Member BandFuse: Rock Legends?

Member the games you used to play? We member. The basement at the Hardcore Gamer office has a section known as the Crust Room, with an old grey couch and a big old CRT TV. All the classic systems are down there collecting dust, so in an effort to improve the cleanliness of our work space, we dust off these old consoles every so often and put an old game through its paces, just to make sure everything stays in working order. We even have a beige computer with a floppy disk drive. 

Guitar Hero and Rock Band brought the idea of combining playing guitar and playing video games to the forefront of pop culture. Those fake plastic guitars with their button frets did encourage some gamers to want to pick up a real six strin, and eventually Ubisoft capitalized on the idea of using video games as a means to learn how to play guitar with Rocksmith. Rocksmith was the most well known and successful of the real guitar playing console games, but a year later another guitar instructional game was released that never got to enjoy the limelight. That game was Bandfuse: Rock Legends, which brings us to a Member? about a game few people actually remember.

BandFuse is a game I never saw any press coverage for (I didn’t start writing for this site until 2016) but stumbled upon by pure chance at PAX in 2013. Wandering through the crowded show floor I stumbled across a display that appeared to have actual guitars and was immediately intrigued. The first song I played was “I’m Broken” by Pantera. Trying to play Dimebag’s solo by sight reading tab in front of an audience of gamers was not one of the highlights of my music performance life but the rest the song came out alright, and found myself periodically stopping back throughout PAX and played songs by Bad Religion, Children of Bodom, Faith No More, Halestorm,  Megadeth and Testament.

BandFuse has an extensive library of rock and metal songs to teach people guitar and bass regardless of skill level. Each song can be played with the rhythm guitar, lead guitar or bass guitar tracks. There are five difficulty that range from the rudimentary parts of the song to note for note transcriptions of the recording. The music video for the song plays in the background while the song’s tablature scrolls underneath. While it can be debated between whether Rocksmith or Bandfuse is the better guitar game (we all know which one was more successful), personal opinion is using basic guitar tab is more useful in learning the song than the odd horizontal scrolling tab used in Rocksmith that seems like a hybrid of the Guitar Hero road map and traditional tab. Anyone familiar with song transcriptions from guitar magazines or sheet music with tab will be able to jump right into Bandfuse.

To distinguish itself from the other guitar edutainment game, BandFuse incorporated some incredible talent to provide instructional videos such as Alexi Laiho, Bootsy Collins, Slash and Zakk Wylde. These videos do provide some level of instruction and can get you going with the basic idea for the technique, and these players are without a doubt among the best in the business but they are no substitute for actual in-person lessons. Besides these videos there’s also the Lick Lab that breaks down the songs into individual sections than can be repeated at slower speeds to get the precision down or even sped up a little so that they feel easier when played at proper speed. This feature is useful for learning some of the more complicated parts of the songs but unfortunately the interface for navigating this component is not user friendly at all.

There is a tour mode that serves a story mode, which is stripped down and bare bones, much like real touring. The player will complete a series of songs for the tour and earn money but since all songs are available at the start of the game there doesn’t seem like much of a point to it aside from simulating playing a set. Playing simple hit songs everyone knows like No Rain or Welcome to the Black Parade gets repetitive in this mode but that is probably the most realistic rock band simulation to be found in this title.

The songs are played in the actual tuning and there’s virtually no latency in the included USB guitar cable, so getting immediate real time feedback on your playing is extremely well done in BandFuse. Playing through the songs is a great way to learn them and a more fun to practice guitar than doing scale exercises and etudes (though those are probably a good idea for people serious about learning the instrument). There is noticeable difference in each difficulty level. People who have never touched a guitar can play on the easiest level and just hitting sparsely spread out root notes that bares a passing resemblance to the song can be satisfying. People who are proficient can play it on the highest level which is note for note what is recorded, which was how I actually practiced a few songs for a ’90s/00s rock cover band I was in at the time. The medium difficulties are good for learning more challenging songs and they can help you by learning a simplified version of the song so it’s not as taxing when all the moving parts get added. A nice feature about the tab is the only real gimmick they use is they color code the notes for the recommended finger to use.

BandFuse supports 6-string guitars and 4-string basses. It’s a fun title to play solo but there was an accessory jam pack available that had a couple USB guitar cables, USB link for acoustic guitar and a microphone. This allowed for live band karaoke with friends (minus a drummer) which can also be a fun activity, either to just jam out on some songs or actually try to learn how to play some stuff as a group.

BandFuse: Rock Legends isn’t perfect but it’s a great game for people who wanted a game that was entirely focused on playing guitar and bass. Unfortunately for its creators, Rocksmith ultimately won out for being the more popular guitar game, which isn’t too surprising since that title felt more like a game. I own both and they both have their merits, but speaking as a musician before a gamer, BandFuse is the title that I preferred. There is some DLC available but it’s pretty limited. BandFuse never had the popularity to get all the post-release DLC content it needed to fully live up to its potential but in this writer’s opinion it was a fun way to practice guitar and did have some useful teaching tools. It’s available for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 and while it never attained massive popularity, it’s worth checking out for any gamer guitarist.

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