Music games, were once thought of as niche products that appealed to only a small amount of people – just think of how few copies there were of Samba De Amigo on the Dreamcast. Over the years, however, the games have become so innovative and entertaining that the general gaming public has taken notice. The latest and greatest music game to hit the PS2 is Guitar Hero, from developer Harmonix who you might remember from Frequency and Amplitude. If you've spent any time on gaming message boards you've no doubt heard that Guitar Hero rocks, and I'm here to tell you it's true. It's a blast to play, and it's accessible to beginners and plenty difficult for experts. The song list is great, and of course, the guitar-shaped controller is pretty much the coolest thing ever.
The concept behind Guitar Hero is simple, but that doesn't mean it's not fun, and it certainly doesn't mean it's not challenging. You start off by selecting one of a handful of generic looking rockers, and of course, picking a name for your band. You'll start off playing in a basement, but as you get more and more popular, you'll play in larger venues, much like in Karaoke Revolution. After completing a song you'll earn money that can be used to purchase new guitars and songs. Unfortunately there aren't tons of guitars to unlock, and they have no affect on gameplay. The same goes for the guitar players themselves- there are only a couple to unlock, and you can't create your own for some reason.
The game comes with a controller that is shaped like a small guitar. It has five buttons that act as frets, a switch that you strum, and even a working whammy bar. On screen there's a guitar neck that faces towards you, with colored dots that represent the frets on the guitar scrolling towards you. Your job is to not only press the proper button at the right time, but also strum the guitar as well. This takes some coordination and might be challenging for anyone that hasn't played a musical instrument before, but the game does a nice job of easing you into things. There's a tutorial that explains the basics, and there are four difficulty modes to select from in career mode. The easy mode only uses the first three frets and the patterns are rather simple. The other levels gradually introduce the fourth fret, and finally the fifth. The patterns get more complex not only because of the additional frets you've got to worry about, but because the game throws more and more notes at you.
Like Frequency, Amplitude, and Karaoke Revolution, the game scores you by your accuracy, and rewards you for long periods of perfection. A meter on the right hand of the screen shows how hard you're rocking the crowd. Miss a note and the meter goes down, and it's "game over" if you stink up the joint too much. The notes are divided up into short segments that usually go along with a riff in the song. If you nail that riff, you'll start a combo, which is how you rake in the points. Certain segments have glowing dots, and these will fill your star power meter if you play them correctly. To activate your star power you have to tilt the guitar's neck upwards and raise the guitar like you're rocking a solo in an 80's hair band. It's pretty sweet.
Guitar Hero is so much fun because it makes even the most untalented of musicians feel like they're actually playing a guitar. Sure it's much more simple, but since you're moving your fingers along the frets and strumming along to the music it's very satisfying. In fact, once you get to the expert level, certain parts of songs are just as much of a challenge on the guitar controller as they are in real life. You'll find yourself actually practicing over and over to nail the game's tough guitar solos, and eventually you'll learn the rhythm parts so well you won't even have to look at the screen.
From a visual standpoint Guitar Hero isn't impressive, but that really doesn't matter in the least. The menus are attractive and easy to navigate, though there is too much backtracking if you want to switch players. The venues and characters aren't a whole lot different than what you'd find in Karaoke Revolution, however, the lack of create-a-player and EyeToy support that was in the latest Karaoke Revolution (also by Harmonix) is a disappointment.
Guitar Hero wouldn't be half as much fun if it weren't for its outstanding song list. You start off with only five songs, but after beating them you're rewarded with five more, and then five more after that, and so on, for a total of 30 songs. Cream, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ozzy, Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Queen, The Ramones, Franz Ferdinand, Sum 41, Joan Jett, AudioSlave, Queens of the Stone Age, David Bowie, White Zombie, and Judas Priest are just some of the great artists in the game. Some of the song selections for some of the artists are a little disappointing since they aren't always their best songs, but for the most part the list is outstanding. There are also original, unlockable songs that aren't well-known, but are actually of a very high quality.
Guitar Hero is everything a game should be -it's innovative, it's tons of fun, has tons of replay value, and it's accessible to both new and experienced gamers. It's a little pricey, and it gets quite expensive if you're looking to pick up a second guitar controller for some two-player action, but it's worth every penny. If you have even a passing interest in music games it's worth picking up – it's a great game.