Platform Reviewed on: PS2
Alright, let's kick this off with a bit of a rockin' corporate history lesson. The original Guitar Hero game was developed by Harmonix, a crew that had already proved their worth in the rhythm game space with the much loved Frequency and Amplitude on the PlayStation 2, both published by Sony. RedOctane then joined the party to publish Guitar Hero, a game that's instant popularity caught the attention of big daddy Activision who then scooped up RedOctane, amped things up, and brought us the even bigger hit, Guitar Hero II. Shortly after this, music powerhouse MTV nabbed Harmonix and Activison announced that Neversoft, best known for the long-running Tony Hawk's Pro Skater series, would be handling construction of Guitar Hero III. Meanwhile, the original Harmonix crew are also now hard at work on their new project Rock Band, which will be brought to us by a collaboration between MTV and uber game-publisher Electronic Arts. Two new recipes for sure fire hits this holiday season. Follow all that? Good.
Competition in the gaming-space is generally a good thing for the consumers, as each company tries to one up each other with their game's content. Rock Band aims to offer four player jams, adding drums and a mic in the mix, while Guitar Hero III has signed up some big-name guitarists - both games, of course, offering incredibly impressive licensed track lists. But where does that leave us now? Well that's where Guitar Hero: Rocks the 80s comes in. You've squeezed all you want to out of GH I and II's playlists and you just want more songs to play, Rocks the 80s is the short answer.
Guitar Hero: Rocks the 80s offers the exact same playing style and options as Guitar Hero II, with a 30-strong set-list of new songs from the 1980s - that spectacular decade of big hair and denim, that along with He-man, hyper colour t-shirts and 'not! Jokes', brought us an incredibly distinct collection of guitar driven music. A seemingly perfect match for a Guitar Hero game.
Sounds great right? Well it is... kind of, but not entirely. Rocks the 80s makes little attempt to hide the fact that it's just a quick and dirty cash-grab. Developer effort is seemingly minimal - the recording of new cover songs and the beat-matching process being the only obvious areas of work other than some appropriately gaudy 80's styled palette-shifting in the menus and one new set of clothing for the performers. Under the game's neon paint job it's unashamedly Guitar Hero II with a new set of songs and less features. While there are some unlockables, you won't find anything new here. There're no bonus tracks, no new gameplay modes, not even 80s themed make-overs for the stage backdrops. That said, it's not like Sony haven't been doing this for years with their SingStar line and we keep buying those.
The "budget" price is a little steep with an RRP of $69.95, considering the standalone (no guitar controllers) version of GH II is $79.95. But then you are getting what amounts to three CDs worth of licensed, interactive music. Which brings us to perhaps the most important question - is the new selection of songs any good? As a child of the 80s with a tragic weak-spot for hair-metal I was personally pretty happy with the assortment, but your mileage may vary... wildly. While there's certainly some big name bands that most will recognise, they haven't really chosen their A-list material. Sure you've got Twisted Sister's "I Wanna Rock" and Flock of Seagul's "I Ran" but for the most part it feels like they're saving a lot of these artists' better songs for a more important, bigger budgeted game.
Regardless of music taste however, the more hardcore guitar heroes should at least be able to enjoy the technical variety in the track selection here - there's some of the fastest solos in a Guitar Hero game yet, plenty of challenging three-note chord sections and by far the most difficult end-game song. To complete the game's expert career mode is the closer "Play With Me" by big-haired Boston outfit, Extreme.
While not unwelcome, Guitar Hero: Rocks the 80s is ultimately nothing more than 30 new songs to play in a near year-old game. If you don't already own Guitar Hero II, it's definitely recommended you pick that one up first for a much more well-rounded rock-out experience. If you're a GH veteran looking for fresh tunes and new challenges to tide you over until Guitar Hero III and Rock Band arrive, make your decision after first reading the track list.