Review: Mad Catz Rock Band 3 Wireless Keyboard Controller

At last, it is possible to relive the humiliation of childhood piano lessons all over again.

One of Rock Band 3’s key innovations is the addition of a keyboard part to songs. While older versions of the game had the guitar track picking out many of the keyboard notes, now keyboard players gets their due.

Naturally, they also gets their own new instrument: a keyboard.

It’s long been thought that adding keys to rhythm gaming would be a bit of a joke, and when you play non-pro keys, using just five buttons and with no need to strum, it pretty much is. But with Mad Catz’s pro-keyboard controller and a much broader spectrum of buttons to hit, the keyboard part can be just as challenging as the rest of the band.

The Rock Band 3 keyboard is a miniature keyboard that can be played on a tabletop, placed on a stand or worn, keytar-style, around the neck. The controller spans just two octaves (that’s 25 keys total, white and black), and it is technically designed to be played with just one hand — no matter what the song’s difficulty level is. (Your other hand operates a somewhat-silly modulation touchpad and a lone Overdrive button, both on the neck of the device.) But when songs ramp up in difficulty — some use just a few keys, some use the whole set of 25 — going two-handed is the only way to keep up.

And you know what? Keyboards in Rock Band 3 are surprisingly fun. Many songs on the disc were clearly selected with keys in mind, and the pianist gets to shine frequently. I’ve found few moments in Rock Band as satisfying as nailing “Imagine” on pro keys. And remember: You’re playing the honest-to-god notes to the actual song.

The keyboard’s diminutive size and one-handed parts are the only real concerns. But while it would be fun to be smashing out 10 notes at a time with both hands, maybe that’s something best left for Rock Band 4. For now, it’s hard enough just to figure out where your fingers are while you’re playing. The little ridges located on three of the keys aren’t a lot of help, and it’s tough to figure out where your hands are without either taking your eyes off the TV or just experimenting with random hits.

Now get back to your scales, kid! Practice! Practice! Practice!

Image by Mad Catz

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