The rhythm game genre is one that has been around for a long time. It existed in the forms of PaRappa the Rappa, Guitaroo Man, and Dance Dance Revolution long before anyone knew who Harmonix was. However, unless you were willing to import or get off your lazy ass and play DDR, many gamers’ exposure to these games was limited. That is, until November 2005, when the rhythm genre jumped into our hands and threw our favorite music at us. When Guitar Hero released it put rhythm games on everybody’s radar, but has the franchise grown with the core fan base, or abandoned them for the casual market?
When I first got my hands on that tiny plastic guitar, I remember thinking how ridiculous it was. At the time I played an actual guitar, and specialized in mastering meticulous metal tracks. I figured this game would be child’s play compared to the real deal. I was pleasantly surprised when the game challenged me in a way entirely separate from every other video game I had played.
Weeks passed as I climbed through the difficulty ranks. I wet my toes in Easy, waded up to my waist in Medium, then treaded water in Hard. I had years of playing along to my favorite songs on the actual guitar under my belt, but up until Guitar Hero the only thing holding me accountable for my rhythm and timing was myself. It turns out I wasn’t very strict.
As I dove off the deep end into Expert mode, I recall being amazed at how difficult the simplest songs became. Blistering solos and complicated chord progressions left my jaw agape at songs like “The Cowboys from Hell,” and “The Breaking Wheel.” The first time I went for the game’s jugular, and faced off against “Bark at the Moon” on Expert was especially memorable. This was a song I could play without any trouble on actual guitar, but failed repeatedly on Guitar Hero. However, instead of destroying my fake instrument for the real thing, I kept plugging way. After failing around the 97% mark time after time, I achieved the tangible triumph of “You Rock!” in exchange for my determination.
The years kept coming and so did the entries in the Guitar Hero library. Guitar Hero II gave us challenging marvels like “Jordan,” and “Freebird,” to test our mettle on. Guitar Hero III also turned up the challenge with perhaps the most frustrating final tier of all. From “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” to “Through the Fire and Flame,” Guitar Hero III contains superiorly difficult songs. Beating that Dragonforce song is my life goal.
Shortly after Guitar Hero III was released, ex-Guitar Hero developer Harmonix released Rock Band. The casual-friendly game focused less on the challenge of playing music, and more on the experience of performing and having fun with friends. I enjoyed playing with friends, but still wasn’t convinced it was the “next” Guitar Hero. Something just didn’t feel right about the presentation and career mode. I patiently awaited Activision to release another game with the challenge that was featured in the third game. Time passed, and a few disappointing Guitar Hero III DLC songs later, Guitar Hero: World Tour was released.
World Tour may have gained a band, but it lost the definitive Guitar Hero “flavor.” The challenge was significantly reduced, the quality of songs was arguably poorer, and the career progression was awkwardly divided into disjointed setlists. Quantity is not always better than quality. The Guitar Hero team’s pathetic attempts at DLC were bandaged by song creation/ sharing. These fan made songs could be challenging and fun, but the lack of real polish kept them from attaining replayable greatness.
Was this it? Had the Guitar Hero brand sprinted after Rock Band in order to gain mass appeal? What about me? It was gamers like me that purchased the game in the first place, getting friends and friends’ friends infatuated with the game. We had practiced and become proficient at Expert, and were thirsting for something more. Instead of evolving with its core audience, Activision seemed to be taking backwards evolutionary steps, despite the addition of a full band.
It could be argued that the addition of drums and their steep difficulty compensates for the watered down guitar component. However, the core fans of the franchise have been rocking a plastic guitar since Guitar Hero first appeared. We cut our teeth on the artificial axe, so it’s unfair to assume we wish to derive all our challenge from synthetic skins.
Activision is abandoning the fans that made their game the success it is. Appealing to casual gamers with a Rock Band clone that ditches everything which made the Guitar Hero franchise “what it is” leaves us alienated and bereft. We have become proficient at playing the Fisherprice-like instrument, and we are becoming bored with the latest efforts. Guitar Hero started the night off right with making stiff drinks, and since has been watering them down. We need more to get the job done.
Guitar Hero: Metallica is a step in the right direction. Expert + mode for drums offers a very specific challenge to a very specific group of gamers who enjoy laying down the beat. A handful of songs are quite challenging on Expert, and require some dedication to complete. However, the game fizzles out with anticlimactic ‘pop.’ This game is still World Tour at the roots.
Something needs to happen or the Guitar Hero name will stumble and burn in the fiery wake of Rock Band. Drop the band, Guitar Hero. You tried. Embrace the guitar as your strong point, and exploit it.
Note: The Sunday Soapbox is an account of the writer’s personal opinions and not representative of Gamer Limit’s opinions as a whole.