Green Day: Rock Band

On the surface, an entire game dedicated to Green Day doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. But look closely and you’ll see that the “punk trio” has a deep and catchy catalog of hits whose energy and vibe perfectly fit the Rock Band experience. Unless you absolutely cannot stand their songs, this is one case where we’ll recommend you check your music pretensions at the door and just have fun, because after all, isn’t that what music is all about?

Even as a lifelong fan of the band, the existence of Green Day: Rock Band initially confused me. Punk rock is notoriously repetitive and Billie Joe Armstrong, while a popular front man, doesn’t possess the same star power as John, Paul, George, and Ringo. The Beatles deserved their own Rock Band title because everyone is familiar with their music, which goes a long way towards making the game accessible; I played The Beatles: Rock Band with my mom, which says a lot.

But I was wrong to assume Green Day didn’t carry a comparable amount of cultural cachet as the Fab Four, and it only took one song for me to “get” why Green Day: Rock Band made sense. As soon as Mike Dirnt’s groovy bass line during “She” exploded into its aggressive chorus, I saw that Green Day is a better fit for Rock Band than any band I can think of, and that’s including The Beatles. That’s not to say that this is a better Rock Band game, or that Green Day is a better musical act; my point is that the balls-out rocking of Green Day’s music is a much better fit for the medium.

Even older songs, like ‘Geek Stink Breath,’ see similarly impressive performance details on the American Idiot tour set.

A huge part of that stems from the excellent recreation of Green Day’s energetic live shows. I saw the band play years ago, and it is still, hands down, the best concert I’ve ever been to. There’s a peerless enthusiasm in the performance, and the goal isn’t just to entertain the audience, but to include them as well. In Green Day: Rock Band you’ll see the band throw choruses to the crowd, induce rhythmic clapping and cult-like chanting. This authentic replication of the actual stage experience resonated with me more vividly than any other Rock Band experience I’ve had thus far. I had a blast with the rapid-fire guitar riffs, mellowing out to the catchy and melodic bass lines, belting out harmonizing vocals and going ballistic on the drums.

What’s strange is that Green Day: Rock Band’s career mode is also the weakest of the series. It doesn’t offer the personal progression of core Rock Band games and it isn’t as much of a personal experience as The Beatles’ trip through time. Unlockable photos and video clips don’t cut it for me, unfortunately. But the focus is more on presentation than progression, so I got over that hump pretty quick. I do wish the game had more tracks from Warning, Nimrod, and Insomniac — those albums are represented by a meager couple cuts each — but the rest of the track list includes most of the band’s top hits.

Green Day: Rock Band even replicates the distorted black and white cuts from Green Day’s Bullet in a Bible live show DVD.

After gaining a clearer understanding and deeper appreciation of Green Day’s songwriting prowess, I also realize that my fear of repetition was unwarranted. There is so much more musical variety to songs like “F.O.D.” and “Burnout” than predictable power chords. This is especially true in American Idiot, where ten-minute-long epics like “Homecoming” and “Jesus of Suburbia” metamorphose a half-dozen times in the same song. I dig that on-the-fly change of pace, and it seems Harmonix does too: The developer cleverly combined certain songs into one track, so a track like “Give Me Novocaine/She’s a Rebel” has you playing both songs as one, back to back.

The tendency toward newer tracks, and the neglect of excellent older ones, is a bit disappointing, but as a whole, Green Day: Rock Band plays like a big, wet kiss for its fans. Non-fans will still enjoy this one as well, not only because they probably know the hits even if they don’t enjoy them, but because the songs are a perfect fit for the Rock Band experience. This isn’t a case of just adding Green Day to Rock Band and calling it a day: rather, Harmonix took the time to marry a band’s existing catalog to its sublime gaming experience, resulting in an immensely enjoyable experience that has far more appeal than you or I originally thought.

PROS: The great mix of aggressive punk rock and mellow acoustic jams play great on every instrument; presentation brilliantly captures the enthusiasm and energy of Green Day’s live shows.

CONS: Shallow career mode isn’t terribly rewarding; older albums get the cold shoulder.

Eagle-eyed fans will also recognize the Milton Keynes venue and its pyrotechnic wizardry from the Bullet in a Bible set.

As an experiment, I asked my buddy Kevin to play some Green Day: Rock Band with me. Kevin loves Rock Band to death but strongly dislikes Green Day. “There are only a few songs I like, mostly their older stuff,” he explained to me. “All of their new stuff is overplayed garbage.” Suffice it to say, he enjoyed most of Green Day’s major label debut Dookie (arguably their best record) but the rest of the game didn’t sit too well with him. He liked the fact that it was Rock Band, and let’s be honest, we can all tolerate plenty of awful songs featured in both Rock Band and Guitar Hero because of the gaming experience — A.F.I.’s “Miss Murder” and Fallout Boy’s “Dead on Arrival,” for instance. But Kevin just couldn’t get over the fact that it was all Green Day, all the time. He summarizes, “As a Rock Band game it’s fine. There just aren’t many songs I want to play.”

Consider this a case of buyer beware: if you love Green Day and Rock Band, this one’s a no-brainer. And if you love Green Day but have little to no experience with rhythm games, move out of the cave you live in and check it out — you won’t be disappointed. But if you absolutely can’t stand Green Day’s music, then you should obviously look for your rhythm game fix somewhere else. Coincidentally, my mom liked Green Day: Rock Band a lot, even though she’s not in the target demographic, so take that for what it’s worth.

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