It's no secret bass is the weakest instrument in "Rock Band." Most songs just aren't any fun to play.
Since playing with Mad Catz's new bass-specific guitar, however, I've wondered whether the instruments have simply been designed incorrectly for bass fans.
It's true that the $69.99 asking price for Mad Catz' musical peripheral is a steep investment for music game fans who already have an apartment full of plastic instruments, but if you're a fan of bass, you will absolutely want this controller.
The biggest difference between this and the standard "Rock Band" controller is in the strum bar. Bass players don't strum the same way guitar players do, yet "Rock Band" and "Guitar Hero" have traditionally ignored that in their peripherals. The gameplay mechanics are the same, but the physicality between the two instruments is left untouched. That's not true in the Mad Catz bass guitar; the physical form of the instrument has changed.
Now, you can fan-finger pick the bass parts of songs because the strum bar has been sliced in half to create two individual strum bars to pick between. It takes a little getting used to, but given the repetitive nature of most bass lines, it's a godsend. No more killing your fingers while playing. More importantly, the variation makes bass far more enjoyable to play than it has been before.
Even the whammy bar is different; it's not even a whammy bar anymore. It's been replaced with a dial that you shift back and forth during a song. It makes for a more traditional experience with a bass guitar, though it also means you end up missing most chances to screw with individual notes. The dial is too far out of range to be played with every time that "Rock Band" presents an opportunity to distort notes.
The biggest downside of the bass controller is that it lacks the biggest upsides to the new slate of "Rock Band" peripherals from Harmonix -- it's not wireless. The Mad Catz bass is a wired guitar. It's possible Mad Catz will produced a wireless bass if this one succeeds, but for now, you once again have to worry about possibly tripping over yourself when heading to the fridge.
Bass players have largely been ignored in music games, but that changes here. You really do feel like you're playing a bass, and that transforms the game. Even though the bass lines themselves don't change, the physical act of playing them has, and it proves a game changer for the instrument. For once, I'll actually be excited about picking the bass option in "Rock Band."
Have a hot tip? Is there a topic that Multiplayer should be covering and isn't? Could this convince you to actually play bass in "Rock Band"? Drop me an e-mail.