In case you miss our weekly reviews of new Guitar Hero games, Activision's franchise is quite popular, and always in rotation from one big release to the next. Being there on day one with the original Guitar Hero on PS2 I'm of the firm belief that too much of a good thing can turn into a bad thing, and then eventually nosedive into the ground faster than the Tony Hawk franchise did. Sorry, but it's true. On the other hand, however, there are more and more new people picking up Guitar Hero with every version that hits, and on Wii it's selling to a huge audience at an astonishing rate -- faster than the other systems. Guitar Hero may seem like the "same old song and dance" for many hardcore gamers, but there's no denying that the series can still capture people in 2009 like it did in 2006, and GH5 brings it bigger than any other version to date.
And for those hardcore gamers out there looking for the next big leap in Wii tech and music gaming, we're in luck. Developer Vicarious Visions is known for pushing the system, and that's exactly what the company has done with Guitar Hero 5. For some hardcore gamers it may just be another GH title to drop in and play at parties. For others, however, it's obvious that this is the Guitar Hero to get on Wii, and a game that's truly pushing boundaries in every facet.
There's an insane amount of content within Guitar Hero 5, so rather than rattle on for pages at a time on each mode specifically I'll give you the overview, and we can get right into what works. After all, we've detailed all these modes in our hands-on offerings as well. On the overall front Guitar Hero 5 is a huge push in the right direction for the franchise, incorporating the same band play philosophy as World Tour, now with a laundry list of fixes to go with it. The new band moments are a simple way of capturing the teamwork aspect of the game, and while they're glorified star power lines they're another layer of depth. The interface has been changed during play, and it's much better. Star power is individual, beginner mode is as simple as it gets, often letting players hold any fret and just strum along with the note positions, and on Wii the music quality has been upped. DLC from World Tour works with GH5 after a quick free update that adds the new band moments and ups the audio quality of songs. In addition the first chunk of back-logged music from World Tour – allowing you to actually import the on-disc songs into GH5 – is releasing today at a price of 350 Wii points for 35 songs, and Activision will be updating the store with the rest (and Smash Hits) as licensing is finalized on all the songs again. At 10 cents a song to re-license and update the on-disc tracks that deal is by far and away worth it. This will also apply to the rest of the songs on World Tour, and Smash Hits as well. That's a huge list of music right off the bat.
On the Wii front though things are going in a very important direction, and it's going to set new standards on the system. Once again auto login is included in the game, so you can boot, go online, and never be disconnected from your friends, the music shop, and news updates. The removal of friend codes this year is also a huge advancement, instead having the game auto-detect Wii system codes and plug those in. Want new friends? Add their system
and not the game. Hopefully this is the start of a new standard on Wii, and from what we're hearing at least thus far that's the plan. GH5 is also the first game to support the new high capacity SD cards, and streaming from the SD card no longer requires that itty bitty amount of on-system space for quick transfers. Just download tracks to SD, stream them, and forget about data management. Along with those additions full albums and track packs can be downloaded on Wii for the first time as well; it's literally the same experience you'll find on the other consoles.
That's all well and good, but it wouldn't mean squat if it wasn't a good game. Thankfully GH5 is more
than a "good game." During my review time with the game I spent well over two hours playing the new party play mode (which is accessed off the title screen by simply hitting the yellow fret and just playing) with friends and never even got into the main guts of the game during some play sessions. You jump in, can switch parts and difficulty on the fly, and it's amazingly easy to toss the controller over to other people and just pull them right on in. Since there's no fail mode there's no barrier to entry, and all songs are unlocked right away, which is nice. In addition, pausing the game only pauses for one person, and keeps that instrument track going while they're away, hence our new name for the pause button in party play: the beer button. Put the controller down for a second and you won't fail, but it'll sound like crap. Hit the ol' beer button though and it goes into autoplay and you can come back when ready. It's a beautiful thing. After a few hours with a group of gamers someone remarked that the game was a must-buy for their family. My response? "You know we're still just on the title screen, right?"
The song selection overall in GH5 could be better, but it's got some great classics and is a solid mix of "everybody can enjoy" music. My only gripe with this decision is that Guitar Hero just hasn't been as difficult of a game since GH3, and with the announcement of Band Hero – which is supposed to be the mainstream music game from Activision – Guitar Hero is also getting training wheels put on it to a slight degree. Yeah, there are still songs that'll destroy you on expert guitar, but if you're looking for the straight rock experience with finger-bleeding tracks it just isn't here to as much of a degree. Really it's more an observation on the initial tiers of music, as the entire first six tracks in career mode this year can be beaten by just 16th note taps over and over. Song 2 by Blur may be a classic party track, but it's musically dwarfed, and repeats every two bars or so. Same with Feel Good Inc., which is quite literally a hip hop backbeat that you play; not so amazing. If Band Hero is the true mainstream game, Guitar Hero needs to go back to its rock roots a bit more. I like No Doubt, but that feels more Band Hero than guitar shredding at its finest.
There's plenty of amazing to be had, however, and it comes in a variety of modes. The career offering has been downplayed a bit this year, having challenges for the hardcore players and a classic tier system with stars as venue unlocks, but it's still not anything on par with what Rock Band has done with World Tour mode. It works, and it's still fun, but it's also a definite afterthought in the grand scheme of things, and given how party-based this game is I quite frankly didn't miss it much. It's there for bands that want to get into it, but with no need to push through and unlock songs in the traditional fashion it's more of a completionist mode for the uber-hardcore.
With that downplayed a bit, however there's room for oh so much more in the game. Competitive play is now larger than ever, having new modes for free-for-all and team play, and they rock. Some modes have you competing for the longest note streak or traditional point count, but others are more unique, actually dropping you down difficulty when you suck or kicking you out entirely in a perfection-based rock mode. In addition to that the GH Tunes are back again with an all new creation tool, and it's way more advanced. More scales, more audio types, better quality of audio, and an all new interface are just some of the changes for the mixing tool this time around. Knowing that all the classic GH Tunes are still included as well for day one download is a nice touch.
And then there's the Wii specific stuff. These
modes are the reason you'll want to pick this one up on Nintendo's console over any other version of the game in my opinion. Yeah no achievements is a shame, and you don't get as much eye candy with Nintendo's product – though the visuals have improved over World Tour- but these modes make the package. Mii Freestyle makes a return, and while it's obviously more of a casual offering the advances are pretty huge. DS connectivity allows for casual players to tweak the camera, lighting, and stage effects while two of their friends rock out with their Miis in freeplay mode (tilting the Wii-mote to change octives and strumming to create improv music just like in World Tour). Also added this year though is the ability for one person to lay down a track, go back in with drums and lay down another track, pick up the DS and do all the stage effects and lighting, and then actually send that recording over to friends via Wii Connect 24 like Wii Music. With more options and more depth overall Mii Freestyle is a mode you may not immediately think to pick the game up for, but casual users will dig it, and you might be surprised to find yourself pulled in on this freeform music creation mode.
And then there's Roadie Battle. Hands-down the crowning achievement in any version of Guitar Hero thus far – we're talking any version, any game – this two-on-two DS and Wii connectivity game kicks serious ass on Wii, and is an obvious contender on its own for best local multiplayer experience on the system this year, up against the likes Madden, New Super Mario Bros, and Wii Sports Resort. More details on the mode can be found here
(and there's a lot to read, so I suggest you check it out), but the speed, intuitive nature, and overall design around Roadie Battle blazes new trails on Nintendo's platform. This is DS-to-Wii connectivity that surpasses anything the Big N has done, and is the best handheld-to-console connection I've personally seen since Zelda: Four Swords on GameCube. As for the DS portion itself, the animation, audio presentation, overall visuals, and touch recognition is stronger than many full DS games, which is continuing proof of Vicarious Visions' commitment to all Nintendo systems. If you love music games, you're going to want Guitar Hero 5, and you're going to want it on Wii. Roadie Battle is just that good.
©2009-09-01, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved