Monday, November 28, 2005

For Those About To Rock, I Salute You

Oh, you don't know The Man? Oh, well, he's everywhere. In the White House, down the hall. Miss Mullins, she's The Man. And The Man ruined the ozone, and he's burning down the Amazon, and he kidnapped Shamu and put her in a chlorine tank. Okay? And there used to be a way to stick it to The Man. It was called rock 'n' roll. But guess what. Oh, no. The Man ruined that too with a little thing called MTV! So don't waste your time trying to make anything cool or pure or awesome. 'Cause The Man's just gonna call you a fat, washed-up loser and crush your soul. So do yourselves a favor and just give up!
--Dewey (Jack Black), School of Rock

I don't think so.

I started playing games around 1975. Thirty years of gaming. I haven't played them all, but I'm probably as close as just about anyone. And I have never, NEVER, had as much fun playing a game.

Thirty years.

So when I say this game is more fun than any game I've ever played, I'm talking about more than a thousand games.

It's totally over the top, the design is perfect, the interface is perfect, and the custom controller is perfect.

All the dials in this game go to eleven. Really, they do.

It's Guitar Hero (PS2). It is, quite literally, the game of a lifetime.

I'm gonna be a rock and roll, a rock and roll star. Yes, I are.
--AC/DC, Rock 'N' Roll Singer

What do you do in Guitar Hero? You hold a guitar controller in your hands and you rock, my friends. You rock hard. And when your hands start to hurt from rocking too hard, there's only one thing you can do: keep rocking.

All I want for Christmas is a red rock and roll guitar.
--Chuck Berry, Run Rudolf Run

Guitar Hero comes with a guitar-shaped controller that is simply the most brilliant custom controller ever created. It feels like a guitar, even though it's not quite full-sized. Here's a picture:

Five fret buttons. A strum bar. A whammy bar. It mimics all the motions, if not all the complexities, of playing guitar. It's a beautiful, inspired piece of design.

I bring rock to the unrocked masses.
--Me, in response to Gloria when she asked me what I was doing with a guitar-shaped controller.

So what do you do? I keep telling you, man--you rock. Notes move from top to bottom on the screen, and you play them.

And that is the gameplay idea of the century.

That doesn't really sound like enough, does it? You know in the first thirty seconds of your first song, though, that something magic is happening. That's how long it takes to realize that this game is as perfect as a game can be.

Did I say notes? I meant single notes, sustained notes, and chords. Fast, slow, and everything in-between. Miss a note and you hear it. Pull off a note early during a sustain and you can hear it. It's a terrific piece of programming, because the songs have already been recorded, and you're simply matching the recording by playing the notes correctly, but because you hear your mistakes so clearly, it feels like you're playing live, and if you use the whammy bar, the notes distort. It's sensational.

The songs? They're great. Has there ever been a richer source of content for a game than rock songs with great guitar licks? Thirty licensed songs plus another seventeen bonus tracks from indy groups (set list: That's almost fifty songs, and there are four levels of difficulty. You'd think that the songs would feel roughly the same at different levels of difficulty, but they don't. The number of notes you play greatly increases as you move up in difficulty, plus you go from using only three fret buttons to eventually using all five. It's an entirely different experience on each difficulty level, and with different star ratings as a grade for your performance, there's constantly a spur to play songs over again to improve your score. To play them again until you play every single note.

Again: genius.

Dude, I service society by rocking, OK? I'm out there on the front lines liberating people with my music!
--Dewey, School of Rock

Of course there's a career mode. You play any one of several comically exaggerated rocker stereotypes, and as your career takes off, you play in larger and larger venues in front of wildly cheering crowds.

Unless you suck, in which case they'll boo you off the stage. Only rockers need apply.

The better you rock, the more money you earn to unlock more characters, guitars, and songs. And it's just incredibly satisfying to rip through a song, get a five-star rating, and get paid.

All right, let's pray. God of rock, thank you for this chance to kick ass. We are your humble servants. Please give us the power to blow peoples minds with our high-voltage rock.
--Dewey, School of Rock

Even on easy difficulty, there are hundreds of notes in a song, and hitting every single note is the most fantastic feeling. I played through songs again and again on Easy, even after I'd completed enough songs to move up, because I wanted five-star ratings on every single song.

I never do that in a game. Never. I always want to get "there." With Guitar Hero, though, I'm already there. And when I got five-star ratings on all the songs, I kept playing some of my favorites, just to play them perfectly.

You can't go home with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. You don't sleep with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. You don't get hugged by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and you don't have children with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I want what everybody else wants: to love and be loved and to have a family.
-- Billy Joel, American singer, pianist, and songwriter

Billy Joel is a little bitch and does not rock. There are no Billy Joel songs in Guitar Heroes.

Wrapped around everything in Guitar Heroes is a wonderfully inspired sense of humor. It's Spinal Tap dead-on, a terrific parody of rock and roll culture. It's laugh-out-loud funny, and when I'm not laughing, I have a huge grin on my face.

Because I'm rocking, man.

And in the words of AC/DC: 'We roll tonight to the guitar bite, and for those about to rock, I salute you.'
--Dewey, School of Rock

Perfect design. Perfect execution. Perfect game. On a scale of one to ten, it's a ten.

No, that's not right. It's not a ten.

It's an eleven.

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