My Rock Band 3 drummer celebrates after completing a song.

It’s hard to hide my excitement about finally being able to drum in Rock Band 3 using my electronic drum kit. So bear with me for a moment while I deviate from my normal diet of game analysis to describe the pleasure of playing one of my favourite games with a real life instrument.

Tested with a Roland TD-4 electronic drum kit, using the 360 MIDI pro adapter in expert pro drums. Was the wait worth it?

  • The MIDI pro is very simple to setup. It is essentially plug and play if the kit being used uses the right MIDI notes (and has MIDI out as standard). The box itself is of reasonable build qualilty with a small light to confirm whether or not the MIDI pro is working correctly with the console. On the whole it feels very natural to setup and start drumming.
  • Playing on a real kit means the drumming experience is far more responsive. The rebound of the pads is much better and quieter than any Rock Band kit, not to mention the fact that Harmonix’s note charts make a lot more sense on an actual kit. Disco beats (long chains of notes on the yellow high hat) are easier since drummers are able to adopt natural hand posture to play. This allows drummers to lead better with their stronger hand while easily including occasional snare (red) and crash (green) cymbals hits.
  • Some initial sensitivity tweaking is needed. It does take several attempts at songs to realise which of the pads aren’t responding quite right. This is done either on the kit itself or using the MIDI pro’s built in sensitivity wheel. My bass pedal was registering double hits (and ruining all attempts to play) until I reduced the MIDI pro sensitivity down to about half.
  • A MIDI cable is required to connect the drumkit to the MIDI pro unit, but one isn’t included. A slight oversight, there will be many who don’t properly read the instructions and are subsequently disappointed. The belt buckle that is attached to the unit is annoying and prevents it from sitting properly on the drumkit, although it can be removed with some fiddling.

The 360 MIDI pro adapter in all its glory.My Roland TD-4 which I am using to play Rock Band 3 with, the MIDI pro rests on top of the drum brain.

Pro drumming

  • Pro drums is the natural enhancement on the drumming formula. There are options for up to three cymbals and playing on a real kit means play is more responsive, tactile and realistic. As such playing this version of Rock Band relies more on my actual drumming knowledge and technique than ever before. The fact that nearly every drum track since Rock Band 1’s release has been pro-charted already is a massive plus. The MIDI adapter also allows the drums to play standard mode in both Rock Band 2 and Beatles: Rock Band.
  • The natural sense of progression that Rock Band is well-regarded for is still here. But with even more positive enhancements. Neat visual cues are rife, like the lane lighting up when you’re on a perfect streak. Getting used to using eight pads and two pedals in-game leads to a bit of initial flailing, but after an hour or so the brain’s natural muscle memory takes over. The note charts are largely accurate given the constraints of the other Rock Band specific drum kits.
  • High hat notes are not properly charted, whlie you can learn the open high hat moments yourself, you are not scored extra for doing so. Drummers with a kit that cannot naturally distinguish between open and closed high hat notes will have to buy a third party piece of kit to be able to activate this. Full high hat support is available in freestyle mode, but is a frustrating omission given the high hats fundamentalism to drumming.
  • Purely subjective, but with pro mode considered, some songs are listed as being a little harder than they actually are. Some songs that have relatively simple grooves or fills in normal mode are noticably trickier now as the notes have been split into notes for toms (normal gems) and cymbals (circle gems).

Trying (and failing) a drum fill, as a long series of red notes.My other band members are shown, with a normal drum groove in the foreground.

General gameplay

  • This is definitely the most beautiful version of Rock Band yet. All managed while making the experience of playing the game as usable and fun as possible. Overall Rock Band 3 enhances the experience of playing Rock Band and is the definitive version. The overshell is a fantastic addition, keeping player-specific options seperate to the main menu. Useful for party situations with players that don’t always understand how to setup the game or manage their instrument.
  • The obivous refinements to gameplay (such as the rewind feature on the pause screen) are appreciated. Rock Band 3 drips with small details of improvement; such as the additional stats on the song complete screen and the way that goals are inherent no matter which mode is being played. This allows quick play to neatly integrate with career mode allowing you to develop your Rock Band 3 profile no matter what you’re doing.
  • The lack of availability of the pro instruments is a massive shame. Particularly the extremely scarce stocks of the MIDI pro adapter. It was released more than a month after the games release, and scant numbers units are only just starting to appear. The lack of information from Madcatz in the leadup to Rock Band 3’s release (and since) has compounded the situation.
  • I only have minor foibles with the game. There is no option to skip a song from the fail screen, which is a pain when playing a long playlist. You are also not able to completely delete songs, merely rate them low enough to avoid them easily in play sessions. There is some gloss missing from the online play, as the physical restraints of having so many instruments on screen means that guitars keyboards and bass instruments cannot play together online.

My drummer plays a perfect 4x multiplier.A view of a typical Rock Band 3 goal screen.

Overall impressions

The wait for the MIDI pro adapter has been excruciating. On the whole though it’s a magnificent product. The quality of the interaction with my drumkit exceeds expectations, and the fact that I can use to play all of my Rock Band games using my real kit is a massive bonus. The plastic instrument I used to play on before has been relegated to the attic. For me personally, pro mode is here to stay.

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