Nintendo Consoles

Nintendo Consoles

Monday, December 28, 2015

A Retrospective: Guitar Hero

I ventured a bit around Long Island today with a couple of my friends to our favorite video game
stores. One of our destinations was a retro video game shop called Video Game Trading Post, and it is incredible. It is just the tiniest bit out of the way of my usual hangout spots, but they have an extremely impressive quantity of quality games, as well as several walls filled from floor to ceiling with hilarious amounts of rubbish. It was while browsing the towers of garbage games and shovelware did I find a title about whose existence I had either once completely neglected or have since completely forgotten: Guitar Hero 5.

So I bought Guitar Hero 5 for the Playstation 2, but it was also released for the Wii. So there you go- we are still talking about Nintendo consoles if you're willing to use a bit of imagination for this post.

I played Guitar Hero 5 Career Mode for a bit, perhaps for a couple of tiers, then I went over to Quick Play mode and played a set of songs (all of which were unlocked without me finishing the Career Mode), and then I turned it off. Did I have fun? No, not really. But of course, the question is "why"?

Guitar Hero used to be incredible. It took the video game world by storm a good 10 years ago, but it was a fast-fading trend, and even it's attempted "revival" this year wasn't enough to rekindle interest in the rhythm-based franchise. The reason it stopped being fun is actually pretty obvious, especially for someone who has been with Guitar Hero since the near-beginning, but before we can answer that question, we first must identify exactly when Guitar Hero stopped being fun, look at the game that began the decline of Guitar Hero, and identify just how it influenced the future of the series' installments.

So here we go:
The game that began to ruin the Guitar Hero franchise was Guitar Hero 3.

Despite the currently (or once-currently) mass appeal of Guitar Hero 2, Guitar Hero 1 and Rocks the 80's were pretty niche for their time, and not very popular. In fact, Guitar Hero 1 and Rocks the 80's were hardcore games. They were challenging, and felt like the developers approached their creation from a gamer's perspective as opposed to strictly one of a music-lover. The games had solid difficulty curves, didn't insult the players by cheating them out of the experience they expected, and certainly offered gamers something new. Guitar Hero 2 was a sequel the way sequels are supposed to be, featuring proudly its improvements to the original game, hosting not only a larger quantity of songs, but a greater quality of songs when compared to that and those of the original title. Still, the difficulty curve was like that of a traditional video game: beginning easy and ending difficult, with each victory having felt earned, as opposed to grinded out. It is important to note that Guitar Hero 3 DID retain the same feeling, pacing, and tone that appealed primarily to gamers seen from Guitar Hero 1 to Rocks the 80's, but while it was Guitar Hero 2 that made the series popular, it was Guitar Hero 3 that made the series famous, and once you become famous, everything starts to die.

Each iteration of the Guitar Hero series following Guitar Hero 3 felt like games that were created not for art, not for experimentation, not even for the gamer, but exclusively for the studio to get more money. The design elements that made Guitar Hero feel like a traditional video game were completely removed from all Guitar Hero games following GH3. Up until GH3, the Guitar Hero franchise was responsible for delivering to me not only really fun gameplay, appealing to the gamer within me, but really good songs and music, appealing to normal person (deep) within me. There was a balance created by a development studio who knew that Guitar Hero was a video game first, and that gameplay could not be compromised if the title was expected to be fun. Guitar Hero 5's content is weak, man. There are a few good songs, but nothing about the game makes me want to play more. The personality and charm of the cartoonish graphics, awful covers, and sense of humor seen in the first games has given way to that which appeals to the masses: blink-182 songs in the line-up, long hammer-on sections that look difficult but are actually insultingly easy, lifeless venues, GOOD SONGS WITH BORING NOTE CHARTS, no context, no reason to even play the Career Mode since every song is just given to you from the start of the game.

Guitar Hero 5 reminds me of parents who just give their children what they want without asking if what the kid wants is actually good for them. Want more Guitar Hero? There you go: Guitar Hero 5. And yeah, fans who asked for a new Guitar Hero got what they asked for, but how does it feel? Does GH5 feel new, or earned, or valuable, or does it just feel like more of what you already have? Does it feel redundant and insulting, making you realize that while there exists an endless ocean of quality video games spanning 30+ years across multiple generations of artistic and technological experimentation, you've spent another $50 dollars on something you basically already own, albeit an inferior version? Do you feel like a chump who has sold your soul to a company that doesn't care about you unless you have money?

Guitar Hero 1 - 3 felt like an experiment gone wonderfully right; it started a little shaky, definitely strange but certainly suggesting potential. Guitar Hero 2 improved everything that had to be so. Rocks the 80's was essentially a DLC pack, but the songs were fun to play and fun to hear, as well as respectful of a gamer's-type difficulty curve and pacing, and Guitar Hero 3 was the series perfected with the best soundtrack, graphics, and gameplay the series has ever seen. But Guitar Hero 3 was too good. Guitar Hero 3 was the game that made the developers realize that they no longer had to respect their fans because the fans no longer respected themselves. Once it became clear that everyone everywhere was going to buy Guitar Hero no matter what, the developers didn't feel it was necessary for them to try anymore. In other words, once the fans stop putting pressure on the developers to make a better game, developers stop putting pressure on themselves to make a better game, and when that happens, you get Guitar Hero 5: the last few drops of water wrung out from a now-damp towel that once contained viscous, french-vanilla creams of originality, creativity, and video game art supremacy.

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