I don't usually like music games. They don't do much for me. I don't like singing along doing karaoke, I don't like sweating and stepping on arrows in Dance Dance Revolution, and I don't like anything that uses bongos… but I like Guitar Hero. Why do I like Guitar Hero when so many other audio-based games leave me cold? In this case, it's all about the controller.
Looking strictly at the gameplay, Guitar Hero is nothing more than logical evolution from Harmonix based on their other efforts like the excellent FreQuency and the pretty good Amplitude. Colored icons scroll towards the player and the correct button or sequence of buttons must be pushed at a certain time. It's not new, and it's not even really different. But, like I said—it's all about the controller.
Coming packaged with a peripheral in the shape of a guitar, a certain kind of magic takes hold when the ax gets plugged in and the opening menu screens are navigated. It might not make a lot of sense at first, but there's an incredible difference between sitting slouched over on a couch and standing up with legs spread in a power stance.
It feels stupid and embarrassing at first, so I recommend trying it out in a room alone. However, before the first song is over, the dark overlord of rock 'n roll makes his presence known and any thoughts of self-consciousness or modesty get tossed out the window. Now I gathered an audience. It may have been just my fiancée and my dog, but that didn't matter—I was a rock star.
For a few minutes, dreams of being a bad-ass chick magnet shredding a guitar onstage come true. My hands have to move to make the notes blast. My fingers have to fly. After nailing all the chords in a tough song, I almost expect a roadie to run in from the other room holding a mirror piled high with cocaine, a flock of hot groupies close behind. Without ever having taken a lesson in my life, Guitar Hero turns me into an all-powerful icon, kicking ass and ready to trash a cheap hotel room.
It goes without saying that very few games I've ever played have had such a visceral, immediate and transformative effect. Although intellectually my brain may tell me that there isn't much to it, it's impossible to ignore the electricity of one hand on the fret buttons and one on the strum key. It's a physical reaction.
By playing the game in a way that actually emulates playing the instrument, it becomes that much easier to slip into the music and start pounding away. The song selections are excellent, and although there are a few notable artists missing (where's the AC/DC? Pre-Hagar Van Halen?), anyone who appreciates rock will be sated with the work here; you just can't not move your head and jam to people like Jimi Hendrix, the Ramones, Black Sabbath, Megadeth, Motorhead, Pantera and more.
There isn't a whole lot to complain about with Guitar Hero—you're either going to rock out like a mofo and become the essence of superstardom, or you're not. The odds say you will. It's true the visuals could use a little more variety and pizzazz, and the game does get unbelievably difficult on the higher settings (so get practicing), but these aren't really things that can be held against it. The game is what it is, and nothing I could say in this review will effectively capture the sensation of holding the guitar controller straight up in the air and slamming through an insane series of notes on reflex, not really understanding how I did it—and not really caring.
Now move aside… my solo is coming up.