One of my favorite videogame developers over the past four years has been the Boston-based company, Harmonix. They've produced Frequency, its sequel Amplitude, and the very enjoyable Karaoke Revolution games. In case you can't tell from the titles of their games, these games are all music-based. The Karaoke Revolution series utilizes a microphone and tracks the player's ability to match the lyrics of the song both in terms of timing and pitch. The other two games require the player to press buttons in time with notes on the screen to lay down various tracks of a song. For example, the player must play all the notes in two bars of the drum track then quickly switch to the guitar or vocals track and play all the notes in that sequence to lock that track. Gradually the player assembles the song.
These games are extremely addictive and the fact that they utilize real songs makes them all the more enjoyable.
Last month, Harmonix teamed with peripheral manufacturer Red Octane to release Guitar Hero, and this time they've completely outdone themselves. I commented sometime last year that I would buy any game Harmonix made sight unseen. Their games are that good. And, despite a small hiccup with their gimmicky Eyetoy snowboarding game Antigrav, I'm convinced more than ever that this company is one of the true gems in the videogame industry.
Guitar Hero in a lot of ways, is very similar to Frequency and Amplitude, except now you only play the guitar track of the song. So how can it be better? Well, the catch is that the game comes with an actual guitar-shaped controller, nearly half the size of a real guitar, and instead of having to just press one of three buttons to play a note, players must utilize five fret buttons, a strum button, and a whammy bar. Hold the corresponding fret button(s) to play the note or chord and hit the strum button in time with the on-screen display. Hold the fret buttons down for sustains and even take a moment to wail away with the whammy bar to produce some very cool sound effects, not to mention earn bonus points.
Like all Harmonix games, the difficulty curve is outstanding. There are four difficulty modes, with each adding something new to the mix. Easy mode uses just three fret buttons and few chords, Medium mode adds a fourth fret button and a larger dose of chord play, and Hard and Expert mode force you to play with all five fret buttons at a very high rate of speed, with plenty of chords and ladders.
Aside from the obvious thrill of rocking out and getting an actual sensation of playing a real guitar, what sets this game apart is the excellent song selection. Harmonix and WaveGroup have recreated 30 popular songs (see below) with professional cover bands and singers for you to try and master, and even added 17 more songs from independent bands that you likely haven't heard of, but will be glad to be introduced to.
Now, all of this great gameplay does come with a slight negative. And that is that this game is guaranteed to humble you. Despite being able to earn a 5-star ranking on all of the Easy mode songs and the majority of those in Medium mode, I can come nowhere close to even completing a single song on Hard mode. I do believe that most gamers will hit an eventual roadblock where our own phyical reflexes and coordination keep us from going forward. I believe I hit this roadblock and immediately after identifying it (it happened with Frequency and Amplitude too) I bagged the guitar and immediately put back in the RPG I was playing prior to buying the game. But now it's been three days without picking up the axe and I'm jonesing to rock. I don't even care if I can't complete a song on Hard mode; or even if I just aim for absolute perfection on Medium mode, it's still a great game and one of the finest in my collection. Everybody with a Playstation 2 owes it to themselves to buy this game.
Guitar Hero retails for $70 and includes the game and the guitar controller. You can order a second guitar for two-player jamfests via the http://www.redoctane.com website or wait a couple months and purchase their soon-to-be-released limited edition candy apple red guitar.
Anyway, if you still need more convincing here's list of the main 30 songs. Don't forget there are 17 more songs that you unlock through gameplay.
Motorhead - "Ace of Spades"
Ozzie Osbourne - "Bark at the Moon"
Audioslave - "Cochise"
Pantera - "Cowboys From Hell"
Cream - "Crossroads"
Sum 41 - "Fat Lip"
Edgar Winter Group - "Frankenstein"
Blue Oyster Cult - "Godzilla"
Burning Brides - "Heart Full of Black"
The Exies - "Hey You"
Red Hot Chili Peppers - "Higher Ground"
Joann Jett - "I Love Rock and Roll"
The Ramones - "I Wanna Be Sedated"
Bad Religion - "Infected"
Black Sabbath - "Iron Man"
Queen - "Killer Queen"
Boston - "More Than A Feeling"
Queens of the Stone Age - "No One Knows"
ZZ Top - "Sharp Dressed Man"
Deep Purple - "Smoke on the Water"
Jimi Hendrix - "Spanish Castle Magic"
Incubus - "Stellar"
Megadeth - "Symphony of Destruction"
The Donnas - "Take It Off"
Franz Ferdinand - "Take Me Out"
Stevie Ray Vaughn - "Texas Flood"
White Zombie - "Thunderkiss 65"
Helmet - "Unsung"
Judas Priest - "You Got Another Thing Comin"
David Bowie - "Ziggy Stardust"
You can actually head over to http://www.guitarherothegame.com and listen to each of the tracks if you're too young to be familliar with some of the classics. I know I was.
Oh, and as for the title of this post, the word "casbah" was an answer (or is that a question?) on Jeopardy last night so I thought I'd work it in.