We in TRW have been lucky enough to get some gear from the great guys over at MadCatz UK that relates to the Rock Band games. Despite all playing real musical instruments as the video game cover band you’re likely here at this website to read about, we very much enjoy playing with our fake plastic instruments too. Mad Catz have given us a look at their new instruments for the game, and this is the first of several posts where we give you our thoughts on them.
I’m about to bust a myth here: Bass isn’t a boring instrument. It’s a common misconception of music fans that bass as an instrument is secondary to guitar and – I quote somebody I know here – played by people who ‘just aren’t good enough to play full-blown guitar.’
Rubbish. Poppycock. We in TRW know this thanks to the limited musical capabilities of many of the videogame systems we cover music from. On a system that only allowed four tracks, you’d often have a lead track, melody track, drum track and a bass track. The bass would be forced to over the traditional rock instrument roles of both rhythm and bass. We try to keep hold of that feel when we cover older tracks, and as such the bass plays a vital role for us.
Another group of people that know the truth about the bass are the wonderful people at Harmonix, as proved by their very well chosen selection of tracks for Rock Band and their lovingly-constructed bass note-charts. One of the reasons I feel Rock Band is superior to its rivals is that the songs chosen are on the whole interesting for every member of the band; providing exciting drums and interesting bass in most songs, rather than the repetitive beats and bass lines many rock songs sport.
And a third player enters the group enlightened to the true importance of bass, with Mad Catz showing that Rock Band players who prefer playing the bass in a band needn’t be ashamed of taking the allegedly smaller role – indeed, they deserve to show off their choice in instrument with a realistic in-game bass replica.
The Mad Catz Fender Precision Bass is based off the real Bass Guitar of the same name, one I’m familiar with in real-life. It’s a true-to-life interpretation, accurate in size and scale to the real thing – smaller to the same degree that a Rock Band guitar is to a Fender Stratocaster. Because of this, the Bass towers over all the other plastic guitars in the TRW collection and is several inches taller. Combined with the sleek black-and-white finish, the size makes the thing look a lot less like a toy and more like a real instrument regardless of if it’s being played or not.
The button layout will be familiar to Rock Band users – five frets at the head of the guitar, and give ‘solo’ buttons higher up the neck. You’ll also find the familiar Start and Back Buttons, this time moulded into one flick-style switch which can be clicked into one direction to Start and another for Back. A second selector knob allows you to choose your overdrive setting, as on the standard controller. Other familiar areas include the Guide button and D-Pad. All the buttons are effectively camouflaged, positioned in the same place as volume knobs on a real Precision Bass.
Bass Guitars don’t have whammy bars, so neither does this accurate replica. It does, however, have a well-placed knob which can be turned to create the whammy effect in game so you don’t miss out on picking up extra overdrive power on those longer notes.
So what’s so special, you ask? Well… this is when we reach the strum bar. If you watch a real bassist play, many play ‘finger bass’, without a plectrum. This involves using your index and middle finger to hit the strings, resting your thumb on a specially placed bar above the strings. The Mad Catz bass features a unique split-strum bar design, allowing you to play those difficult note charts more easily by using two fingers to strum twice as quickly, just like on a real bass.
The next question on your lips is probably ‘is it any good?’ Well, to keep it short and sweet, yes. After several years of Guitar Hero and Rock Band with one type of strum bar it’s slightly difficult to make the switch to using two fingers, but it quickly becomes second nature – and once it does, we have actually found it works better than the single strum bar on the other guitars. Admittedly for some intense guitar solos two fingers aren’t ideal. But for its designed purpose – bass – almost every bass track in the game and my modest downloadable content selection were made easier and more fun to play by the use of the Mad Catz Fender Precision Bass.
The only real downside to the whole piece of kit is the fact it is wired and not wireless, especially as it’s more expensive than the Wireless Rock Band 2 Guitar. That said, even for this money and even with the wire tethering you to your console of choice, the Bass is definitely my favourite plastic instrument ever. If you’re a Rock Band player who wants an alternative that looks good, plays differently and adds a new facet to the bass charts in the game, this is definitely worth a look.