Imagine the scene if you will. A thirteen-year-old boy stands in front of his Nintendo Wii cursing the makers of Guitar Hero III for the third hour in a row.
Fingers sore, brow wet with sweat and frustration building. By now, he knows all the words to a speed metal version of the Charlie Daniels Band’s “The Devil Went Down To Georgia”.
It’s not the words he needs to worry about, but rather the sequence of buttons needed to finally beat “Lou Devil”, a representation of the evils of rock music.
Then, the words, “finally finish him” flash on the screen. It’s time. Fingers flow effortlessly. This thirteen-year-old boy is Slash, he’s Jimi Hendrix, he’s Tom Morello all rolled into one.
He finishes with a flourish and throws the plastic guitar-like controller on the floor as his heroes would have done. The Devil is beaten, the game is beaten. The boy celebrates as the words “you’re a rock legend” take over the screen. For a few minutes, it’s true. The boy really is a rock legend.
This was my experience of the rhythm based games in my teens. Sure, I played other video games and enjoyed most of them, but there was something different about Guitar Hero III.
I wasn’t just playing it for fun. It may sound dreadfully corny, but I was learning. This shouldn’t be unusual for every video game tries to teach you something.
For a generation of video game players, Mario taught us that while the princess might be in another castle, hard work and determination will finally make her yours.
But Guitar Hero and its rival Rock Band are different. They teach you to have a love of music. To appreciate its history and to discover new bands.
Guitar Hero III opened my eyes and ears to Rage Against The Machine, Slipknot, Pearl Jam and Dead Kennedys. Bands that I would never come across on the commercial radio scene in Ireland. Bands that I now have a life long love for. It all started with Guitar Hero.
I was hooked instantly. I bought the next 4 games in the series and loved every one of them. However, as the hardware and graphics became more advanced, the prices became steeper.
It became increasingly harder to justify spending over €100 to play the same format over and over with a recession crisis getting worse around me.
When the owner of the series Activision announced a hiatus in late 2010, I wasn’t as devastated as I thought I would be. By now, I had other ways of finding music and a real guitar to mess around with. I was sad to see it go, but I knew my pocket would thank me in the end.
Now, ten years after its first release, Guitar Hero has returned to the gaming market with its new venture Guitar Hero Live.
I must admit, when I saw the announcement my heart leapt for joy. It’d been a barren 5 years where at times, I’d secretly sneak into my room, fire up the once white Wii and crank it up to 11.
On the outside, nothing has majorly changed in the new game. It’s still a rhythm based game where you push buttons to win. But what’s most important is the feel of the game.
Many press releases claim that no longer will it just be some thirteen-year-old standing alone in front of his television.
Now, they claim that, “Guitar Hero Live is a live-action experience that delivers the full emotional roller coaster of being on stage and performing in a real band, in front of real crowds, who dynamically react in real-time to how well or poorly you play.”
Interesting you might say. Now, not only do I have to remember what notes to press, but make sure a fake crowd isn’t walking away to get another drink at the bar.
The game will also return its focus to lead guitar playing. A relatively simple idea, but one that might just make this game a success. Why make a full band poorly when you can make one part great? Only time will tell how great they’ve made the “live-action experience”.
There’s also a clearer focus on moving to a pop market. No longer are games about reliving the 70s or rocking out to 80s hair metal. A quick look at the tracklist shows names that are alien to the series such as Rihanna and Skrillex.
As a fan I was shocked. Many like me may feel betrayed that such artists are being imposed on us in what is clearly a rock market. This is where the “live-action experience” will become so much more important.
If Guitar Hero can make me have fun playing Katy Perry’s “Waking Up In Vegas” then I will gladly hold up my hands and accept defeat.
As a twenty-one-year-old, I should want to be as far away from my thirteen year old self as possible. Yet, in an era where rock music is fairly stagnant with no silver lining, maybe Activision are providing us with one.
Maybe this is what the scene needs to get back into the charts. Maybe we need more teens taking up the guitar and being unafraid to rock out in their bedrooms.
So I do hope you join me in welcoming back an unheralded series and hope that it generates the rock legends of the near future.