|Dev: Sonic Boom|
|Pub: Sonic Boom|
|Release: July 20, 2010|
|Screen Resolution: N/A|
by Robert VerBruggen
Though the game is being marketed as an alternative to Guitar Hero and Rock Band, there really isn't much to Rhythm Zone. There's no career mode, and to play the songs in anything but a random order, you have to select them one at a time. Plenty of songs are included (fifty and counting), but they're all from unknown indie artists who presumably charged little or nothing for the use of their music. The gameplay screen is ripped straight from Guitar Hero: colored notes come down a path that looks like a guitar fretboard, and you hit the corresponding buttons with the correct timing to score points and increase your multiplier.
However, Rhythm Zone promises a killer feature. You're not limited to the songs that come with it, and you don't have to buy extra songs as DLC. All you have to do is locate a music file from the program (all the major types are compatible, including MP3 and AAC), and in a few seconds, it will create a track for you to play in any of four difficulty levels. In other words, this game's selling point is that it can turn your entire music library into Guitar Hero DLC for the low, low price of $10.
But it's only a killer feature if it actually works, and as soon as we heard about it, we were highly skeptical. Modern music is recorded one instrument at a time, but the final version of a song has only two tracks, the left and the right. All of the instruments are clumped together in a single mix, and because guitars, basses, vocals, and drums all occupy some of the same frequencies, it's difficult for a computer to sort them out into a single rhythm that makes any sense. Nonetheless, we entered our review code to download the game, plugged in a USB hard drive containing all the music we've bought in the last decade and a half (114 GB!), and started experimenting.
We hate to be hard on a $10 game from an indie developer, but this game's Steam page promises "a revolution in music gaming," and the bottom line is that nothing could be further from the truth. Rhythm Zone simply has no ability to track the various riffs and melody lines that make up music, and thus the lines it gives you represent a bizarre hodgepodge of guitar chords, drum hits, and vocal notes. Often, the track you're supposed to play feels completely disconnected from the song itself.
This was true even when we tried picking songs that would downplay these limitations. For example, Black Sabbath's "Iron Man" is the bonehead-iest of bonehead metal songs: During the verse, the guitar, bass, and vocals all follow the same simple rhythm and melody. Nonetheless, the drum hits kept interfering with the track, robbing us of the opportunity to pretend to play the iconic riff in a realistic fashion. We had the same experience with AC/DC's "T.N.T.," a runner-up in the bonehead sweepstakes; the drums and vocals kept creeping into our guitar lines, making everything feel disjointed. And don't even try a song with riffs and melodies that are less obvious. We're not even sure how to describe what it did with The Gaslight Anthem's "Wherefore Art Thou, Elvis?" (which is a great song if you've never heard it, by the way).