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Where Have All the Music Games Gone?

Guitar Hero

E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) has wound down, and all the buzz out of the seizure-inducing trade show is about the PS4’s beauty, Microsoft’s obstinance, and dozens of new games that will lead to hundreds of wasted hours. Unlike five years ago, none of those games use plastic controllers shaped like guitars. So, whatever happened to Guitar Hero and Rock Band, two games that were once as ubiquitous at E3 as under-dressed booth babes with sad eyes? Well, they died and they’re never coming back. But thanks to a couple of titles still kicking around, their legacy may live on.

But first, the obituary: Harmonix released the first Guitar Hero in 2005. The company followed that unexpected hit with Rock Band two years later. At their peak, the games were selling millions of copies a year, invading arcades and having South Park episodes written around them. But dark times arrived in 2010. Analysts have pointed to a handful of causes, including high music-licensing fees and the public’s general boredom with the games, which tends to happen when your target audience in the casual gamer.

In late 2010, Rock Band attempted innovation by shipping a real guitar controller aimed at making the game less about mashing buttons on a plastic ax and more like playing the real thing. It didn’t work. As Activision Blizzard shuttered Guitar Hero in 2011, Rock Band entered a zombie phase in which it released no more games, but kept providing downloadable content. That ended in April of this year when DLC was declared dead too.

Now that the landfills are filled with plastic guitars and drum sets, a couple of small companies are attempting to revive the music-game genre with titles that are more music than game. The Next Web brings news from E3 today of upgraded versions of Rocksmith and BandFuse, two games that rose from the ashes of Guitar Hero and use real guitars as controllers. Unlike Rock Band 3, which was compatible with only one real guitar, Rocksmith and BandFuse will work with anything. And instead of the four-button approach of the early music games, these use every string and every fret. RockSmith even boasts artificial intelligence that allows the other instruments inside the game to feed off what a user is playing.

These games are being touted as both the next wave in music gaming and learning tools for would-be Eddie Van Halens. So even if they don’t blow up like the games before them, they should always have a role in teaching kids to play. If nothing else, that should save them from the video-game graveyard.