Platform: PlayStation 2
Release Date: January 2007
How many of you overactive Guitar Hero fans have sent a PlayStation 2 crashing to the ground while performing a ridiculous solo? Though the SG Controller is a brilliant accessory, the cord attached to it never seemed long enough, even when standing several feet away from the console. RedOctane addressed this issue by releasing the Guitar Hero Wireless Controller late last year, shortly after the retail release of Guitar Hero II. With a suggested retail price of $60, it may have been a pricey investment, but it is definitely cheaper than replacing a smashed PS2.
Several third-party wireless guitars have also hit the market over the last several months, both prior to and following the release of the official one. Nyko's Frontman Wireless Controller is the latest of the bunch, and it does an excellent job of replicating the essential features found in RedOctane's own wired and wireless controllers. However, while the guitar is a high quality product, the lack of a price differential makes this a tough sell compared to the real deal.
The Frontman discards the curved surfaces of the official guitars in favor of an angular design clearly modeled after the Gibson Explorer (or X-Plorer), a guitar found within Guitar Hero II. Oddly enough, the RedOctane guitar controller included with the forthcoming release of Guitar Hero II for Xbox 360 is also based on the Explorer, albeit with a white and grey color scheme. The Frontman looks straight out of a 1980s metal video, whereas the official controllers have more of a classic rock feel to them.
Nyko looked to the two versions of the SG Controller as inspiration for the color scheme of the Frontman, coming up with a mixture of black, red, and brown for the final product. A black base coat was used for the body of the guitar, with red plating covering nearly half of the face. The Frontman uses a dark shade of brown for the neck, while the angled head maintains the same black coloring as the body. Because of the color discrepancy between the head and the neck, separate sets of plastic were used for each, resulting in a crease and additional openings for screws where the pieces meet.
Other than the obvious design differences, everything else is remarkably similar to the official product. Many things are slightly longer or larger, but not enough to change the experience. The strum and whammy bars stick out a bit more than on the official product, but maintain a very similar feel. Even the adjustable strap looks and feels just like the original. One notable difference comes with the Start and Select buttons, which are merely circular white buttons and no longer resemble knobs. A third button for establishing wireless connectivity has been added (along with two small lights), and the names for all three are printed onto the guitar.
All five of the fret buttons maintain the same colors as on the official guitars, but are shiny (as opposed to lightly textured) and are slightly more rounded. They are noticeably stiffer than the standard buttons, but the extra effort required is marginal. I never had an issue with not hitting a button hard enough, and there were never any situations in which a button got stuck. All in all, I found it to be an excellent substitute for the wired SG controller, as it feels and plays just as well, despite the design shake-up.
Visual changes would amount to nothing if the Frontman didn't play as well as its official wired (or wireless) counterpart, but thankfully, it impresses on all levels. The Frontman uses a 2.4 Ghz wireless signal, and I never had an issue with lag or unrecognized commands. All of my actions flowed effortlessly from the guitar to the game, easing any fears that the Frontman might act up while busting out a fantastic rendition of "Message in a Bottle." Nyko claims the Frontman can be effective at a range of up to 25 feet, and though I did not have that much space to work with, I never had any issues playing in any part of the room.
I had previously read complaints about the tilt sensor and whammy bar, but found no considerable issues with either. True, the tilt sensor is more sensitive than the one on the SG Controller, but it never activated without an intentional vertical movement on my part. If anything, it just makes it easier to activate your star power, as you no longer have to tilt the head all the way towards the ceiling to rock out. The whammy bar seemed to provide the full range of analog distortion without rigid fluctuations.
Included with the Frontman is a wireless receiver in the shape of a distortion pedal, and connecting the two is a cinch. The first time you plug in the receiver, you will have to press both the large black button and the white Link button on the guitar to sync them up. After that, you can connect just by turning on the PlayStation 2 and hitting the Link button. The Frontman is powered by three AA batteries, which are thankfully included.
The one notable advantage that the Frontman has over its official wireless rival is the ability to draw power from the system via an included USB cable. The cable is actually longer than the cord on the SG Controller, so you can get a bit more distance even when you're hooked up. Those with rechargeable NiMH or NiCd batteries can actually charge them simply by placing them into the Frontman and plugging it into the PlayStation 2 (or theoretically any USB input).
Instinctively, I plugged the Frontman into my PlayStation 3, hoping that the Guitar Hero games would finally be playable on the next-generation console via the cable. Sadly, my hopes were destroyed, as the USB cable only draws power from the console - you cannot bypass the wireless receiver. Why must you dash my dreams, Sony (and/or Nyko)?
Ultimately, the Nyko Frontman is a very well-made guitar controller that plays just as well as the wired SG Controllers. Sadly, besides the inclusion of the USB cable for optional wired gameplay, there's really nothing here that is not already part of the official RedOctane wireless guitar. With both retailing for $59.99, it's hard for me to recommend a third-party accessory over the official one. If the price drops or you find one on sale, I can certainly give the thumbs-up for a purchase. Otherwise, you might be best sticking with the official goods – unless you love the Gibson Explorer (or the striking color scheme).