Review: Mad Catz Wireless Fender Mustang PRO-Guitar Controller

Rhythm games get a lot of guff from naysayers. If you’re a fan, you’ve surely heard the catty complaints: “That’s just a toy. It’s not a real guitar.”

And it’s true. The typical Rock Band or Guitar Hero controller is fun, but it’s a bit of a joke compared to the real thing. It may look guitarlike, but the primary-color buttons up top and the plastic flipper at the bottom don’t exactly impress the ladies. You can be the best guitar “hero” in the world and you’re really still just a loser with a plastic ax.

Well, the time is here to silence the naysayers — if you can handle it. For Rock Band 3, Mad Catz is seriously upping the ante with a whole new approach to guitar gaming. Put simply, the Fender Mustang PRO-Guitar Controller is not really a game controller at all, but a full-on guitar simulator. Seventeen frets split up a total of 102 buttons which correspond to a traditional six-string guitar fingerboard. Below that, you are now tasked with actually strumming the proper string — a real wire string — instead of moving a little plastic nubbin up and down. You can play with a pick or with your thumb and fingers. Callous lotion is not included.

The PRO-Guitar completely changes the Rock Band experience from top to bottom. No longer are you simply relying on muscle memory and blind luck to power through an Expert-level song, now you’re actually learning how to play it for real.

Is this difficult? Yes, it is difficult. If you’ve never picked up a guitar before, the learning curve is extremely steep. This is night and day vs. the standard rhythm game ax, and you’ll need to slave through the Rock Band 3 pro lessons — learning chords, arpeggios, muting strings and more — to have any hope of success. But as with a real guitar, practice and you’ll get there. I (a guitar novice) was at last breezing through Medium songs on day three, though completing tunes on Hard was still out of reach when my deadline arrived and the controller had to be returned to Mad Catz. The controller can also be used to play authentic bass guitar tracks, which are easier, and standard five-lane Rock Band guitar parts, which are surprisingly not.

What’s lacking? Despite the new approach, the Mustang still looks like a toy. It’s the same size as a standard guitar controller and is completely made of plastic. If you do want to eventually switch to a real guitar, you’re going to have to get used to everything being farther apart.

And sadly, this controller’s authenticity will do nothing to head off that other standby quip of the naysayers: “Why don’t you just play a real guitar?” Well, really, why don’t you?

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