Guitar Hero 2 Review
There’s a little known event outside of gaming circles, it’s known as the DICE Summit. You can think of it as the Academy Awards of the gaming industry. Last year, the two top winners were both PS2 titles: the first was God of War - a violent action title with incredible visuals and a great story, a no-brainer for a win; the second was Guitar Hero - not a game in the traditional sense but a “simulation” if you will, played with a “guitar” of some of the greatest rock songs of the past 35 years. And when released, it took the world by storm.
Played on a guitar with five frets, a strum bar and a whammy bar, the guitar for Guitar Hero allowed the inner child in anyone the chance to be a Rock Star! To play ZZTop (I never got the hang of spinning the guitar), Joey Ramone (minus the makeup) or Slowhand before he became slow…twas wonderful. Guitar Hero II took this an amazing formula and made it even better.
How you play the game hasn’t changed. You have a plastic guitar for input that contains 5 colored frets, a plastic strum bar and a whammy bar. As colors head towards you on a horizontal music bar you hit the corresponding color(s) while strumming. Should you see a long, held note you hold the color down and can use the whammy bar to produce tremolo within the note and boost your score. You earn points for each note hit accurately; bonuses for long runs with no mistakes; and extra bonuses from the "star meter". The star meter increases with accuracy, building up the audience to a pitched fever. You then tilt the guitar to cause your avatar to perform amazing acrobatic feats that whips said audience into a frenzy.
The music selection of the first game was amazing. But, the success of the first shows in the selection of the second. Never short on A-list bands, GH1 kept you rocking ‘til your fingers bled. GH2 not only has A-list bands, it has their A-list tracks – some of them original tracks at that. I can honestly say I didn’t expect to ever “play” Spinal Tap, but it was a surprise to play Matthew Sweet. I’d felt I was the only person in my little corner of the world who’d discovered “Girlfriend”.
Visually, the game is remarkable. The avatars each have unique personalities and animations for each song, each guitar line, and each venue. The venues are unique. The only complaint I have is that, as with the first, I rarely get to see the actual graphics as I’m so busy watching the notes come towards me I can’t watch the audience or the band. It’s only when I hand the game to another (and who really wants to hand it over?) that I get to see anything.
Guitar Hero 2 isn’t without cosmetic improvements. There’s a much needed Practice Mode that allows you to take any song or part thereof, and practice it repeatedly at one of four slower speeds. (Thank you for saving my fingers!) No longer is it a requirement to complete four of five songs to pass on to a new and more difficult, but better paying, venue. You can do by completing three of four. However, to do so is to not give your audience their encore performance and not unlock the fifth song in that level. Triple chords have also been added – be forewarned. And managing quickly changing notes in succession is now more easily accomplished. You hit the first fret, strum, and then quickly move down the additional notes.
The true beauty of this sequel lies in the multi-player features. No longer does it play like Dueling Banjos. Now, each song has a Lead and Bass/Rhythm option. The difficulty by player can also be set. You finally have the feeling of playing together rather than against one another, although that option still exists. Between the co-operative feature and the bass/rhythm line it’s possible that this may be the “better” of the two games instead of its equal. It will be hard to say.
Either way, better or equal, Guitar Hero 2 is a must have for any music lover, PS2 owner or person looking for a most excellent party game. There is sheer joy in reliving the “big hair” days of rock, as long as you don’t have to have the big hair. And 90’s grunge without the grunge – I’d go back to those days. Or, I’ll simply pick up my new red guitar (or the white if you’re patient enough), pop in Guitar Hero 2 and play me some Jane’s Addiction, or Van Halen, or Stray Cats, or Kansas, or…