Ever since Guitar Hero thrust the rhythm video game genre into the limelight, it feels as though copycats are a dime a dozen. The basic gameplay is so simple and the idea so effective that it seems easy to jump on a "me too" guitar game. It's easy to make a game that looks good, but one that plays as well as the best Guitar Hero or Rock Band titles takes a lot more effort, especially because it's difficult to make a game stand out without changing it too much. At first glance, Power Gig: Rise of the SixString looks like another Rock Band wannabe, but it has enough unique things going for it to make it stand out from the crowd.
The basic gameplay of Power Gig is pretty much like Guitar Hero or similar games. Colored icons float down the screen, and you have to play your instruments in rhythm with the dropping icons. However, there are a few nice gameplay improvements that might make the game friendlier to casual players. Every icon is now connected by a color line, with the line showing the color of the next icon to drop. This gives you time to prepare for what is coming and makes things flow from chord to chord a little better.
Each playable character will have a different unique power, called Mojo. This is pretty similar to Guitar Hero's star power, but it's more unique. We didn't get to see much of this, due to the story line being deeply under wraps, but we were told that these powers were mighty important to getting a high score (e.g., all perfect chords score much higher). Different combinations of drummer, vocalist and guitarist will have different sets of powers, so players of similar skill levels may get different scores depending on when they use their Mojo and which character they pick. Using Mojo also causes the background of the stage to alter. Each successful usage will add more and more stylish flair to the background. Rock out well, and your stage will be a heavy metal paradise. Rock poorly, and it will be bland and uninspiring.
What really makes Power Gig stand out are the instruments. The developers of Power Gig didn't go for the same old Guitar Hero clone controller. Instead, their guitar is a lot more realistic. It includes actual strings and chords, and you play it like an actual guitar ... sort of. By default, the strings basically function as buttons. Hold in any one of them at the right position on the guitar, and it works just like a button would on a Guitar Hero controller. It's conveniently designed so you can hold as many strings as you want, so go with whatever feels comfortable to you. To play the chords, you strum the guitar as you would a real guitar. We even used a pick to do this, making it easily the most natural guitar-playing video game experience. There's a reason for this: The guitar controller is an actual guitar. You can even convert the controller from a video game controller to a real, functional guitar.
This plays into one of the unique features of Power Gig. In addition to the usual Guitar Hero-style gameplay, there is a more realistic mode, where you have to actually hold down the proper strings in time to the music. Activating this mode makes numbers appear on the chords in-game, allowing you to play through in a significantly more realistic way. The developers have claimed that, for certain songs, you might even end up learning to play parts of the song accurately on the guitar after practicing in-game.
The second instrument that Power Gig features is the drums. These stand out from the guitar in that they're actually less realistic than their counterparts in other games, but there's a reason for this. Playing the drums in Rock Band or similar games can kick up some noise, and overzealous players can damage the faux instruments. Power Gig's drums are hands-off and basically play like air drums. You have a series of color-coded sensors shaped roughly like a drum set. The drumsticks have special sensors, and if you "hit" them over the proper section of the drums, it registers in-game. This instrument has a learning curve, though. In our demo, it was tough to figure out the proper area to hit. The lack of tactile sensation threw us off, and we would occasionally hit the yellow instead of the red. Things got a lot easier once we got used to it, and it feels reasonably natural (and easier on the eardrums). This was on one of the less difficult tracks, so it would be interesting to see how it stands up on more challenging songs.
We didn't get to see a lot of Power Gig's gameplay modes, although we got enough of an idea to understand that they're fairly straightforward. Those who just want to play can pop on Quick Play mode and play songs from artists like Kid Rock, Eric Clapton and the Dave Matthews Band. A complete list of the songs is not yet available, and we saw an earlier alpha build. We know that the developers are working with the master tracks of all the songs to ensure the highest possible quality. The game will also feature a story line mode, though they have yet to reveal any plot details. There isn't much to go on yet, but it appears that it will involve defeating an oppressor through the power of rocking out. We're told that this will be a full-fledged story mode, including cinematic sequences and an actual plot. It's an odd choice for a rhythm game, but considering that Guitar Hero is doing something similar, perhaps it was the next logical step. As expected, Power Gig will also support DLC songs to improve its library of available tunes over time.
Power Gig: Rise of the SixString is a pretty straightforward Rock Band clone, but it's one with enough new touches and good ideas that it actually manages to stand out. The redesigned guitar feels a lot more natural than even the best guitar controller, and the added realism is a nice touch. It's harder to be sold on the drum set, but it's quite fun once you get past the learning curve. With so much of the game's story and details being kept under wraps, it's difficult to form a more solid opinion, but there are enough smart design choices and interesting ideas that Power Gig has the potential to be a real contender in the music game market. While Power Gig is currently scheduled for the PS3 and 360 systems, the developers have said that a Wii version may also be in the works.
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