For this week’s Power Trip, I explore Guitar Hero in spirit of Guitar Hero: Metallica‘s release this week. The first installment in the Guitar Hero series introduced the most powerful mind controlling technique in gaming since Psycho Mantis. The power up this week is so powerful that it can malevolently manipulate the internal workings of one’s mind, turning dissonance into sweet harmony, red to green, and condemnation into euphoric idolization.
This is it, the very first song of your very first paid gig. You know everyone came for the headlining band, and your band, “Unholy Creation,” is merely in the audience’s way. Your sweaty fingers tremble as they clutch the guitar pick. The guitar’s metallic strings seem to resist your plucking and prodding as you stumble through the introductory melody of Boston’s “More Than a Feeling.” The crowd of rampant Boston fans begin jeering and reaching into their pockets for rotten tomatoes. “Is it time?,” you quietly ask yourself. You swallow hard and, while playing, tilt your electric guitar vertically. The Miniature Gyroscopic Cogniscience Manipulation Apparatus slides into place and the magnetic contacts unite, sending a signal to the Tesla Dispersal Unit attached to the guitar’s amplifier. Blue bolts of electricity burst from the amps and snake through the booing crowd, penetrating their brains via the ear canal. Suddenly grimaces mutate into smiles, jeers turn to cheers, and the familiar melody of “More Than a Feelings”‘s arpeggios wash over the audience’s ears, veiling the cacophony of twangy noises coming from your guitar. “This is how you’ll rise to the top,” you think to yourself as you grin wickedly.
The Star Power of Guitar Hero may seem like a benign and cheesy way to save yourself from completely blowing it during “Bark at the Moon,” but it exemplifies a power rarely seen in games. It not only slows your rate of fail, but with each note you hit correctly, the audience approval meter sky rockets. This is incredibly helpful for not only making it through bloated serpentine solos containing notes that crowd the fret board, but it also allows you to start the next section of the song in the green, giving you a cushion should you biff it again.
As everyone surely knows, Start Power appears in the form of glowing notes that must be played sequentially without error. Accumulating enough of these “streaks” fills an energy meter that looks like something inside Doc’s DeLorean. Star Power is then activated by tilting the guitar vertically in order to simulate a rocker entering “super shred mode.” Obviously, tilting the guitar allows you to look much cooler, thus wowing the audience into an orgasmic stupor.
Guitar Hero may have polished and popularized the rhythm game genre that existed successfully in Japan years before, but it also borrowed elements from another genre- survival horror. Yes, survival is crucial in the higher tier songs of the game. Being eaten alive by songs like “Cowboys from Hell” had players hoarding Star Power like shotgun rounds in preparation for the apocalyptic guitar solos of Dimebag Darrell. Waiting until the last blistering moment as they teetered on the crimson brink of failure, gamers would spastically tilt their plastic instrument and unleash the fury of Star power to save them from mass ridicule and the infamous “You Suck!” screen.
Without Star Power, Guitar Hero would have been an incredibly difficult game on the higher difficulty levels. This, combined with the first game’s strict timing window and rigid hammer-on/ pull-off mechanic would have made the game much less user friendly, and could have ultimately doomed the series and future rhythm games.
Some say that Star Power is the western rhythm game developer’s “easy button,” and that it would have been better if the hardcore difficulty of Japanese rhythm games wasn’t watered down. However, I don’t know what I’d do without it. So here’s to Star Power! Mind washing virtual audiences into adoring us and convincing us we’re actually good at rhythm games since 2005!