Saturday, February 18, 2006

Guitar Hero Rocks!

Let me begin by saying that as a teenager I spent many an hour playing a screaming guitar to cassette tapes of Van Halen, Ratt, Poison, and Twisted Sister. The licks were flawless and the rhythms were true. I could have been a big time rockstar someday. That is, if only you could get past the fact that my guitar was made by Wilson, and the strings on this guitar were only good for bashing a little, fuzzy, yellow ball over a tennis net.

It's also true that in my high school days I managed to play in a number of heavy metal bands. Not with the Wilson guitar, of course, but with a keyboard. But when the band is playing covers of Iron Maiden, Ozzy Osborn, and Van Halen...there aren't too many chances for you to "shine" as a keyboard player. A keyboard player in a heavy metal rock band gets about as much stage time as an electric guitar in a polka band. I waited eagerly for Ozzy Osborn's "Crazy Train" and Van Halen's "Jump" for my big, and only moments.

So when I left those days behind, I also left behind my fantasies of becoming a big time guitar legend. Then Harmonix comes out with an odd little game called "Guitar Hero". At it's core, it's yet another take on the "dance dance revolution" genre. At the retail price of $70 it even comes with it's own custom guitar shaped controller.

I was never real big on the whole "dance game" wave. Maybe because I know I can't dance. Maybe because 90% of the people I see playing dance games can be better described as convulsing rather than dancing. In any case, they didn't hold much appeal to me. So I was a little reluctant to give "Guitar Hero" much of a look when a friend from work brought in his copy to show-and-tell.

But after several weeks of seeing people gathered around the PS2 after hours and at lunch I found myself standing right there with them. Watching the steady stream of colored notes fly across the screen. Watching fingers scramble to find the matching colored button on the neck of a plastic guitar plugged into this console.

It was pretty amusing. And, to my surprise, it was fun.

"Guitar Hero" is one of those rare games that it's actually fun to watch as well as play. And watching and playing are clearly two different frames of mind. As a player, you're so focused on the notes that you're completely oblivious to the humourous animations, band reactions and crowd reactions that occur while you're playing.

In "Guitar Hero" you select you characer and help them as they play their way from home basement parties to arena concerts. With each venue the song list gets progressive harder. Your one and only goal is to not get booed off the stage while you're performing.

There are a good deal of songs to play through in the game, even though it's a shame they're all covers and not the original recordings. On the upside, the covers are done very well, and doesn't detract from the game in a major way.

There is a fair amount of unlockable guitars, characters and songs to keep you coming back for more and even the "band tips" during the loading screens are pretty dang funny.

The progressive nature of the four difficulty settings easy, medium, hard and expert will have you playing the same songs at each of the various levels and still having a blast. I highly recommend after you've stumbled through a couple of songs on "easy" that you give "expert" a quick shot. After only a handful of seconds into the game, after you've been booed off the stage, and after you pick your jaw off the floor just realize that after clearing each of the difficulty levels one by one, "expert" won't seem like such an impossible task. And I promise you, completing any song on the hard or expert levels will have you feeling like a true hard rock hero.

Yep, I look forward to a Guitar Hero 2 and let my mind wander through the theme possibilities..."Country Hero", "50's Rock", "The Beatles", "Big Hair Bands"...*drool*.

Until then, keep those lighters waving, and rock on.

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