Guitar Hero 2 (XBOX 360) Review
I's not really sure when the whole rhythm game genre exploded, though I'm willing to put most of my money on the DDR series. The game was pretty unique instead of just pressing buttons in time with the music, you danced around and pressed the buttons with your feet. Sure, it was pretty slow on the early songs, but the fast songs with a great player were a sight to behold. Just go check out some of the videos on Youtube you'll get what I'm saying.
However, not everyone is a good dancer. Some of us are so ridiculously uncoordinated with our feet that we nearly trip when walking around during the day. Thankfully, the rhythm game genre hasn't left us behind, with classics like Gitaroo Man and beatmania (and a wealth of them if you can play import games). When things really took off here stateside, though, was with the release of Guitar Hero on the PS2. Instead of the techno music that dominated the genre previously, you now had popular rock tracks. As expected, the game brought rhythm gaming to the forefront for many people and the series sold exceptionally well. It nearly guaranteed the release of a sequel on the PS2. More importantly, though (and the version I'll be reviewing), there is now a version on the XBOX 360. Containing a few more songs and the ability to download GH1 songs via XBOX Live, GH2 360 seems to be the best version of the game yet. Is it, though?
The first thing you'll notice is the changed controller. For GH2 veterans, they'll notice a couple of major changes the fret buttons are smaller and not curved at the end, first of all. After watching my brother play, he often complained of his fingers not hitting the buttons quite right, likely due to their more rectangular shape. Also, the controller is shaped differently overall, and I personally like the clean white look of the 360 version. Finally, there's a port on the bottom to hook the controller up to other peripherals in the future. The new controller does have one problem, though the whammy bar doesn't work sometimes if you don't press it hard enough. This isn't too big of a deal, though, as you can easily learn to adapt.
The other changes from the PS2 versions are the graphic and sound departments. While you may not pay much attention to the characters in the background, they do look a bit crisper and the graphics overall have a cleaner feel. The lighting seemed to be a bit better, to that may just be my eyes playing tricks on me, though. However, the sound has seen solid improvements the tracks are a higher quality and sound awesome when using the optical out port for the 360. They even sound good coming through my TV's speaker.
For those that didn't play any of the PS2 games, though, I'll give a quick summary. First things first you'll pick the song you want to play. After doing all the basic pre-song stuff, you'll see five colored circles on the screen corresponding to the five buttons on the GH2 controller. To play a note, press down the right color and strum the bar in the middle of the guitar. The game picks up on all of this stuff just as well as it always has, which is a very good thing for a rhythm game, to say the least. To do well, you have to keep the ROCK meter from completely depleting during the song. Playing notes will boost the meter a bit and missing them will drop it by quite a few notes worth of increases. However, if you hit notes that are stars instead of notes and complete the set of them, you'll get more star power. Hit a certain level and you can activate it by turning the guitar so it is vertical, giving you double bonus along with a significant boost to the rock meter for each note you hit. As a note the game is pretty easy on the easy mode, but medium gets difficult as it introduces the blue note. Hard and Expert are just insane, but fun to watch if you know someone that can pull them off pretty easily. Using all five buttons on the guitar is ridiculously difficult but so rewarding when you can manage to pull it off it feels like a whole new game.
You'll have a metric assload of songs to play through, too, including some additional ones that didn't appear on the PS2. Playing through the entire game on medium will net you enough cash to unlock all of the bonus songs, giving you an absolutely insane amount of music to rock out to. And when I say rock out, I mean it. Sure, you can play the game and not really get into it, sitting down and just strumming. But if you really want to have fun, get some friends over and have fun in single player or, if if you have two guitars, multiplayer mode. A nice addition to that multi mode lets people play the same song on a different difficulty (so that you can compete with your GH2 buddy that's a master of the game).
A game like Guitar Hero 2 is a hard to give a score to. While it seems to be horribly simplistic on the surface, the game doesn't reward you like most games do. You're not going to get more powerful guitars or more powerful characters (you will get different skins, though) your rewards come in with the actual improvement of your manual dexterity and the sheer enjoyment you get from 5-starring a song like YYZ or Psychobilly Freakout on Hard or Expert. If you don't enjoy a game that requires you to be good with your hands as opposed to finding the Super Armor of Absolute Protection, you might want to avoid this. However, if you even slightly enjoy a chunk of the songs featured in this game, you can find a demo unit at most any store. Try it, and I can almost guarantee you'll be addicted. There's a reason this game is so popular among almost any crowd, be it the younger gamer kids, the college student crowd or the adult set it is just pure, simple fun.