There was a period back in the late 80s, when the toy industry spawned a series of electronic musical instruments. They were all the rage and just what every kid wanted in their Christmas stocking. Hit Sticks were electronic drum sticks that played different drum beats as you violently swung them through the air like a maddened rock god. In the same vein, Hot Licks, the electronic guitar, was also released as a perfect accompaniment, allowing kids to form tragic pretend rock bands in their parent's garages.
Not many people remember the Hot Licks, and those that do have tried desperately to erase it from their memory, but Activision and game developers RedOctane and Harmonix have banded together for the comeback of the century.
Guitar Hero for the Playstation 2 games console, recreats Hot Licks, albeit in a new form. With a shrunken replica of a Gibson electric guitar, gamers play along with popular rock songs either in single player or against a friend in dueling guitar mode. The game will ship with one guitar with further guitars available in the future. While the game can be played without one, the real fun comes from rocking out with guitar in hand and playing without just spoils the fun.
As a gaming peripheral, the Guitar works surprisingly well. It has all the same buttons as an old-school Hot Licks, even down to the whammy bar but these now correspond to button controls in the game. The buttons are responsive and easy to use but are also spaced in such a way that when playing the game on expert (which uses all the fret buttons), you really need to have quick fingers.
Anyone that has played the game Frequency, has played Guitar Hero. It is exactly the same game with a rock culture theme. Notes appear on an ever-scrolling fret board, moving toward the player. As they reach the player, the corresponding coloured button must be held down on the guitar while strumming at the same time. This needs to be done for every note and if successful, that note is played in the song. Long notes need to be held down for their duration, during which the time, the whammy bar can be used for added effect. As notes are played correctly, the player score increases and the adoration from the crowd becomes louder. Get the notes wrong and the crowd turns on you until eventually, you fail the song.
The game has 8 characters, 6 venues and a wide range of Gibson guitars to choose as well as 30 songs to play from artists such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, David Bowie, Boston, Sum 41, Ozzy Osbourne, Audioslave, White Zombie, Franz Ferdinand, and The Ramones. It can be played on one of four difficulty levels, each using an extra button on the fret board to make the fingering more complex.
We found the game both fun and addictive and found the guitar peripheral to be very easy to use. However, the game is insanely difficult at times, especially if you lack co-ordination in your fingers. The more complex songs seem virtually impossible and watching someone get them right is quite remarkable. While the single player career is fun, multiplayer is definitely where the lasting appeal of this title lies. Having two reviewers dueling with guitars to "Take Me Out" by Franz Ferdinand was extremely entertaining, especially when the loser walked away feeling like a massive chump.
Activision believes that "there is a rock god in everyone" and this title certainly has the wide appeal to prove that. The quality and success of the game play is highly dependant on the guitar peripheral and since it works so beautifully, we happily recommend you give it a try.
Guitar Hero will be available Australia wide on June 16.