On HD platforms, Rock Band 2 is more of an expansion pack than a genuine sequel. It’s filled with tweaks and polishes that enhance the experience of the first game with some real improvements, albeit not exceptionally dramatic ones. Wii owners will be delighted to discover that on Nintendo’s platform, Rock Band 2 is a real update that builds upon the rather limited Wii port of the first game from just over six months ago. Thanks to the efforts of Harmonix and Pi Studios, this sequel uses the Wii’s hardware to deliver an experience that provides the sprawling downloadable content that has come to define the series. Though it came later than the other versions, Rock Band 2 is one of the Wii’s best games to date.
Like its predecessor, Rock Band 2 allows you to take on one of four roles in a music band. As vocalist, guitarist, bassist or drummer, you’ll have your own unique challenges and make your own contribution to a song. For guitar and bass players, it’s all about tapping fret buttons in tune with the music, while drummers must hit the pads in time with onscreen notes. Vocalists watch side-scrolling notes and sing along in tune. Rock Band veterans will be quite familiar with this gameplay, and will likely be happy that Harmonix has incorporated a “No Fail” mode, which will relieve both newcomers and hardcore players.
Rock Band 2 contains three core gameplay modes: World Tour, Battle of the Bands, and Tour Challenges. Rock Band for Wii had a rather limited career mode that resembled the linear song structure of the Guitar Hero games on PlayStation 2. Now, you can play through World Tour alone, and there’s support for online multiplayer. Thankfully, there are small tweaks that make the experience a lot better this time around. In the previous game, your created character was locked to one instrument, but user-created band members can play on any instrument as needed for World Tour in Rock Band 2.
Also, unlike in the first game, you can pick your home city and work your way around territories (start in Berlin and you’ll be touring Europe; start in LA and you’ll be working your way across America) until you go global and get to the “Rolling Stone Rock Immortals Challenge” in Shanghai. This makes for a vastly improved experience that emphasizes teamwork, whether it’s a solo jaunt through Paris’ venues on guitar or you and three friends playing over Nintendo Wi-Fi.
Aside from the tweaks to World Tour, Battle of the Bands is another great addition to Rock Band 2. Every day, you and your friends will have a new challenge on your hands. These can range from hitting a lengthy note streak to cracking high scores on a specific song, and Harmonix spices up the proceedings with different rules and parameters, whether it’s playing only on bass or having to perform a specific tracklist based around a theme. The only caveat here is that certain challenges require downloadable content rather than what’s on the disc, so unless you’re an avid collector of songs, you might not be able to take part in some of these battles. But if you’re really hardcore, they’re a great gameplay addition.
Tour Challenges function as a sort of offline Battle of the Bands that you’ll perform without your fellow bandmates. You’ll run through a gamut of songs tailored to your instrument of choice, whether it’s your voice, a guitar, or drums. As in Battle of the Bands you’ll get some themed challenges, and any new tracks that you buy will integrate with new challenges, whether it’s a song genre or specific decade. It’s not a substitute for the excellent World Tour, but it’s another handy means of unlocking more songs.