The first of its kind, Guitar Hero has spawned an entire genre of rhythm video games played with fake instruments. (OK, technically there were games using Maracas and/or Bongos first, but Guitar Hero was the first to go mainstream – primarily due to the rock-focused music selection.) The newest Guitar Hero, #5, has been out for a few months. While each title in the series adds a little bit more to the options available, this new edition has the most family-friendly options and gameplay modes of the lot – especially on the Wii version.
If you’re unfamiliar with this style of game, players take on the role of a lead guitarist, bass player, drummer, or lead singer in a band and then play along with the music, hitting the correct notes as a series of five keys scroll down the screen. The big draw of the game is the ability to play along with familiar and favorite songs, giving one the opportunity to daydream of actually rocking out to the game’s tunes. Gameplay comes in several difficulty modes, allowing players to learn the ropes and slowly progress up the ladder of higher and higher difficulty. The game can be played as a sort of jump in and play a song mode, or the popular career mode where you put together a band and earn cash and fans as you play in slowly improving venues.
Perhaps the nicest improvement of Guitar Hero 5 is the ability to mix and match instruments. Previously, players had to pick one of the four specific instruments, with the new version players can make any sort of band they wish – four drummers, a pair of guitars and a pair of bassists, whatever. This is a nice feature, as gamers can play as their favorite instrument regardless of what other players want to play. The game also caters to gaming parties with the addition of a party play mode that allows players to jump in and start competing with a minimum of menu navigation. Finally, there are several new types of games players can play against each other. Examples include competitions for best streak of perfect playing, best percentage of correct notes at the end, elimination mode, and others.
As before, there is a Studio mode where gamers can create their own songs. It is a bit fiddly, but does provide an outlet for budding musicians to give it a try. The Wii version of the game is particularly nice as it also has a Mii Freestyle Mode which incorporates players’ Miis on a virtual stage where they can “rock out” and create their own music. The Wiimote and Nunchuck controller can even be used to “air drum”. The Freestyle mode on the Wii even combines with a Nintendo DS so that the player with a DS can act as the stage manager and control lighting, camera angles, and even light off pyrotechnics. A more entertaining Wii exclusive is the Roadie Battle mode. Here two players play guitars and are each paired with a “roadie” using a Nintendo DS. The DS players use their controllers to try to sabotage the opposing guitarist’s equipment while repairing any damage dealt by the opposing roadie.
Guitar Hero 5 is not revolutionary, but the title is much more than just a bunch of additional songs for the franchise. The actual song list will probably be the biggest make-or-break feature of the game. If you don’t like the included songs (listed on the back of the game box) you probably won’t get too into the game. However, the newest features make great strides in making the game even more accessible to newcomers, party players, and family settings. In particular, the Wii version has some nice new gameplay modes that work well for parties or casual gaming.
Kid Factor: Rock music has had a checkered acceptance amongst more conservative folks. Guitar Hero 5’s most “mature” features are all related to those stereotypes. Some of the character avatars and dress modes are rather edgy, in keeping with modern rock band styles of dress. What earns the game its “T for Teen” rating is primarily the song lyrics. If you are OK with your kids listening to songs common on rock radio stations (Cigarettes, Wedding Bands; Lust for Life; Sex on Fire; etc…) you will probably be fine with letting them play the game. While it won’t teach them how to play actual musical instruments, they will teach a grasp of rhythm and may awaken a desire to give a real instrument a try.