in another case of starting at the very, very beginning, i picked up the original guitar hero for PS2. to be honest i wasn’t even that interested in the game since i actually own and play a real guitar and had already spent a fair amount of time playing later iterations of the game at friends’ places, but i thought i should sit down and spend some more time with one of the games on my own before casting it aside forever.
i wasn’t expecting much in the way of surprises, and even after playing through all of the hard mode i didn’t encounter many. my main complaint about the game is very similar to the one that i had about donkey konga (which, incidentally preceded guitar hero by more than a year), namely, that patterns that don’t fall within the beats or that are really fast are just too hard to follow, esp. if you don’t know the song. guitar hero‘s sequel remedies this problem with a practice mode, but in this game the harder-rated songs just get too frustrating to be fun. added to this is the hard-to-follow interface for hammer-ons and pull-offs, which is where you finger more than one note on one strum. apparently this was also changed in the sequel, so i’ll have to wait and see how much they managed to improve that feature. it’s also somewhat annoying that the part you play shifts between instrumental parts in the song, although again in the sequel guitar and bass parts are clearly separated which, although no doubt leading to more repetitive gameplay, makes things more logical and co-op play more, well, cooperative. songs in general also had a tendency to feel overlong due to the requirements of playing the same riffs over and over again, but again this is just another artifact of the premise and not much they could have done about it.
i’ve gotten fairly bored with music games in general (rhythm tengoku being a great recent exception), so there wasn’t much about this game that i found very compelling. since i already know what it feels like to play a guitar there wasn’t much to draw me in outside of the tracklist perhaps, and, yeah, you guessed it, i hadn’t previously heard the majority of the tracks. i appreciated the variety, though, and the inclusion of some more-recent indie-ish fare.
there’s no denying the series’ cultural impact, though. the series’ gameplay isn’t revolutionary by any means, but its success must partly be due to its timing, when video games were undergoing a shift away from the unshaven fanboys in their basements back to the living room. the series has contributed to that shift as well, no doubt. and even though i’m not wowed by the game i definitely don’t begrudge the enjoyment had by many others. there has been a fair amount of debate about the value (or lack thereof) of mastering a game like guitar hero versus actually learning to play the guitar yourself, and after spending some time with the game i actually have to side with the game and claim that it seems to encourage interest in music and making music rather than taking interest away. [long drone-y discussion to follow. feel free to skip to the last paragraph.]
coming from the perspective of someone who grew up playing instruments and video games (and still do both), i’ve definitely been worried that the game and others like it discourage people from learning instruments, but i’ve found that their design actually would help make people more interested in music for several reasons. there’s the “feel of being a superstar” that people have mentioned to me. also, just the mechanics of pushing the buttons down and strumming give you a decent feel for playing the guitar (likewise for drums/bass) and makes the whole experience less intimidating than it might be for some. the progression from the easy to the harder levels is natural, and for the harder modes for guitar and bass you have to learn how to shift positions up and down and/or extend to reach the orange key, just as you would on a real instrument. so even though you’re not literally playing chords or chord shapes, you’re definitely getting a simplified feel for how you actually would play a guitar (or any other stringed instrument for that matter). and there’s no question that your rhythm also improves from playing the game.
there’s also a really interesting depth of understanding about a particular song that you gain by “playing along” with it. it’s like the difference watching a play and acting in it yourself, or between reading a poem and memorizing it. while playing along to the song you really listen differently and hear the separate instruments’ parts while concentrating on your own part, as well as noticing the lyrics more closely than just through casual listening. you also learn to follow the repetitions in the riffs or chord figures and that gives you a better understanding of the song’s structure and song structures in general.
all this is from my perspective, and i don’t know if the average person would get the same things that i think he/she should get. my bf and my sister have both played the game a couple of times and concluded that it doesn’t really feel like playing the guitar, but since neither of them have played the game for any length of time i’m not entirely convinced by their opinions and i think they could very well change over time. i’d be interested in what someone who plays drums would say about the drum playing in these games and see if he/she would come to a similar conclusion as i have. [end drone-y discussion.]
so anyway, to wrap up, clearly i’m not the intended audience for this type of game, and i really can’t say that i’m at all excited about playing this game again or any of its numerous sequels. i’ll probably play through the first sequel at least, but maybe if i pick up one of the games that has drums (which i know nothing about) i’ll get more out of the experience. we’ll see.
heroic guitar links:
– entry at wikipedia, including the songlist
– FAQ at gamefaqs.com that includes score requirements
– somewhat interesting survey about guitar hero at gamasutra although it seems the pool of respondents was skewed and included more core gamers