For Harmonix, the developers who invented the Guitar Hero video game, I imagine it must've hurt to lose that brand name. It was one of those buy-out deals: Another company funded Guitar Hero's initial development (and owned the rights), so once the fake-rock series proved successful, everybody was sold every which way. Guitar Hero zigged; Harmonix zagged.
MORE ON Guitar Hero and Rock Band:
Sam Machkovech: 'Rock Band 3': 102 Reasons Music Games Are Still Worth Playing
James Parker: School of Rock
Andrew Sullivan: A Guitar Hero Epiphany
Brian Wilson must've felt the same way watching the Beach Boys take a trip to Kokomo.
Yet the Harmonix headquarters in Cambridge, MA has been humming along since that 2007 schism, and when I rang up its big-wigs earlier this month, I couldn't get any of them to fess up to sour grapes. That's because they've successfully spread their music-game wings with two huge franchises—Rock Band and Dance Central—that, quite frankly, make Guitar Hero look like a little, plastic toy.
I raved about Rock Band 3 earlier this week, the ultimate culmination of the series' party-music play. It still looks a lot like Guitar Hero—colored "notes" glide down the screen, and you strum, drum, sing, or plink along—but don't be deceived. With more modes, more instruments, and more realism than other rock games, only Rock Band 3 can scale on so many levels: for the novice or the addicted expert; for the light-hearted fan or the note-by-note memorizer; for a weeknight of solo relaxation or a Saturday party with seven friends jamming at once.