The guitar was once considered a folk music instrument, but it now also qualifies as a videogame controller.
Thanks to a collaborative effort from RedOctane, Harmonix and MTV Games, the genre of gigantic interactive controllers is no longer confined to dance pads, imitation firearms and the slightly disturbing chainsaw that now comes with Resident Evil 4.
Guitar Hero’ for PlayStation 2 costs a mean $70, including all the essentials for videogame musicians: game guitar-shaped controller, instruction book and shoulder strap. The pieces can all be purchased separately, but the intrinsic flaw with the game is that none of the parts will function properly if used out of context of the others.
The game itself offers straight-forward directives and single-minded progression. Like all games you must pick your character and difficulty level, revealing that a myriad of different songs and extra guitar-related pickings must be unlocked by mastering various degrees of button-mashing prowess.
The player is then granted several options: tutorials, career mode and single player. Career mode is the only way to unlock any extras, meaning that any other fidgeting around will only make you so familiar with the same five songs that you won’t be able to stand hearing them on the radio every again. Game play consists mainly of watching colored land mine-style targets stream along the screen and hitting the indicated color keys as they reach their inevitable destination: the other side of the screen.
There’s also the fun of hooking up two controllers and battling to see who can give the most disgraceful performance for “More Than A Feeling” by Boston or “Cochise” by Audioslave. The two-player function makes this possibly the best party game ever invented that doesn’t make others cringe or outright embarrass anyone.
The saving grace of the entire game is the music itself. There are roughly 45 songs in all, including classics like “Killer Queen” by Queen and “I Love Rock & Roll” by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, as well as newer tracks like “Take Me Out” by Franz Ferdinand and “Take It Off” by The Donnas. Also included are songs by bands not yet mass-released but are nonetheless fun to play.
For those familiar with RedOctane’s previous attempts at games controllers, such as their series of highly-defective Dance Dance Revolution dance pads, the guitars have few highly-breakable pieces and handle the stress of continuous or heavy use more than other horrible products in RedOctane’s inventory. The guitar strap is a bit delicate, featuring an eyelet design that spells disaster in the long run; the weak material is prone to tearing and stretching.
There is the added feature of an internal tilt sensor’ that detects the angle of the guitar. This allows for the player to accumulate and store points in the form of star power’, which can later help in evading outright failure in harder songs. It also adds one more highly delicate and breakable part that includes the bonus of being inherently unviewable. So much for in-home maintenance.
Guitar Hero’ may not teach you to play a real guitar, but if you’re leaning in that direction, it does contribute to conditioning your hands to the stress and awkward placement sometimes associated with tricky chords on real guitars. There are also the latent benefits on hand-eye coordination and timing. Without realizing it, players are trained to count rhythm, a necessary skill for any musical instrument.
In all, the experience of playing along to some of the best rock and alternative music is rewarding in and of itself. It’s slightly addictive to boot and definitely serves as a better alternative to just lying around all day and counting ceiling tiles.