When Electronic Arts decided against continuing with the Rock Band franchise it was publishing it looked to be the end of the music game. Similarly, Activision decided to can Guitar Hero too, citing a lack of interest in rhythm and accessory games.
Now both series are back, although Harmonix's Rock Band 4 has a new partnering publisher in the guise of Mad Catz. It's a potentially clever move considering the game accessory company always made the best compatible instruments for the originals, and having a decent controller is half the battle. After all, it's half the game.
Sadly, the new controllers weren't ready - at least in working form - for the Rock Band 4 event we attended so we used some of Mad Catz Rock Band 3 guitars for our hands-on play with the new game. But considering the new ones will be similar and there are plans to ensure that older controllers are still compatible with the latest game, it was good to get a live example of that regardless.
Indeed, using the older controllers confirmed our feelings about the return of Rock Band. The fourth instalment (not including the licensed editions, such as the one centred on The Beatles) it's refreshingly familiar. There are some modes and gameplay styles that are yet to be announced - during E3 in a couple of weeks - but Rock Band 4's appeal lies in the fact that existing fans can just pick up and play as if there had never been a gap.
The same cannot be said about Guitar Hero Live, which has a new guitar accessory with an all-new button configuration. Nor does it allow you to import your old, bought downloadable content. And this might be where Rock Band 4 excels most.
Mad Catz and Harmonix have, from the outset, been keen to appease old fans by letting them access their previously acquired DLC songs in the new game (licences permitting). And we saw that in action during the dedicated preview event in London.
Plenty of former faves were available to play alongside new tracks from The Who (The Seeker), Jack White (Lazaretto), The Killers (Somebody Told Me), and a few others.
In fact, during our few plays, we tasted one new one - Somebody Told Me - and a couple of older DLC samples from EMF (Unbelievable) and Weezer (Buddy Holly).
We also gave swapped positions in the band from lead guitar to vocals during our time on stage and we have to say that the game plays exactly the same as before. The on-screen graphics too, apart from the fact that the background band renders are higher resolution and better looking.
There are some new additions we tried out. On the higher levels you can freestyle vocals this time around - even changing the lyrics as long as you keep within the pitch and key. Plus, there is more interaction with the in-game audience, where you can address the location ("hello Boston") and give call outs that they will respond to.
The fans will also remember good and bad tracks, triggering responses the next time you visit. Play an Aerosmith song well, for example, and the same audience will request it the next time you visit.
There's also a new "Shows" role-playing mode that gives control of the next song to the band while playing. One of the band members that has a lull in their part of a song can use that time to queue the next on the set list. It can even be a random song within certain parameters (such as "pop/rock").
This adds to the fun aspect of the game and we can't wait to see what Harmonix and Mad Catz have up their sleeves for the E3 unveiling. On this evidence, it doesn't even need to be much to bring back the fans.
Unlike Guitar Hero Live's complete reboot, Rock Band 4 feels like it is simply getting the band back together. And maybe that's all that it will take.