Rock Band Sim
If I were a rockstar, I'll tell you what I'd do. I'd buy all my jeans pre-grunged so I had more time to stick it to "da man" while I shredded on my axe guitar atop a semi barreling down a dramatically lonely highway. I'd party with Gene Simmons and that one guy from Poison, and I'd get fat checks for drinking soda and looking bored at clubs. Yeah, baby, I'd live it! Unfortunately, I grew up during the '90s, so I missed out on my chance for big stardom and bigger hair during the rockin' '80s. Fortunately, Mousebreaker is here with the aptly titled Rock Band Sim to fulfill all my raddest fantasies, letting me manage the career of a up-and-coming band of my own creation. Will they rocket to the top of the charts, or will they wind up doing mediocre covers of Ramones songs for free beers? Knowing my managerial skills, probably the latter.
When you first fire up the game, you'll be prompted to create your very own band of fashionably disinterested malcontents, I mean, rockstars. You can name your band yourself, or have the game generate an appropriately nonsensical one for you. You pick four bandmembers from a list of pre-generated musicians — singers, drummers, guitar players, and bassists, all with varying skills, and all who look like they just got thrown out of a Gwar concert. All the skills — charisma, drive, musicianship and flair — are fairly important to a successful band, but don't worry if yours seem a little lacking at first; there are multiple ways to build them up.
Once you've got your band, it's time to hit the big time. And by "hit the big time", I mean, "micro-manage your time and finances while you try to increase your skills and buy better instruments". What, did you think you'd be discovered in somebody's backyard and whisked away to open for the Rolling Stones on your first night? It's going to be a long time before anywhere really cool lets your mohawk in the door, so get ready to play a lot of dives and scrounge a lot of change. The main screen is a map with several locations on it, each with a specific purpose. Your house lets your band attempt to write their own songs, the shop sells things to increase your skills, and the Rock Pit is where you play all your gigs. Playing a gig not only earns you cash, it generates hype, which dictates the quality of shows you can put on, and helps your band level up.
Most of the game is played with the mouse, simply pointing and clicking your way through menus. Whenever you decide to play a gig, however, you'll use the arrow keys to match the beat and play a short tune. It's a lot like old favourite Super Crazy Guitar Maniac, only the notes scroll left-to-right instead of vice-versa. Make sure you don't miss too many of them or you'll bomb and lose the cash deposit for the gig. The better your band is, the more cash you'll rake in, so make sure you put some thought into not only your equipment but your skills as well. After all, the flashiest musician around is no good if he doesn't have the skills to back it up.
Analysis: Unfortunately, Rock Band Sim tries to incorporate so many different tricks and gameplay elements that it winds up spreading itself too thin, so that some of the various activities don't seem as fleshed out as they could be. The addition of status ailments, which can crop up after events if you do poorly, seems clever, but they don't show up often enough to really impact the game. I'm also a huge fan of playing Guitar Hero when nobody is around to see how terrible I am, so the fact that each "song" you play is only ever rarely more than a handful of notes was disappointing. It feels a little gimmicky and out of place when the rest of the game plays more like an old flash date sim in terms of mechanics. If I can't play the entire song instead of just a few random clips, why bother? Way to kill my buzz, brah.
A lot of the results and events are randomised, and I have yet to ever meet a random chance generator that I liked. After every gig, there's a chance that you'll be presented with a decision that can potentially result in a big bonus for your band. On the first playthrough, I ran into them almost every other show. The second time I never saw a single one, which is a shame, since they break up the monotony that can set in when you're grinding away to raise cash or skills. I was also happier than I've ever been to see an option in the menu to turn off the background music loop.
For all that, however, Rock Band Sim is quirky and put together well enough to make it stand out from other sims. I can honestly say that if I had a band in real life, I would hire a guitarist named Harriet Crazytrain and a drummer named Toby Jellyfish. The random names for the songs your band writes are often hysterical — I'm still not sure if the fact that "You Download Your Nipples" sounds like an actual song is horrifying or wonderful. While it doesn't break any molds, Rock Band Sim should appeal to management fans and anyone with a sense of humour. The spirit is behind it, and its ability to glorify in it's own silliness is a winning trait. I grew pretty attached to my questionably talented little ne'er-do-wells, and I played the game more than once. You might never be a rockstar, but now at least you have a chance to live the dream without all the sordid tabloids and career burnout.