Rock Band finally comes to the Wii

I’ve waited for this day – June 22nd – for a while, since today is the day that Rock Band finally comes out for Wii. While my PS3 and Xbox 360-owning friends have had access since last November, I had to be content with Guitar Hero III while I gazed with jealousy at the wonders of Rock Band and its superb multi-player aspect.

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Was it worth the wait? For me, it was. However, there are some obvious shortcomings when comparing the Wii version of Rock Band to those on the Xbox 360 and PS3, most of which were expected. Whether these were the fault of Harmonix (the developers) or Nintendo is a matter of debate.


Similar to the PS2, the Wii version of Rock Band was outsourced by Harmonix to Pi Studios for development of the port. While Harmonix developed the in-house versions of Rock Band for Xbox 360 and PS3, I guess they felt that they didn’t have the expertise to fully develop other versions by themselves. With a completely different team of developers in charge of the Wii/PS2 versions, it was expected that they would be similar in content. Some notable features missing in the Wii/PS2 versions:

  • No downloadable content (DLC)
  • No character creation
  • No Band World Tour gameplay mode

There are a few other differences, but these are the major gripes. The lack of downloadable content was quite a big disappointment, since that was a major reason behind Rock Band’s popularity; with DLC Rock Band became more of a platform for experiencing the music you like, rather than just a game. Whether you blame Nintendo or the developers is a matter of personal opinion. You do get five “bonus” tracks with the Wii edition, but the fact that each of these is already available as DLC for the PS3/Xbox 360 versions makes this seem like a sad consolation prize.

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While character creation may seem like a minor thing and thus its absence a bit puzzling, there is a clear reason for this: performance. Performance? What? Well, it turns out that the gameplay footage (of your characters singing/jamming on instruments) is pre-rendered and is effectively just a video playing in the background. Obviously this static content could not match up with the dynamics of custom character creation. This is in stark contrast to the Xbox/PS3 versions, where the gameplay footage is rendered like in any other 3D game. Unfortunately, the pre-rendered video doesn’t look all that great, with some aliasing noticeable if you’re playing on a big screen.


However, visuals might be a somewhat minor point as you’re not likely to notice it much when you’re concentrating on hitting the notes. What matters then, is the gameplay. Rock Band for Wii preserves the same basic gameplay offered by the other versions. However, the glaring omission of the Band World Tour has me disappointed. This mode offered a non-linear way for you to progress through the songs, playing at various gigs in cities across the world and offering the ability to play through set lists. Instead, all that is left is the much more stripped-down version, which just has you playing through groups of songs in order of difficulty, very much like Guitar Hero III. Personally, I can’t see the reason why this mode was left out, as it was one of the features that set the game apart from GH3.

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Audio performance is roughly the same, though obviously the game cannot support Dolby Digital 5.1 as the Wii doesn’t have the hardware for it; Pro Logic II is supported, however.

The lack of DLC is offset somewhat by news that they’ll soon be releasing a standalone track pack for Rock Band that adds 20 more songs. (An included paper insert in the game also broadcast this fact) Though you don’t get to choose the songs, as with DLC, the price of $30 is very attractive. The additional track pack won’t need the original game to play, probably because they needed to include the game engine and track data on one disc.

As expected, the game does not support the GH3 controller, with both of the parties involved blaming each other. Realistically, there’s no chance this will get resolved, as each side has no real incentive to do so. It’s unfortunate, because at $60 there’s no way I’m buying a second guitar for either game – plus, the thought of more plastic instruments in my living room doesn’t exactly fly with me.

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In the end, the big question will likely be, “Could Rock Band have been written to better take advantage of the Wii?” Right now, it’s pretty much a straight port of the PS2 version, which says something about the Wii’s hardware considering the PS2 is an eight-year old platform. Clearly, a Wii-specific version would have taken much longer to release (the PS2 version itself was released a month later than the PS3/Xbox 360 versions) so perhaps a balance had to be struck. If Harmonix had waited any longer, there might not have been a need for Rock Band on Wii, with Rock Band 2 and Guitar Hero IV just around the corner.

Check out more pictures of the Rock Band for Wii unboxing.


  1. There’s this question that’s been bothering me for a while. Since neither the PS2 and the Wii actually use USB controllers, are the instruments cross-compatible?

  2. I don’t personally have the PS2 version but I doubt the instruments for one system will work with the other.

    However, the instruments for the PS3 and PS2 versions of Rock Band are compatible with one another; this is because they were designed to be the same.

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