And now, I present The State of the Music Genre
1. Passing the Torch
Let’s take a quick look at what makes a game like Guitar Hero click. Rather than dancing on a pad, you imitate playing a guitar by pounding down on different buttons and keys on a plastic replica of a Gibson SG. There are chords, sustained notes, and a whammy bar for adding your own bit of personal flair. In order for the song to actually play, the player must correctly perform the notes, or else face failure. Particularly good play can net you Star Power, a technique that allows you to increase your score. As for future installments, it looks as if we will see music, more styles, and possibly even more instruments that will all be able to join together for a virtual jam session.
Now here’s the kicker; just about everything described above can be found in some form or another in a Japanese music game (I’m not sure if there’s an equivalent to Star Power, but I’m willing to bet that there is). Guitar Hero really doesn’t bring much new to the table. Even the idea of using a guitar has been done before. However, a lot of these concepts did not see the light of day on American shores until GH was released, and it seems to be the only series eager to bring more of them here in the future.
The reason Guitar Hero is so good, why I and many others are excited for even more, is because Harmonix isn’t content to bring just the foundation (DDR) to the West. They want to give us the whole damn house, and in a format that we can better appreciate. Which brings us to my next point:
2. I wanna Rock.
Guitar Hero isn’t just a curiosity among people in my life. My entire college apartment of last year liked it. Their girlfriends liked it (or were at least intrigued by it). Half the DDR Rave liked it. My elementary school cousins watch me play. Hell, my 50 year old parents like Guitar Hero, and one of them actually tried to play it (hint: it wasn’t my dad). Just about every major gaming website’s staff is under its spell. That’s a hell of a lot of people of all shapes and sizes, and I guarantee you that if it you replaced the game with DDR you would see a much different reaction. I doubt they would even stick around to watch me finish a song.
A lot of people like Japanese music, but a lot more people like rock n’ roll. I suppose that this is yet another way in which Harmonix is taking a cue from their Japanese counterparts; they’ve made a music game with music and style intended for its own culture. As I said before, Bemani will always have its fans here in the States, but at the same time it seems only natural that a western company would eventually come to take control of the western music game scene. It’s great if you can expand your horizons and appreciate J-Pop, but a lot more of us just want to rock out to Ozzy. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.
3. This one goes to 11…
I’ve heard some Bemani fans joke that Guitar Hero looks a whole lot easier to play than most music games. They say that once you master the controller, it all boils down to knowing when to use Star Power and nothing more. I can’t say if this claim is true (and really, if they haven’t played GH at all, they shouldn’t be making this conjecture), but harder or not, they’re missing the point. You can play the game just to earn high scores and still have a lot of fun, but to me Guitar Hero is all about the performance.
Meanwhile, there is only so much entertainment one can get from watching somebody sit down to a Beatmania keyboard, and a DDR routine only goes so far if you can’t appreciate the technique or the music behind it. Not to mention many people who play these games might be content just to play and do nothing more.
On the other hand we have Guitar Hero, which just begs for you to add some showmanship to your play. There are few GH players I know that don’t put a little bit of flair and acting into their performance, and just watching them is highly entertaining. For us average Joe’s and Jane’s who can’t play a real guitar, Guitar Hero is as close to being a Rock God as we can get. It is easily the most badass music game ever concocted. Who wouldn’t say “yes” to that?