I think I knew I’d hit my gaming mid-life crisis when I saw Beat Saber’s meteoric rise in popularity and thought: “This ain’t your Dad’s type of rhythm game.”
Fortunately, Rocking Hero is here to eschew me into the era of Dad bands and complaining about the state of new music.
Out today in Early Access, Rocking Hero is a strange mix of the novel and nostalgic. It’s very much a call back to the Guitar Hero/Rock Band-era of rhythm games that shined so brightly before rocking a little too close to the sun and crashing in spectacular fashion. And, like the oft-forgotten Rock Band VR, you can grab one of your old plastic peripherals and play it as a clean and amicable throwback.
But Rocking Hero is at its most curious — if also its most flawed — when it embraces fully VR.
You can play the game’s 10 tracks (some of which, admittedly, sound like they were lifted from a karaoke CD) with just your motion controllers. You grab a clip on your guitar to position it where you’d like, then slide your left or right hand along the neck to corresponding notes, strumming with the other. Your hands are essentially glued to the required areas so, even if you pull your strumming hand back a bit to a more comfortable position, it should work.
And when Rocking Hero does work, it’s a brilliant bit of air-guitaring fun. Sliding down the neck to hit notes carries rock star satisfaction and it’s possible to fully immerse yourself in the dream of performing, even if it is just to an empty VR environment.
But, without the context of an actual neck to guide you, gameplay lacks the grounded, tangible feel you need to really become a master. Sliding your hand up and down the neck is a bit of a guessing game, but you can at least adjust the sensitivity of your hand slide to give yourself a little more control. No matter where you position your guitar you’ll also struggle to maintain consistent positioning, and I wish there was a control scheme that just let your ax follow wherever your dominant hand holds the neck. It’s telling that, for someone that never graduated above an intermediate level in Guitar Hero, I could handle Rocking Hero’s forgiving tracks on the hardest difficulties – it clearly knows the control scheme can be a handful and makes up for it.
It should be noted too that you can also try the game with the Index controller’s finger tracking. My Index is busted so I couldn’t try it out but, judging on the accuracy of the feature from my time with it in other games, it’d probably a pretty finicky experience.
Rocking Hero’s Early Access release does feature a custom track editor and it’ll be interesting to see if a strong community gets built up around that. But I’m hoping to see stronger post-release tracks and for developer Domuro Soft to keep experimenting with control styles. There is something here, for sure, it’s just fleeting and rough. With more fine-tuning, Rocking Hero could be the Woodstock to Beat Saber’s Coachella.