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Rock Band Special Edition Review (Wii)

Nintendo has never claimed to have created the Wii for hardcore gamers, and in fact, the company would probably call you crazy if you said such a thing. Likewise, most Wii owners wouldn’t consider themselves anything other than casual gamers, even if they do spend just as many hours on their consoles as the “hardcore” crowd. So you can see how Rock Band Special Edition for Wii poses a bit of a conundrum. On the one hand, it’s a scaled-down version of the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions, which normally would ding a game’s score. On the other hand, Wii owners are all about fun, and they generally won’t gripe about missing features if the features that are there are compelling. And, well, fun and compelling are what Rock Band Special Edition is all about on the Wii, even though there are a few bumps along the tour.

Rock Band Special Edition is very late to the Wii party, coming almost a year after the PS3 and Xbox 360 phenom hit stores, and several months after PS2 owners got their hands on MTV Games’ game. Rather than be bitter, though, let’s just call Rock Band “fashionably late,” because the experience is no less fun on the Wii, even if it is scaled back. And heck, if you consider how atrociously Nintendo bombed at E3 with Wii Music, Rock Band Special Edition is the creme de la creme by default, even without its rock-solid multiplayer options.

Out of the box, Rock Band Special Edition for Wii includes a drum set, drumsticks, microphone and a wireless guitar, which is oddly the only instrument that doesn’t require the also-included USB hub. Considering the length of the USB cables on the mic and drums, the lack of wireless technology isn’t much of an inconvenience, it’s just puzzling. Also a bit vexing is the absolute need for calibrating the instruments, a feature that was included in previous versions but really is a necessity on the Wii. The first time we jumped into a set with three friends, we noticed the vocals/instrument sync was so delayed that our jam session actually caused non-Nintendo-friendly words to be said aloud. After a relatively quick calibration we were back on track, but the inability to hop right in — which is what most Wii owners will want to do — was a bit jarring.

Once that preliminary setup issue was out of the way, Rock Band Special Edition didn’t miss a beat when it came to sheer party-game-like entertainment. Yes, this version misses the band customization that was included in the “next-gen” versions. Yes, it misses downloadable content (although you can buy all the heretofore-released DLC on a disk). And yes, the drum set is still a bit on the loud side, although it seems sturdier and slightly quieter this time around. The thing is, Wii owners — ourselves included — won’t care, because we’re frankly more interested in simple fun with friends (hello, Wii Sports).

With all its instruments and 63 songs (five more than in previous versions), Rock Band Special Edition truly is a party in a box. Karaoke lovers have a singing option with the microphone. Drummers have their beloved drums. Air-guitar fiends can rock with the guitar. Then, when the song is over, you can switch instruments and see how you do on “the other side of the stage.” In many respects, Rock Band Special Edition is the perfect game for the Wii for just that reason: it’s driven by social interaction, and although the game keeps track of scores, its fun doesn’t lie in hitting the top of the Leaderboard (because there isn’t one on the Wii), but in rocking out with your friends. Who cares if you can’t customize how your band looks or span the globe to gain fans and equipment? When you’re busy fighting over which song to play next and when to activate the Overdrive feature, you’re not worried that the career mode is more linear (a la Guitar Hero) than it was in the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions.

The one snafu if you do find yourself playing alone is the need to navigate all the way back to the main menu to switch instruments. For instance, if you choose to take on some songs as a drummer, you can’t switch to guitar mid-game and go about your business. Instead, you need to laboriously navigate back to the main menu, switch instruments and then head back into the song list. It’s pretty much a buzz kill to remove yourself from the music that long, and we hope Harmonix will institute more of a “hot swap” feature for switching instruments in Rock Band 2 this fall.

Which leads us to the only reason we can really see for not picking up Rock Band Special Edition for Wii: the sequel. Rock Band just got here, and already the sequel’s on the way. Fortunately, Harmonix is making the songs in Rock Band 2 compatible with the instruments from this first game, which should make your decision a bit easier. After all, $140 is a lot to drop on a game and peripherals, and all those family-friendly Wii owners will want to stretch those dollars over a long period of time. Now it looks like they’ll be able to do so, and have a great bit of fun in the process.

Buy Rock Band Special Edition for Wii at

Score: 8
The need to calibrate is annoying, but the scaled-down aspects are moot with Wii owners, and the multiplayer aspects are perfectly suited for the Wii in general.

— Jonas Allen

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