We here at Geekanerd have been huge fans of the Guitar Hero franchise since that fateful day I walked into a Best Buy and gave it a whirl at a demo station. After plowing through three GH games (including the 80s Edition), is their still room in our hearts to be impressed by the series? Well, we've played it thoroughly on both the Wii and PS2, so hit the jump for our full review.
It's more Guitar Hero. Seriously, I still enjoy playing the first one immensely, so all Red Octane really needed to do to get me to like this game is not mess with the formula and give me new songs to play. And they've done this. There are a few gameplay differences, most of which I like or at least don't mind. Most notable is the fact that the window for hitting a note is significantly wider. My first time playing I was blazing through strings of hammer-ons and pull-offs that I know I'd never get through in the previous games. Some have grumbled that this cheapens the experience, but it makes me feel like a rockstar so I say it's awesome.
A lot of people have made a fuss about how the game is more difficult than the previous iterations, but I honestly didn't notice too much of a leap, other than that the "First Tier" songs aren't necessarily any easier than the second, third, or fourth tier. There was certainly a larger disparity between the difficulties of GH1 and GH2.
The new guitar controller is really great. It feels much more solid than the old ones, and while the ability to swap out the faceplates and take the neck off are features I'll probably never use, I guess it's nice to know I could if I wanted. Having had time with this guitar and the Rock Band guitar, I'd have to say this one feels MUCH better, even if it doesn't look quite as cool.
The Co-Op Career is a very welcome addition, and making some tracks with especially great bass lines exclusive to that mode makes it seem like more than an afterthought.
Finishing off the Good List is the fact that a lot of the tracks in the game are original recordings. No longer do we have to sit through cringe-worthy covers of songs we love. Jamming to authentic masters immediately crowns this game as the King of the Guitar Hero hill.
Unfortunately the game is not without its flaws. The most egregious of these is a severe case of devolving character design. The first Guitar Hero introduced a handful of unique and well-designed characters, but this game takes those, dips them in a vat of blandjuice and gives them all a $50 Hot Topic gift certificate to dress themselves. In the dark. Add a robot (who can relate to a ROBOT?! Especially one so distinctly uncool...) and some really really ugly "Legends of Rock" and you get a character selection screen that's not even worth looking at. The non-player characters suffer as well, most notably the drummer, who looks like he's an animatronic transplanted from a 50s era Disney ride. Ugh.
Another problem is the introduction of the Boss Battles. While the actual battle songs written specifically for the game are fun (why can't we play them in Face-Off mode??!?), the Battle mechanic is seriously half-baked. Every power-up interferes with the fun of playing a song, and most are way too powerful. Getting hit with just about anything in the final battle with the devil will just plain kill you. It's no fun, it feels cheap and unbalanced, and I don't like it no matter what you say.
The online play on the Wii is a mixed bag. We rarely had trouble finding someone to play against, but we've only gotten through one full session without our opponent dropping out when they were losing. Not really the game's fault, but still extremely frustrating. The matching system could also stand to be a bit more intuitive. That being said, the community that's growing at GuitarHero.com shows a lot of promise, with leaderboards and tournament scheduling.
I also have mixed feelings about the added Wiimote functionality. As you can see from the pic at the top of the post, the Wii guitar has a slot for the Wiimote to fit snugly. While there it makes a missed note "twang" sound effect, and vibrates to the beat when you have star power. These features, especially the sound bit, are things I really like in theory but distract me a bit in actual gameplay situations. I'm sure I'll eventually get used to it, but my initial impression was not a good one.