Publisher: Red Octane
Release Date: November 7, 2006
The innovative design of Guitar Hero captured the hearts of anyone who came in contact with the guitar-thrashing game. Non-gamers and gamers alike found the joy of rocking out, whether they had any musical talent or not. Harmonix is at it again with Guitar Hero II, the successor to all that is rock.
So what is up with this guitar controller? On the neck of the guitar, you have five colored buttons which act as the guitar's frets. At the base is the strum bar, which you will press to play the notes. It is also outfitted with a whammy bar in order to interject your own style into the songs. Last is the tilt sensor, which allows you to activate "star power" when the guitar is raised vertically.
The basic premise is simple: As the colored circles flow toward you on the screen, you hold the corresponding fret and strum at the same time. Doing so creates musical goodness that is much easier to attain than playing an actual guitar. Every 10 notes you play gives you a score multiplier up to times four, which is essential to doing well in the multiplayer portion. You can get more than times four if you use your star power.
Gaining star power hasn't changed at all: Play all the notes with stars on them in a row, and you fill up star gauge. If you go crazy on the whammy bar with long star notes, you can extract more of that eternal star power. Once the gauge is halfway full, you can tilt up your guitar to activate the star power, which allows you to get a multiplier up to times eight. Rising up and thrashing out on a little plastic guitar has never been more satisfying. I even wanted to pull out a lighter for myself once.
This time around, it's also little easier to get multipliers because they have given you a bigger window for hammer-ons and pull-offs. To perform a hammer-on or pull-off, you have to imagine the controller as a real guitar. When you strum, vibrations are sent throughout the instrument, allowing you to press down on the next note without having to strum for it. Carrying these physics into Guitar Hero II, you can easily play notes that are close together in length. For example, if you have a sequence of green, red, yellow, and blue (they are the first four fret buttons in order) in close proximity, you can strum for the green note, and then simply press the frets for the red, yellow, and blue notes without strumming. This becomes particularly useful on the Hard and Expert difficulty settings.
In Career mode, you go through the list of 40 songs, completing each one in an effort to become a music legend. You start at a lowly battle of the bands and progress to much bigger venues. The song selection is pretty varied, ranging from Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" to Stray Cats' "Rock This Town." While you may not enjoy every single song on here, there's something for everyone. "Free Bird" is even include as the final song, which, I might add, is not a piece of cake.
The better you perform on each song, and the harder the selected difficulty, the more money you get. Earn enough cash, and you can head over to the store to buy some extra stuff. They have everything you could want: bonus songs, new guitars and characters, new finishes, and two "making of" videos. Unfortunately, the "Making of Guitar Hero II" video wasn't that informative and was actually comprised of biographies of the people who worked on the game. Also, while you get more money in the harder modes, mastering each one could take some time.
A new addition to Guitar Hero II is the Practice mode, where you can slow down songs, and you can pick specific parts of the song to practice. Now if there is a solo you just can't nail, you can pick it out, slow it down, and practice the hell out of it. With enough determination, all the tools are at your disposal to become a Guitar Hero II god.
Of course, the most exciting part is the multiplayer portion. The classic Face-Off mode is available just as it was in the original, but Guitar Hero II adds two more electrifying modes to spice up the experience.
First off is Cooperative mode, where players team up to complete a song. Depending on the tune, they can choose between rhythm and lead, or guitar and bass. Cooperative is definitely a lot of fun, so it's a shame that it wasn't included as an option in Career mode; it would've been fun to work together to earn new songs and bonuses. However, it works well as a multiplayer option when you want to stop being so competitive and play nice once in a while.
The other multiplayer mode is Pro Face-Off, which must be unlocked in Career mode. It's much like regular Face-Off, with two differences: Both players have to play on the same difficulty, and instead of switching off parts during the song, you both play the entire song. Now no one can complain about the other player having more notes to play or being on an easier difficulty setting.
The graphics in Guitar Hero II aren't that different from the original, but the style is maintained throughout. All of the art has a hardcore "I'm-gonna-rip-your-face-off" attitude, which really suits the game, and the stages are all so creative. Every time I saw a new set, I thought, "I want to go to that concert!"
All of the cover bands do a nice job of performing, although it does sound kind of awkward when people don't quite nail the original singer's voice, which was the case with "War Pigs." At the same time, it is still a lot of fun because the cover bands help create an authentic feel of playing the actual songs.
The key thing to remember about Guitar Hero II is that it's one of those titles that just clicks with everyone. You can't bring Halo 2 to non-gamers and expect them to have a good time like this. I brought Guitar Hero II to my girlfriend's apartment to let her play, and before I knew it, all of her friends were joining in on the fun. They all had an easy time learning the controls, and they simply loved playing along with songs they had heard before. I have never heard "Carry on my Wayward Son" so much in my entire life, yet I enjoyed the fact that it was something that everyone enjoyed, no matter how much of a gamer he or she claimed to be.
If you loved the original Guitar Hero, you're already jamming out with this sequel, so carry on. If you're looking for a different experience or just love rock music, and you never got a chance to pick up the original, you are doing yourself a disservice if you don't give Guitar Hero II a spin. It creates a new sense of fun that allows non-gamers and gamers alike to come together in harmony and rock delight.
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