What the hell Harmonix, you definitely could have done something better than Fortnite Festival

I never imagined that the first time I downloaded Fortnite on my PC would be to play a rhythm game created by the Rock Band folk, but here we are. As a huge rhythm game fiend, my Twitter timeline was saturated with clips from Fortnite Festival over the weekend, where Fry belts out Bad Romance or Piccolo goes absolutely ham on the drums to Mr. Brightside.

Somehow I was able to recover from the whiplash of witnessing Peter Griffin, Predator, Eminem and Invincible doing the griddy to Gangnam Style—well, I’m still haunted by it, but I got over it enough to actually wanna go and peep the mode for myself. I’ve written about my love for rhythm games a fair amount at this point, from arcade mainstays like Dance Dance Revolution and Maimai to more PC-centric endeavours like Muse Dash and DJMAX. It’d be criminal of me to not check Fortnite Festival out.

Like I said, it turns out this mode is a Harmonix special. That’s the folk behind the original Guitar Hero, who eventually went on to make Rock Band and, uh, Dance Central for the Kinect. It’s also the developer of Fuser, a game I thoroughly enjoyed but one that unfortunately struggled to find its feet and was ultimately delisted two years after release.

Something I’d totally forgotten about was the fact that Epic actually scoped up Harmonix two years ago, where the studio said it would “once again challenge expectations as we bring our unique brand of musical gaming experiences to the metaverse.”

We’re finally getting to see that manifest via this new mode, which leans heavily on the Rock Band formula. There are four difficulties: easy, medium and hard difficulty have four note lanes (think the green, red, yellow and blue buttons on a guitar controller) while expert difficulty adds an extra lane (that dreaded orange button). There are different instruments to pick too, with each song having charts for bass, lead guitar, vocals and drums.

(Image credit: Epic)

If it all feels kinda familiar, it kind of is! It looks like some charts—like Seven Nation Army—that made an appearance in Rock Band were ported over and tweaked slightly to suit non-instrument controllers and keyboards. It makes total sense to reuse them and besides, there’s only so much creative liberty you can take with charting each instrument’s distinct rhythm.

A lot of Fortnite Festival’s charts aren’t particularly challenging, especially on keyboard.

Now while I was a hopelessly introverted Guitar Hero/Rock Band nerd as a kid, regrettably I’ve never been much of a Fortnite player. This grave oversight has greatly limited my meme potential. I can’t Weezer people as Megatron; I have a goat in a crop top, Alan Wake, and the Scrubs default dance. I’m an outcast, a grubby little rhythm sweatlord, here to infiltrate and judge.

Armed with two far superior, kitted out bandmates, I headed in to try out my first song, The Killers’ Mr. Brightside. What? I’m a Brit. You think I wasn’t going to play Mr. Brightside? Don’t be absurd.

Each instrument has its own difficulty across each song, which means you could have an easy ride on vocals while your drummer is fighting for their life in the back. I generally prefer my rhythm game to have hands, so fighting for my life it was. Well, sometimes. A lot of Fortnite Festival’s charts aren’t particularly challenging, especially on keyboard. That’s definitely partly to do with my prior experience, but most charts feel pretty accessible to most skill levels.

fortnite festival”

There are some songs that do offer a good opportunity to flex my rhythm muscles. The drums on Mr. Brightside’s expert chart can be kind of brutal, and Kendrick Lamar’s i has some great, tough patterns to pull off on vocals and lead guitar where notes dance around lanes with jacks, trills and staircases abound. The vocal chart in particular feels mad satisfying to pull off, and has become my fixation in trying to climb the leaderboard.

Then there’s… the opposite of that. I made the grave mistake of playing Bad Guy, a song surprisingly deficient in guitar, on guitar. Things started off with a tidy 33 second wait time. Okay, cool. Except it’s not a freakin’ 33 second wait. It’s closer to a minute and the counter is a straight up goddamn lie. Once the chorus hits I finally get to play my groovy little riff, before control is taken from me once more and I’m forced to idly sway or default dance spam my way through another absolutely-not-26-second wait.

Even when I’m lucky enough to have playing privilege, some of these charts straight up aren’t fun when they’re not being jammed out on a plastic peripheral. A good majority of the songs have very little pattern variation, leading to you hammering out the same two notes over and over again for entirely too long. When you’re going ham on some videogame drums? Sick! When you’re hitting two keys on your keyboard? Eh. Mercifully, it looks like there’s actually some work going on to release a guitar controller next year, so at least there’s that.

(Image credit: Epic)

There are some very nitpicky, lame rhythm game nerd gripes I have too. All notes are the same colour and are also a very similar colour to the lanes themselves, making it hard to distinguish what the hell I’m playing sometimes. I can’t even button check to make sure I’m in the right lane, because pressing an input when there’s nothing there resets the multiplier. It also means when I inevitably catch another key with my fat fingers, I’m knocked right back down to 1x.

Despite there being combo challenges there’s no combo counter, no fast/display, hardly any judgement outside of “Perfect” or nothing. Daily song rotations make it difficult to hammer out a single chart I really like… unless I want to pay 500 V-Bucks for it, of course, which means buying 1,000 V-Bucks because that’s the minimum Fortnite offers. While it doesn’t bother me personally, it does kinda suck to see there’s no singing option for the vocal charts.

Look, I’m ragging on it, but for what it is I do think Fortnite Festival is Just Okay. It’s a great introduction to rhythm games for casual players who would have never tried one otherwise—especially those who missed out on the Rock Band/Guitar Hero era—but for a Harmonix endeavour it’s awfully barebones. A little more polish and it would be a little easier to look past the classic F2P monetisation of it all and maybe even splurge a little. Until then, I think I’ll be default dancing my way out of the lobbies for a while.

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