The yanks got it first, back in November last year, and now the game which has become not only a smash hit with avid gamers around the world, but also a social phenomenon in its own right, is now coming to New Zealand.

Developed by Harmonix Music Systems (the original creators of Guitar Hero) in collaboration with MTV Games and Electronic Arts, Rock Band is software combined with a collection of hardware peripherals designed to emulate a real band experience by way of electronic interfaces with your preferred console. As a purely clinical description this will suffice; those who have played it will be aware that looks can deceive, as beneath the friendly plastic exterior lies hours and hours of absolutely mad entertainment.

Rock Band differs from the original groundbreaking Guitar Hero franchise in that it offers the drum kit and microphone accessories in addition to the lead and bass guitar. Following what has become the de-facto music software layout, participants must hit scrolling notes on-screen in as close to perfect synchrony as possible, whilst being rewarded with points based on their accuracy.

In addition, players can rough out the harder parts of a track and collect "Overdrive" points, which can then be deployed later in the routine to collect a bonus on parts that they may find easier, adding an element of strategy. Guitar Hero's Star Power is the same sort of deal, although in Rock Band Overdrive can be used independently rather than requiring a co-operative mode to activate.

You don't actually have to have any friends in order to enjoy Rock Band, there's a Solo Tour mode in addition to the Band World Tour mode which allows you to try various instruments in turn, winning cash prizes for outstanding achievements which can be spent purchasing various items at the "Rock Shop", and also provides the player with the ability to unlock new tracks.

Rock Band has an impressive default playlist, and assuming the version we get is the same as North America you can expect at least 58 songs on disk, with an additional 180 now available over the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live. The great news here is that all downloadable songs will work with not only Rock Band but Rock Band 2 as well, removing at least one concern about upgrading in future. Speaking of which, Rock Band 2 is already out in North America (on Xbox 360), so with any luck a successful launch of Rock Band downunder might just encourage the powers that be to put more effort towards resolving the supply issues that have hitherto dogged the franchise in smaller regions like ours.

As the Guitar Hero games have been available (and popular) in New Zealand for quite a while now, it could be that EA is counting on a legion of converts from that series to bolster sales of the more complete Rock Band - or perhaps it's a last ditch grab for market share before Guitar Hero World Tour (which will have an equivalent four-piece band feature and improved instruments) gets here just two weeks later.

EA NZ will be offering a full Rock Band package with hardware and software together, the Ultimate Bundle, at an introductory price of $269.95 on all platforms. Alternatively, you can buy the game and instruments separately. The game disc by itself ranges from $79.95 (Wii and PlayStation 2) to $99.95 (Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3). The instrument bundle with drum kit, guitar and microphone (but no game) will set you back $219.95, while to buy an extra wireless guitar will cost $89.95.

The Rock Band Ultimate Bundle represents pretty good value, especially when you consider what some kiwis were paying to import the game from overseas ($500+, apparently). And it handily positions the ageing rocker with a decent-size $130 discount compared to new kid Guitar Hero World Tour's equivalent package.

With news from E3 this year that a third player is entering the market in the form of Konami's Rock Revolution, the winner of the console rock platform may well be determined by which company is able to best establish a footing, and back this up with ample supply and support, considering the logistical complications the genre presents.

Rock Band is due to hit the charts here on October 24th.

Track list:

[*]Blue Öyster Cult: (Don't Fear) The Reaper [/*]
[*]Jet: Are You Gonna Be My Girl[/*]
[*]Sweet: Ballroom Blitz[/*]
[*]Soundgarden: Black Hole Sun[/*]
[*]Ramones: Blitzkrieg Bop[/*]
[*]Hole: Celebrity Skin[/*]
[*]Smashing Pumpkins: Cherub Rock [/*]
[*]Radiohead: Creep[/*]
[*]Red Hot Chili Peppers: Dani California [/*]
[*]Fall Out Boy: Dead on Arrival[/*]
[*]Kiss: Detroit Rock City[/*]
[*]New Pornographers: Electric Version [/*]
[*]Metallica: Enter Sandman[/*]
[*]Faith No More: Epic[/*]
[*]Molly Hatchet: Flirtin' with Disaster [/*]
[*]Boston: Foreplay/Long Time[/*]
[*]The Rolling Stones: Gimme Shelter[/*]

[*]Queens of the Stone Age: Go with the Flow[/*]
[*]The Outlaws: Green Grass and High Tides[/*]
[*]OK Go: Here It Goes Again[/*]
[*]Deep Purple: Highway Star[/*]
[*]Garbage: I Think I'm Paranoid[/*]
[*]Nirvana: In Bloom[/*]
[*]Foo Fighters: Learn to Fly[/*]
[*]The Hives: Main Offender [/*]
[*]Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Maps[/*]
[*]Mountain: Mississippi Queen [/*]
[*]The Police: Next to You [/*]
[*]R.E.M.: Orange Crush[/*]
[*]Black Sabbath: Paranoid[/*]
[*]The Strokes: Reptilia[/*]
[*]Iron Maiden: Run to the Hills [/*]
[*]Beastie Boys: Sabotage [/*]
[*]Weezer: Say It Ain't So [/*]

[*]The Clash: Should I Stay or Should I Go[/*]
[*]David Bowie: Suffragette City[/*]
[*]Nine Inch Nails: The Hand That Feeds [/*]
[*]Rush: Tom Sawyer[/*]
[*]Aerosmith: Train Kept A-Rollin'[/*]
[*]Stone Temple Pilots: Vasoline[/*]
[*]Bon Jovi: Wanted Dead or Alive[/*]
[*]Pixies: Wave of Mutilation[/*]
[*]Coheed and Cambria: Welcome Home [/*]
[*]The Killers: When You Were Young[/*]
[*]The Who: Won't Get Fooled Again[/*]