Guitar Hero is a rock fantasist's dream -- guitar glory without all those pesky years of hard practice and toil.
At its core a simple rhythm game, Guitar Hero muscles it way above others of its ilk thanks to its awesome guitar-shaped controller, rocking song selection and tightly-honed difficulty curve which allows newbies to rock out almost immediately, while leaving plenty of challenge for the true aficionado. The game makes you feel like you're actually playing guitar -- so much so you'll probably unconsciously find yourself doing the pogo or helicopter and wishing you could still fit into some black stovepipe jeans.
Guitar Hero's controller -- a Gibson SG replica -- is sturdily built and while a little small, is large enough for gamers not to feel self conscious while playing it. The guitar features five colour-coded fret buttons on the neck, while the body features a small lever for strumming and a whammy bar.
The mechanics of Guitar Hero are rather simple. A rolling fret board appears on your TV screen, with indicators matching the colour-coded fret buttons appearing. All you have to do to hit a note do is hold down the corresponding fret (or frets to play a chord) while strumming the Gibson SG replica. Notes with long lines attached to them require you to hold down the fret button for the duration of that line. Hit the note correctly and you'll hear it ring out sweetly -- miss it and you'll get clunking sound. A meter on the right side of the screen shows you how well you're doing -- miss too many notes and meter goes into red, with the song stopping completely if you play too badly.
It sounds easy, but Guitar Hero at its most difficult level can be truly punishing, not to mention a strain on your wrists and hands. Even some songs at medium difficulty can be downright nasty. The game encourages players introduce themselves gradually to the game, setting up a well-honed learning curve that proves addicting to play.
Guitar Hero has four difficulty levels -- easy, medium, hard and expert. At easy levels, the game only requires you to use the first three fret buttons on the guitar neck. On medium, you'll need to use four, while on hard and expert all five are used. Not all of Guitar Hero's songs are immediately available for play -- songs are bundled into groups of five, with players needing to complete at least four songs in a set before unlocking the next batch.
While it sounds contrived, Guitar Hero's gradually ramping difficulty is one the most compelling things about the game. The songs you'll start with on Easy level are just that -- easy. But as you progress through the other songs, you'll find your fingers get worked a little more. When you start off at Medium difficulty, the first few songs you'll encounter will only sparingly use the fourth fret button as a way of gradually introducing you to that new gameplay element. By the end, though, you'll have to have mastered that fourth fret to complete the hardest songs. Ditto the fifth fret for Hard Level. And don't even think about opening up Expert unless you've become Hendrix-like. You'll find yourself hooked pretty quickly as your skills increase to match the difficulty of the game.