Games 6/15/10: Green Day: Rock Band, Joe Danger

Green Day: Rock Band
For: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
From: Harmonix/MTV Games/EA
ESRB Rating: Teen (drug reference, lyrics, mild blood)

Some would argue that “Rock Band’s” migration from honoring The Beatles last fall to honoring Green Day now is akin to Ken Burns following up his Civil War documentary with a 15-hour look at Wrestlemania. But that, like nearly everything else with regard to music, is entirely subjective.

Still, in case it somehow needs to be said, “Green Day: Rock Band” isn’t for anyone who doesn’t appreciate the musical stylings of Green Day enough to play the band’s songs ad nauseam. Just as “Beatles: Rock Band” featured nothing but The Beatles, this package contains nothing but Green Day songs, and while players can migrate the catalog into “Rock Band 2” (and eventually “Rock Band 3”) this time, this game itself allows nary a note from any other band. So if you don’t like Green Day, you know what not to do here.

What is a little cloudy is what to do if you do like the band.

In every expected way, “GD:RB” is as solid as everything that preceded it in the “Rock Band” line. It’s compatible with all the virtual instruments you already own. The note charts are terrific on both ends of the difficulty spectrum, making it easy for players of all disciplines to participate. The band’s real-life likenesses transform into in-game caricatures to terrific effect, and the recordings the game uses are top shelf as always. Developer Harmonix caters to solo players with a healthy career mode but offers just as much to those who want to play together online or in the same room. Support for three-singer and six-member bands, introduced in “Beatles,” returns here.

But “GD:RB” has the same annoying problem “Beatles” had: Its song count, at 47 deep, is only slightly more than half as large as what a mainline “Rock Band” release gets for the same $60 price.

The thin “Beatles” roster was accepted as a byproduct of the labyrinthine procedures needed to digitize The Beatles’ well-guarded catalog in the first place, and the game countered it by at least sampling songs from the entirety of the band’s career and complementing that with memorable venues and set pieces from each turning point in the timeline.

“GD:RB,” by contrast, ignores the first seven years of the band’s existence and focuses almost entirely on 1994’s “Dookie,” 2004’s “American Idiot” and 2009’s “21st Century Breakdown.” The three albums that released between “Dookie” and “Idiot” receive only eight songs’ worth of representation, while the band’s first two albums may as well not exist. The availability of only three venues feels similarly lacking, especially when the one venue even non-Green Day fans recognize — the mud-slathered Woodstock ’94 show — isn’t one of them.

Harmonix has stated it has no plans to squeeze fans for additional money by releasing more songs as downloadable content, so it doesn’t really matter whether the incomplete timeline is a result of label politics, licensing issues, band preferences or something else. What you see is what you’re getting, so budget accordingly: You know what “GD:RB” can do, you know what it can’t do, and you’ll have to decide if that adds up to $60 well spent until “Rock Band 3” touches down this fall.

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Joe Danger
For: Playstation 3 via Playstation Network
From: Hello Games
ESRB Rating: Everyone (mild cartoon violence)
Price: $15

Last year’s “Trials HD” took “Excitebike’s” time-tested brand of 2D motorbiking and modernized it with physics, stunts and lots of clever new modes. The only problem? After a few reasonably challenging batches of tracks, it grew oppressively hard, obeying the harsh laws of physics to a spirit-crushing degree. That’s a problem “Joe Danger,” which adopts the same perspective and general controls, does not have. Like “Trials,” “Danger” prefers its tracks be stunt playgrounds instead of straightforward motorbike races. But “Danger” ventures a step further by playing almost like a platformer, challenging players to maneuver obstacles, rack up stunt scores and complete the same track different ways to fulfill completely disparate objectives. That adds up to a surprisingly filling single-player mode, and because “Danger” is equipped with a terrifically responsive control scheme that respects but doesn’t worship physics, it’s well-equipped to challenge players different ways without ever undermining its own fun. The vibrant, cartoony exterior perfectly complements the increasingly crazy tracks, a threadbare story does just enough to make Joe a thoroughly likable character, and players who want more can create their own tracks and trade them with other players whose PSN IDs they know. About the only thing that doesn’t impress is “Danger’s” multiplayer (local only, two players), which is limited to straightforward races. But the game’s persistent leaderboard support provides some consolation by letting players constantly challenge their PSN friends’ highest stunt scores on every track.