Fierce competitors take opposite paths

After struggling through a period of shrinking audiences and product glut, the two major music game franchises have chosen very different roads.

2010 will be remembered as the year Rock Band got real and Guitar Hero went Looney Tunes. And that’s a good thing for both: They need to be as different from each another as possible for both to survive.

Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock has taken a lot of recent critical bashing for its emphasis on fantasy and power-ups, but I welcome its return to some of the fun and goofiness of GH3. I’m actually glad it features a fat, over-the-hill guitarist morphing into a giant pig. In fact, I hope Guitar Hero goes even further bug-crackers next year. I hope it goes all Gitaroo-Man on us! Guitar Hero should be fun, over-the-top, cartoonish, loud, and jaw-droppingly weird. I think it’s heading for the right territory. If more of the track list appealed to me and it didn’t cost $60, I’d be playing it right now.

Rock Band 3, out later this month, heads in a more musician-focused direction. Already known for its RPG-like Tour Mode and vast downloadable library, the franchise now introduces keyboard support, more customization and an optional play-it-for-real Pro Mode. For me, it boils down to this:

Real keyboard + Werewolves of London = Me on board.

As the future unfolds, I hope Guitar Hero stays crazy. I hope Rock Band keeps adding a dozen songs a week. As someone who’s loved music games from Parappa to Frequency to Gitaroo Man and Elite Beat Agents, I wish them both success. And I thank them both for coaxing amazing performances and DLC management out of Wii.

Any of you planning on buying either or both this year?