to Harmonix." The inclusion of these features occasionally results in a drop in performance quality, however. "The game is basically a lower-resolution version of the 360 and PS3 editions, but it still looks nice on Wii," Hatfield writes. "It has the same great art style and better animation than Guitar Hero (except for the drummers -- don't know what's going on there). There are some framerate issues, though, and your band members' motions can sometimes get a bit jerky." "Rock Band 2 for Wii fixes every problem the original game had on the system and even adds pleasant new features," Hatfield summarizes. "Aside from a little less detail in the visuals, this is identical to what Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 players have been playing since September. It's a more user-friendly experience, simultaneously more challenging for the hardcore and more accessible for casuals." Robert Workman at GameDaily contributes a Rock Band 2 review scored at 9 out of 10. "Rock Band 2 retains the hard-rocking gameplay that made last year's Rock Band such a hit," he begins, "but turns up the features and online play to be even better." Workman notes that Rock Band 2's gameplay will seem familiar to those who have played its predecessor, though the experience remains enjoyable. "Gameplay is mostly the same as other versions of the game as you sing, strum or drum your way through a variety of songs, either by yourself or with friends through local or, new to the Wii, online play," he says. "Just because the game is similar to its prequel, however, doesn't mean there's nothing new," Workman continues. "The disc contains 84 songs, along with the option of purchasing extra ones through a virtual store (opening soon, if it hasn't already)." Rock Band's World Tour mode boasts numerous improvements in particular. "World Tour mode returns with a few improvements, such as switching instruments between songs," Workman writes. "Don't feel like doing the drums today? Grab a guitar and strum to your heart's content. Others can also play with you, either locally or through online play. Better still, if you have an empty spot, you're able to fill it with one of your customized characters." "You'd be crazy to turn away from a party like Rock Band 2," Workman concludes. "The fun gameplay, improved peripherals, additional modes and incredibly cool song list (with fresh additions each week, including full albums) will keep you rocking for months."

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