I have a lot of friends that love to play music games. It’s not uncommon for me to receive invitations to rock out with Rock Band, which is sort of like skillful karaoke. Rocksmith helped music games cross a threshold with its ability to allow players to use real instruments in a similar capacity to Rock Band, with the promise of teaching the player to be better at playing a real instrument (be it guitar or bass). Then there’s Realta Entertainment’s BandFuse; a game that is probably the closest thing to a cohesive guitar tutorial so far. Think of it like this: Rocksmith is like learning how to play the guitar through a local GroupOn opportunity at a professional music studio downtown; BandFuse is like learning guitar with your friends who happen to play in a kickass band and practice next door to your house in your neighbour’s garage.
Make no mistake, I’m certainly not saying that Rocksmith is a bad game by any stretch of the imagination. It goes a long way to get players to relax and enjoy the experience. People that play Rocksmith will definitely be great at playing the guitar (or bass), and will most likely be able to fake their way through the songs from the game set list outside of the actual game (if not actually play them really well). BandFuse, on the other hand, seems to be engineered to teach people how to learn and play practically any song once they have mastered the basics of the game. How, you ask?
The GUI is pretty awesome. You play the song while the video plays in the background. Don’t get distracted!
Well, one of the most valuable resources for guitar-playing musicians is the almighty tabulature notation (tabs for short). Basically, tabs are an efficient way to learn how to play songs on the guitar, whether you are just learning the chords or playing melody. They show you, very easily, what string you will be playing, what fret (note) you will be playing on that string; they also tend to tell you any special techniques that you have to employ. Tabs tend to be better than the traditional way of reading music because they indicate a number of variables, and they are basically the scribe’s most effective way of playing the song that is being presented. This is exactly why this game is fantastic. Once you learn how to use the tabulature system, you will be able to read the tab notation for any of your favourite songs and most likely learn it fairly easily (if you stick to a healthy practice regimen, of course). If you are already good at reading tabs, then BandFuse will be easier for you to get into. This system is a stroke of genius.
Starting up BandFuse is really no different than starting up Rocksmith. Both games feature a proprietary cable connection that gives you a 1/4 inch plug on one end and a USB plug on the other1. BandFuse indicates that HDMI is not the way to go due to latency, and that having an RCA or an optical connection is the best way to experience this game. Truth be told, I don’t seem to have an issue with the latency, so I’m still using my HDMI cable. Once you are plugged in and start the game, you will essentially adjust your sound and tune your guitar (all six strings at once!) through a series of routines that even a professional will appreciate2.
You Oughta Know how to sing and play guitar at the same time!
After this point you can proceed in any number of ways. You can strike out on the road by choosing Tour Mode, gaining a fanbase as you successfully complete various concerts, challenges and festivals. The playlists for this mode have been intelligently laid out, with concerts being made up of songs that work well with each other (a necessity, as they are played back to back), challenges that are appropriately difficult (and made even more so by the difficulty selector that precedes the song), and the final festival which is made up of all the songs from the tour. If you are a bit shy of tours you can do a Quickplay. Or, perhaps you wish to learn a bit more about various techniques in the Shred U section. Whatever your case may be, Bandfuse has you covered; education and fun seem to be the main drivers.
As someone who knows the basics of playing the guitar, I really appreciate all of the options that BandFuse offers. I am reasonably good at some songs, and not so good at others – so not being locked into a particular difficulty setting for any song during training is an awesome thing, and it allows me to feel a sense of accomplishment during each performance. One of the big differences between BandFuse and Rocksmith is the fact that the difficulty level of a song does not scale up to match the way that you play. When you pick a difficulty level, you’re pretty much stuck in there until the end of the song. However, the developers have added a few challenges to each level, so you will end up being pushed after a long enough period of time to get comfortable hunting and hitting the notes. Note: Level 5 difficulty is hella hard, as you’re looking at attempting to match the song note-for-note.
If you really want to you can dress up while you play!
The interface (the moving guitar tabs) is genius in my eyes, and makes it really easy to transition between the game modes and real life – plus the notation changes between difficulty levels is well thought out. The easy levels are usually single notes that are part of chords, while the advanced levels include all kinds of techniques like hammer-ons, slides and the like. I can see that beginners might have some difficulty with learning this tabulature system at the outset – but it’s so worth it. To supplement this system and mitigate this methodology (and help with the possible transition from other games), BandFuse makes use of a colour-coded system for your fingers. Basically, from the way that I understand it, the game indicates the optimal finger positioning via a similar colour system to Rockband or Guitar Hero. It may sound somewhat complicated, but it is a learning curve that is constantly being reinforced in one way or another, resulting in some solid results. Also, there are references to the system available very easily, so you are never too far away from help.
If you’re looking to brush up on your guitar skills, you can always try the Shred U mode, where you can take advantage of a plethora of learning tools. First of all, there is an extensive video section containing a ton of different aspects of the game, explained by vacious guitar legends. It was pretty amazing to watch a video of Slash teaching the player how to properly play a note. You’d think that this kind of basic stuff would be beyond these folks (Slash is but one of the artists) – but they do a great job covering techniques that they probably perform without thinking. One of the features that I really like is the Lick Lab, which allows you to play the same part of the same song (your choice) over and over again. You can start it off slow and pick up the pace as you feel more comfortable and get a higher level of performance.
Bandfuse does not only allow you to play using a guitar or a bass (and a bass, if you want), it also allows you to plug in a compatible USB microphone and sing as well! I plugged in my daughter’s Disney’s Sing It microphone and tried it out on its own and it did a great job as an interface with the game. What was even more cool was being able to sing while playing the guitar and having my score being tallied up as a single player, rather than as a different one. This is the first game that I know of that allows you to have a consolidated score for instrument and vocals at the same time. BandFuse supports up to 4 players in local multi-player, so you can rock out with three other people. Pretty awesome!
Multi-play will make you feel like you’re really in a band!
BandFuse comes with 55 tracks right out of the gate, ranging from the 1960′s to the 2000′s (all great selections), with the promise of more on the way. On top of that, you can create your own content (either on its own or using pre-existing backing tracks), you can customize the sound of the game’s amplifier and pedals to give your guitar a unique sound, and you can create custom set lists.
I know that I have been comparing BandFuse to Rocksmith a lot in this article. In all honesty, both are really great games. However, if you’d like to take your guitar-playing to the next level (especially if you are new to the scene), then I would personally recommend BandFuse for your gaming dollar, as the results of playing will definitely carry on long after you have shut off your console. Three different packs are available: Artist (single cable and the game); Band (two cables, a microphone the game, and a USB HUB); Guitar (single cable, the game, and a Fender Squier Bullet guitar). No matter which one you choose, you will enjoy the hell out of this game. Nice job, Realta!