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Cold Flesh With Scales- Rock of the Dead Review

In early 2001, with a wad of post-Christmas store credit and a head brimming with near-universal acclaim, I purchased The Typing of the Dead along with a requisite keyboard.  The title’s premise seemed filled with Japanese quirk: as a riff on Sega’s celebrated The House of the Dead series, players battled a parade of encroaching foes by typing words as fast as possible. As the game progressed, resilient bosses required participants to type phrases and even answer simple questions. Over the years, Typing would garner a cult-like following, and be remembered as one of the highlights of the Dreamcast’s library.

Yet, for a gamer who spent years under the tutelage of Mavis Beacon, Typing of the Dead seemed  woefully similar to the drills presented by my fictitious typing coach. Substituting the intuitive mechanic of aiming a light gun with tapping out words didn’t feel as visceral, making the title feel more ‘edu’ that ‘tainment.’  Despite many gamers enthusiasm for the title, my copy of Typing was quickly shelved.

Like Pieces Interactive’s Fret Nice, Rock of the Dead offers an interesting alternative for neglected plastic guitars and drums. Drawing undeniable inspiration from Sega’s oft-adored title, the game takes players for  an on-rails trek through trailer parks, graveyards, and water treatment facilities, as they defend both themselves and innocent bystanders from a constant barrage of baddies. To combat the flood of zombies, bats, and tentacled creatures, players tap out riffs on their simulated instruments. Unlike the requisite note highways which players are likely accustomed to travelling down, Rock of the Dead presents these combinations as horizontal sequences. For many music game aficionados, this change can be disorienting, especially when players are required to quickly assess the level of danger each on-screen threat poses. Expect to invest a an hour or two before adapting to the new perspective.

To complicate things further, fret presses and strums aren’t usually synchronized to the game’s music. Instead, players pound out clusters of notes as fast as possible. While participants are given visual feedback as they punch out each combination, the game lacks the distinctive musical accompaniment of most rhythm titles.  As such, Rock of the Dead doesn’t always cultivate the sensation that players are grooving along. Like Typing of the Dead, there’s a small but discernable disconnect, which thwarts the trance-like ambition of the game.  An exception can be found in the mid and end-level bosses, which  present brief sequences that recall the note-scrolling mechanics gamers are accustomed to. While these bits feel derivative, they are also indispensable in linking all the fiery finger work to the musical accompaniment.

A solid aural accompaniment is crucial for the success of any music-based title. In this respect, Rock of the Dead is a decidedly mixed bag. While the inclusion of Rob Zombie’s music, likeness and voice elevate the game, hard rock remakes of prominent classical pieces reveal the game’s modest budget. Perhaps the finances spent on Neil Patrick Harris’ and Felicia Day’s clumsy deliveries would have been better spent on licensing an up-and-coming indie band. Rock of the Dead‘s visuals are inelegant but consistently serviceable, recalling the fidelity and animation silkiness of a downloadable title.

Although my affinity for Rock of the Dead never rose above gentle amusement,  a number of rhythm-game enthusiasts felt differently. Of the five colleagues who played the title- two adored the game, two others expressed mild enjoyment, while one disliked the title. All stated the game’s two-player cooperative mode was superior to playing a solo campaign. 

Rock of the Dead‘s forty dollar MSRP should be applauded for challenging the standard pricing structure of a retail disk-based release. Yet, I can’t help but think that the game might have worked better either as a shorter, less expensive downloadable title without licensed music or as a full-blown release with a soundtrack which could rival the Guitar Hero/Rock Band franchises.

About Robert Allen

With over 35 years of gaming experience, Robert 'DesertEagle' Allen is Tech-Gaming's resident worrier/warrior who spends his days teaching at three colleges and his nights devoted to JRPGs.

41 comments

  1. Wait- I though the Wii version was canceled.

  2. Anyone who doesn’t like Felicia Day is gay. Maybe your boyfriend should review the game.

  3. Everything I read after E3 said it was ok at best. Not surprised by this grade at all.

  4. I really like the way you say other people did/may like it Most reviews write like their word is gospel.

  5. Joystiq seemed not to like it too much either. Both reviews seem to knock it, they excuse it more for being an indie game.

  6. It would be cool it you could kill the zombies by hitting vocal notes too.

  7. Good review. I agree this should have been a DLC game.

  8. From what this video shows, you are dead-on about Doogie Howser. His voice work is awful.

    http://www.spike.com/video/rock-of-dead-zombie/3457556

  9. A guy is gay for NOT liking Vi on Buffy? That’s news to me.

  10. He was alright in Spider-man: SD. Of course he used the same voice.

  11. Why is the needler in this game???

  12. Should people excuse a game for having a small development budget? in the end it comes down to how fun the game ends up. Nobody’s knocking the game for its graphics, just its concept.

  13. This is what happens when you start development on the Wii.

  14. that Rob Zombie, his music been is a few games already.

  15. from 40 keys to 5 buttons? Sounds a bit too simple.

  16. Dude, it has zombies and Rob Zombie. How the hell can you not like this? Get off your high horse.

  17. McIdiot from Joystiq couldn’t read from left to right and DesertEagle here takes hours to “adapt”

    What the hell is wrong with reviewers these days?

  18. “While participants are given visual feedback as they punch out each combination, the game lacks the distinctive musical accompaniment of most rhythm titles.”

    So there’s no sound effects even?

  19. Light gun shooters get boring after a while. shoot, shoot, shoot. Typing of the Dead got boring real quick too. I can’t see this being too much different.

  20. Sounds interesting. Will they release a demo for it?

  21. Real Heroes: Zombie Killer?

    Do people assume everyone plays music games these days? I cant stand the genre.

  22. Seems like the reviewer didn’t like much at all, then gives it a C.

    From the way its written it sounds like this should have gotten a D.

  23. is that third screen a 360 shot? Cuz that torn pant leg on the Zombie looks like a Wii game.

  24. Lestat de Lioncour

    Good review, but I’ would rather hear remixes of classic music that bad metal bands anyway.

  25. if there’s an unlockable firehouse, ax, and jaws of life to pry the zombies chests open- instabuy!

  26. Rob Zombie was cool in the 90’s. I haven’t heard anything in this decade worth my time.

  27. Does this have difficulty levels my casual friends can still have fun with it?

  28. I played this at E3 for about 15 minutes and I agree with the review- it doesn’t ‘click’ right away like most music/rhythm games. I was hoping they’d fix this somehow, but it doesn’t sound like they did.

  29. I haven’t heard much about this game.

  30. So is there anything else to do beside just play notes? Minigames?

  31. I didn’t say I didn’t care for Felicia Day’s work- only I found her voice over is this game to be grating.

  32. Not so- I liked Rock of Dead. I Just didn’t love it.

    Remember, a “C” means an average game. It’s neither exceptional and nor a complete train-wreck either.

  33. Yes, there’s multiple difficulty levels. However, those accustomed to playing GH/RB on the easier settings are going to have to weave the blue fret button into their arsenal.

  34. There are two upgradeable moves- player can shield attack with a tilt of the guitar, or hit a power chord for a smart bomb.

    There’s also a modest amount of unlockables.

  35. Games with zombies are allowed to have ‘dead eyes’, but I’m not a fan of the glowing eyes in games. DR2 red eyes at night look pretty bad.

    Anyway, this seems like a good $20 pickup for me.

  36. Good review, thanks, DEagle.

  37. probably not- it’s a pretty small title.

  38. Mentioning that it takes time to adapt is a crime? Seems like a valid criticism (if you could even call it that) to me.

  39. Ill probably get this one next week.

  40. People are bagging on the graphics.. Every review calls it fun.. Joystiq said it was addicting fun, but bashed it for the graphics.

    Don’t excuse a game for having a indie dev, just don’t knock it for not having spent 2 million dollars on UI presentation.

    Plain and simple, it’s fun.

  41. I wouldn’t call this reviews saying “consistently serviceable” as bashing the graphics at all.

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