As soon as I heard the announcement for the Rock Band 3 keyboard, I immediately chanted the old Wayne’s World mantra: “she will be mine. Oh yes, she will be mine”. I have to admit, my wife is the pianist of the household: I’m not very good with keys of any kind. But, like any good student, I’m willing to learn; and like any good teacher, Rock Band 3 has some great lessons.
Read on to find out if Rock Band’s newest fully functional MIDI instrument is worth the plunge.
The Rock Band 3 Keyboard
In terms of the quality of the hardware, I’m pretty impressed. As a general rule, I’ve avoided everything Madcatz for the past 15 years, after learning that most of their PS1 controllers’ d-pads were simply stuck on with Elmer’s glue. However, despite my initial fears, I’ve become pretty comfortable with the keyboard. Over the past few weeks, it’s received a pretty good thrashing [pretty much entirely compliments of the song "Du Hast"], and is still going strong.
In addition to the standard 25 keys, there are five special ones located in the blue and green regions of the keyboard, near the middle and right sides of the board, respectively: those are the keys you will be using for standard, Non-Pro songs. You’ll also be able to utilize the touch sensitive pitch shifter [whammy bar] on the tail end, and a simple button that triggers overdrives. Thankfully the 360 version is fully wirelessly integrated into the machine, but if you have a PS3 or Wii, you’ll have to take up a USB slot with the included dongle.
The only real qualm I have is that the d-pad, guide button, start, back, and face buttons are all in the upper right hand corner of the keyboard, which makes it really cramped if you’re playing by yourself, and selecting songs from it. It would have been nice if the d-pad was on the top left instead, or there was a little bit more room on the top of the unit.
As previously mentioned, make sure to keep in mind that the unit is actually a fully functional MIDI keyboard that was simply fitted into controller form. If you want to use the Madcatz board as a real keyboard, go ahead! I’m honestly surprised that they went through the effort, as it makes your investment that much easier to swallow.
The Rock Band 3 Keyboard songs
I was incredibly surprised to find out how easy it was to learn how to play the regular keyboard setup, which utilizes the standard “5 note” color coded scheme; and how in-depth, and challenging the Pro Mode really was.
Unlike Pro Drum Mode, which Editor Andrew Kauz highlighted, Pro Keys songs are not that accessible right off the bat. In fact, unless you already play keys of some kind, you’ll need to take the crash courses in the tutorial mode: it’s that detailed. Every single one of the 25 keys is utilized in most difficult songs, in addition to a two octave range that can get pretty complicated on fast songs.
Initially, with the Non-Pro mode, it is possible to play most songs on Medium difficulty or below on one hand – but eventually, you’re going to need to rock out crocka-rocka style, which requires both hands vigorously trying to find multiple chords in rapid succession: and on Pro Mode, you can forget about one-handing it. Every bit of dexterity you have is going to have to go into learning where exactly every key is: both black and white. It helps to play it on lower difficulties at first, which generally only use white keys, so you can learn the placement – at least that’s how I did it. While I’m still not a “pro” at Pro-Keys, I am getting there, and I really feel like I’ve somewhat learned a real instrument: which is the ultimate goal of Rock Band 3, after all.
In terms of the setlist, things are looking mighty good – you get 63 songs that are fully keyboard compatible in Rock Band 3, and every song’s Guitar or Bass track can be played on non-pro keys. The setlist contains some pretty obvious classics such as Bohemian Rhapsody, China Grove, Free Bird, Fly Like an Eagle, Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting, and The Power of Love, but there are a lot of other lesser known songs that contain some nasty key combinations.
In fact, practically every song in the game has a good vibe when it comes to both pro and standard keys, and around half are at the “4/5″ difficulty rating or higher, which is great news for fast learners. Also keep in mind that some songs, such as Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance, feature a synth guitar part that mesh very well with the Keyboard.
$80 seems like a high price to pay, but you’re buying the ability to play any Rock Band song [1-3 and spinoffs] via Guitar or Bass tracks, and unique regular/pro Keys for 63 songs out of the box, with the promise of more keyboard supported DLC. The fact of the matter is, unlike some of the other pro instruments, you’re not really as limited with the Rock Band Keyboard: you’re not entirely restricted to “just” keyboard songs, which actually makes the keyboard the most versatile instrument in the game. I’d recommend a purchase even if you’re curious: you won’t regret it.