Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Rocksmith Experiment (Week 1)

Good evening all. After my first week with the game Rocksmith (as stated in my blog last week), I am ready to make my first post about my progress with it. Now, as a quick recap: You use a real guitar to play this game, thanks to the cable that it comes with, allowing any guitar with a 1/4' jack to plug and play. The game throws notes at you the way guitar hero does, but instead of having a set difficulty, adds the notes to the screen as you get better until the point that you're actually hitting all the real notes of the songs. With that, let's get to it.

The first thing to note is that while this game does have tutorials explaining all of the techniques and more, I haven't really tapped into them much as of yet. I admit I've been kind of eager with each new song that came up as I finished the last. There weren't any that I'd say I was too incredibly good at (though Nirvana's "In Bloom" is kind of a cakewalk regardless of your level of experience, especially once the notes change to chords in the game), but I was certainly able to hold my own all the same. The note patterns each song will start you out with are much simpler than the tracks are to play themselves. It's as you get better and better that more notes begin to add on and you learn new techniques in the process, almost whether you want to you or not.

My only gripe is that I need to also be making sure I'm not forming any bad habits, as I'm sure that I can't be doing everything perfectly just yet. Hy hands are a bit small, so stretching them to shifts and such is a bit of a task for me still. This has been causing me to sometimes awkwardly use my pointer and index finger for things it probably shouldn't be, and I need to force myself to come out of that more.

I also have yet to try any of the mini-games thrown in to help with muscle memory and technique, and I'm still wondering how those will actually fare once I try them. They sound like an interesting and possibly useful idea. I'll post my thoughts on that next week if I've given it a try by then.

The last thing I'll point out is that I have noticed my picking ability getting a little bit better overall. My issue was never holding the pick properly or anything like that, but simply controlling it enough to pick up and down at a consistent rate and speed. I am still not quite there with this technique yet, but I feel that once I am, I will likely begin to do quite a bit better, especially for songs like Queens of the Stone Age's "Go With The Flow," where being able to up and down strum is a necessity.

All in all, I would say this has been a good first week in that I've addressed some things I need to work on and now pretty much know my limits as of yet. Hope I can work myself even harder by the end of week two!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Game Accessory Review: Nintendo 3DS Circle Pad Pro

Back in September of 2011, Nintendo announced they would address all of the complaints about the 3DS not having a second analog stick, by creating an actual add-on with which to use on any future games that would add compatibility for it. Once Nintendo finally showed us a picture of how it looked, the results were mixed, and understandably so. I mean, look at it...

This is not exactly the most attractive piece of technology in the world. Comments ranged from "It's not too bad," all the way to "Dear God, what is that tumor coming out of the 3DS!?" Obvious over-dramatizations aside, it's simply not the prettiest thing on the market, and that makes it a difficult sell for many right off the bat. Even more confusing was the decision to make the circle pad pro a GameStop exclusive. I could understand them getting a title like Xenoblade Chronicles to be a retailer exclusive, as it appeals to a very niche market, but this attachment confined to one store is going a little far...

Alright, with the oddities about its actual release out of the way, we'll go into the product itself:


1. If Resident Evil: Revelations is any indication, this add-on WILL make gameplay better. Despite the positioning of the A/B/X/Y buttons on the handheld in conjunction with the circle pad accessory, the game was much smoother to control than it was with the initial default setup. Without the pad, you have to hold down a shoulder button to strafe from side to side, whereas using both analog sticks allows you to do this as easily as you could playing a console version of Resident Evil (4 or 5 mainly). That's not to say the game isn't playable without the pad (far from it in fact), but I think many who get the chance to compare the two will see a clear advantage here.

2. I am also happy to say this accessory does not feel as odd as it looks. There's little to no time when it comes to adjusting to how to hold it; it simply feels a tad bigger without also feeling like an original Xbox controller in the process.

3. The accessory also boasts a pretty nice list of upcoming compatible games to use with it. These titles include Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater 3D, Kid Icarus: Uprising, Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, and more. These happen to all be titles I am very much interested in playing.

And now we go to the opposite end of the spectrum.


1. Like stated before, this thing is ugly as hell. Comfortable to hold or not, this just isn't an attractive piece of equipment. It also does not help much in the sake of portability, as this makes the 3DS about half of size and bulk of the Sega Game Gear. For those who are too young to remember the Game Gear, know that thing was a monster...

2. It's very hard to justify a $20 price tag on something that many fans are already claiming they shouldn't even have to pay for. While I would not go that far myself, I can see where they're coming from, so the price does have to be noted here.

3. This thing requires the use of a AAA battery to get working. While it's not too big of a deal, it is still a minor inconvenience all the same.

4. In order to open the battery panel, you have to use a screwdriver. Yet another minor inconvenience.

5. The accessory is very awkwardly placed when it comes to the A/B/X/Y buttons being directly next to each other. While it doesn't cause any real issues with Resident Evil: Revelations, it is yet to be seen how this will play in with other compatible titles that come out.

6. The accessory is even more awkwardly placed when it comes to all the slots it actually blocks access to. You won't be able to reach your game slot or stylus pen slot without removing it. As more compatible games come out that you may want to switch between, this can become quite an annoyance in the future. At least they were kind enough not to block access to the A/C adapter slot...

7. By far the most annoying aspect about this piece, is that it all but guarantees that Nintendo will go back to the drawing board down the line and create a revised version of the 3DS with the second analog stick built in. It also makes consumers feel like this was an idea tacked-on at the last second, which as far as we know, may not even be too far off from the truth.

Despite all of the awkward flaws that plague it, I still recommend the 3DS Circle Pad Pro accessory for a few reasons. The first and most important, is that there is no real possibility of a revised 3DS coming out for quite some time. If you already have the handheld, then $20 for this extra piece isn't really the worst thing in the world. It also really does feel nice to control (so far) if you can get past the awkwardness of the design. Overall, I feel this accessory could have been quite a disaster and ended up being more a pleasant surprise, after having so many initial fears. If you are on the fence about it, I'd say that it won't go changing your life, but that I think you'll be happy with it all the same.

7 awkwardly made GameStop exclusives out of 10

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Rocksmith Experiment (Xbox 360 Version)

Hello everyone. You may or may not have heard of this little title from Ubisoft that came out late last year. You also may or may not have seen the marketing campaign for it. This game is advertised to be a tool as well as it is a game. In order to play it, you plug in any 1/4" jack electric guitar (you heard that right, a REAL electric guitar!!!) and play right from the get-go, whether you're an expert or beginner.

Despite what some friends of mine will tell you (who think that Guitar Hero and Rock Band were the extent of my music "experience"), I actually do have a little past experience playing guitar. It's not much, but it's enough to play most classic rock (minus tricky solos) and punk with little difficulty. I'm about as average as average gets.

So what is it about this game that got me curious enough to give it a try, especially after the failure that was "Power Gig: Rise of the Six String?" Well, for one thing, I actually liked what I saw of the set up for this title. The notes come at you in a way similar to the Guitar Hero/Rock Band set up of the past, except that you're hitting actual notes on your six-string. Instead of difficulty settings, they start you off with a few notes of a song, and as you get progressively better, it will track that and add more difficulty to the notes you're playing, up until you are finally playing all the actual notes of the song. The promise of having the ability to get to that point, as well as gain some actual skill at the same time was too much for me to pass up. Also, I got it on sale, so that was the nail in the coffin.

What I'd like to here is play the game at least a few nights each week if I can, in order to showcase my progress and determine once and for all if this product really can help me get any better without the help of an actual teacher. I'd love to get better at hand-shifting, hammer-ons and pull-offs, fast-picking, and all sorts of other awesome techniques that I never felt attainable in the past. I'll be happy to post my results on all of these things, as well as my overall thoughts on the game itself as I learn more. Keep reading each week (as well as whenever I put out another awesome blog post about something unrelated :P) for more on what I hope to be an interesting experiment all-around.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Music Review: Symphony X: Iconoclast (Special Edition)

Last Friday, my friends and I were treated to seeing Symphony X on tour with Iced Earth and Warbinger. That was pretty much an inspiration for me to finally write a review of what was easily one of the most hyped progressive metal albums of last year. Seeing them on tour was exciting for many reasons. Their skill and songwriting ability is praiseworthy, as is their musical knowledge and comprehension. This band can sound just as good live as they do in their recordings, and trust me, when you really listen to the technicality and detail that goes into their work, you'll see that's a monumental achievement in itself. So after seven previous outings, how does this monstrous band hold up today? Well, that depends on how you look at a few things.

What I will immediately get out of the way is that the instrumentals and overall skill of the group are just as powerful and engaging as they ever were. Michael Romeo, the lead guitarist, still has the shredding ability that makes you question whether or not he is in fact a human being. Michael Pinnella on the keyboards (as in literally multiple keyboards at once!), still astonishes with his quick and precise hand work that goes into each song he plays. Russell Allen is still a ridiculous powerhouse on vocals, showing he can go many dynamic ranges without skipping a beat. All of the band members have amazing talent and deserve to always be recognized as such. This album, just like the previous, will continue to show that to the world, regardless even of what they may think of the music itself.

Going into the music itself would be inevitable at this point. Your feelings on the music will likely be based on a few key details. Ever since the band's previous entry, "Paradise Lost," they have all but changed their original sound. The current sound is much darker, the fantasy elements in each song have all but been replaced by more of a science fiction theme this time around, and many of the classical elements that helped shaped their original sound have been let go as well. It's not to say that the current sound the band promotes is a bad one (quite the opposite in fact), but to go pretending that this wasn't a dramatic change in the listening would have been a lie. Fans will want to take all of this into consideration if they're trying to figure out what to expect in this album based on the band's previous history. If you loved the newer sound found in "Paradise Lost," then you will likely love the sound in Iconoclast as well.

Only one song on the album goes over the 10 minute mark this time; the title track "Iconoclast" itself. This is immediately one of the best songs on the entire release, encompassing just about everything this band is known for. I dare someone to listen to the complex time signature right at the intro part of the song and not come back impressed. The song progresses in an excellent fashion, all the way up to the second track, "The End of Innocence." This was the first single off the album, and understandably so once you hear how catchy the combined sound of the guitar/keyboard truly are. A very simple song, but a very effective one all the same.

The third track, "Dehumanized" changes up the pace once more, with a bit of a heavy and slow, but powerful structure. Despite this formulaic approach, the song manages to sneak in a few moments you wouldn't have expected a song of this style to showcase. This is followed by the blistering-paced "Bastards of the Machine." The band shows off a great deal of energy with this track, while the keyboard will hook you almost immediately in. Another all-around great effort.

One more track that deserves a standing ovation is the track "When All Is Lost." This is the only song where Russell shows the softer side of his voice once more, followed by a wonderfully-crafted progressive masterpiece. The way the song builds up and crashes will surely leave a lasting impression, and rightfully so.

I will now stop listing thoughts on each particular song from this point forward. Why would I do this? Well, simply put, after these first four tracks, while the remainder are still good, they lose their unique factor at this point, and begin to blend together almost a little too much for my liking. As someone who knew this band almost right from the beginning (including being from the same general home state), it kind of disappoints me to see them taking a more generic approach to some of their songwriting with this and the previous release.

One more concern lies with the lyrics of this album overall. A very large amount of the lyrics in this release are overly cheesy and sometimes a bit difficult to stomach. For a band that's capable of writing such epic tracks as "The Odyssey," this may also come as a bit of a surprise to those who've come to know the band's directions over the years.

The last detail I will mention is the difference in the special edition content, as opposed to the single-disc release of the album. This special edition version includes three bonus tracks, with some of the other tracks re-arranged to fit two discs. The band said they felt this was the proper order of the album and the way they intended for it to be heard, but that Nuclear Blast USA wanted a single-disc release from them to put out as well. The three tracks are not necessarily any more essential than the rest of what's already on the album, but there's no reason not to go with the version that has everything on it for a few bucks more.

Once again, I must emphasize that I do like the new sound, as I do the old, but there is a serious change in the material they are now choosing to put out, and I can't help but feel that I miss many of the sounds and themes we've grown accustomed to with them over the years. Evolution can be a wonderful thing, but I feel like these last two releases have been a bit more of a step back for this band. I am very happy to see them getting better recognition among the charts than ever before, and I hope they continue to grow as a result of this. I just hope we don't continue to lose out on the things that once made them great at the same time. They are an amazing group through and through however, and I will continue to follow them, no matter what they do from this point on.

Overall, I would give this release an 8/10.