In fact GH5 might cast too wide a net, shifting the focus to more wide-ranging tastes at the cost of its hard-rocking roots. There are also a few strange choices. One example is “Sympathy for the Devil” from the Rolling Stones, which has a lot more keyboard in it than guitar. I know they were saving “Satisfaction” for the inevitable DLC scalping, but the omission of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” really disappointed me.
Speaking of DLC, this is the one area where GH5 still lags far behind Rock Band. On the positive side, all of World Tour’s DLC can be imported into GH5 complete with the new features and infrastructure, and on the Wii songs can now be streamed right off an SD card. Unfortunately only a small segment of the core World Tour and Smash Hits song lists—less than half for both games—can be imported at this time. Future packs of back content are promised, but if they didn’t have all of the licensing and updating ready for the GH5 launch, why did they release any of it in the first place? It seems counterproductive to release it a chunk at a time. Even if the full lists are available eventually, it’s still going to take longer and cost more than the cheap and easy import between Rock Band and its sequel.
GH5’s spotty DLC serves as its Persian flaw, however, because the rest of the package is so solid, particularly on Wii. Vicarious Visions takes pride in their ability to push Nintendo’s platform and they always include something extra for Wii owners. Last time it was Mii Freestyle, which does make a return in GH5 with a number of improvements. Online multiplayer has also seen the elimination of friend codes—instead it connects to the people you already have friended in your Wii address book. Far and away though, GH5’s standout Wii exclusive is Roadie Battle. A 4-player competitive mode, it has two players going head-to-head on guitar while two others link to GH5 through a Nintendo DS.
While the guitarists compete as usual, the “roadies” use the touch screens on their respective DS handhelds to sabotage the opposing guitarist’s equipment. This can be as simple as misfiring the pyrotechnics to set the fretboard on fire, or as complicated as snapping a spare guitar’s strings, restringing it in the wrong order and finally dropping it into the guitarist’s arms, resulting in a performance-killing lefty flip. A roadie must rush back to their own guitarist to repair the chaos caused by the other guy, leading to some truly frantic battles.
Roadie Battle sports a smooth interface, tight balance and impressive production values for a DS download play minigame, but to have fun with it you need skilled guitarists playing on hard or expert. A gamer used to playing on hard will be able to put up with their amp overloading or their fretboard bursting into flames, while a newcomer playing on easy or medium will be absolutely crippled by the attacks of the opposing roadie. This can lead to one roadie playing offensively while the other just fixes things, but to have truly epic roadie battles you need guitarists and roadies that are matched in skill. That said it’s a great new idea and I hope it’s a mainstay on the Wii.
The Wii version of GH5 is no slouch in production values either. For the first time on the platform Guitar Hero doesn’t look like an up-scaled port of the PS2 version. Character models animate much smoother than they ever have before, the boxy polygon counts from World Tour have been fleshed out and adorned with crisper textures, and gentle bloom glow softens any remaining hard edges. This pushes back the uncanny valley on all the character models, and while the custom rockers look much better than they did last time, the celebrity players are finally convincing. I actually got chills when The Man in Black strode up on stage and announced, “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash,” before performing “The Ring of Fire.”
The art style in general has seen some maturing, and while it isn’t as Spartan as Rock Band’s minimalist appearance, it’s much, much cleaner and more appealing than World Tour’s jumbled look. The star power meter is back to its old self—no more confusing neon bulbs—and all of the scoring, combo and progress info is consolidated into one easy-to-read display. These elements are still a bit too small to read comfortably but after nearly going blind trying to read World Tour’s packed little display I think it’s a big improvement.
Talking about art style, gameplay or new features still can’t convey, however, the way it feels to play GH5. It’s hard to put into words, but for the first time in two years I really enjoyed playing a Guitar Hero game, I kept coming back the way I did when the series was new. It isn’t a chore to get a bunch of people playing together and once you have four people rocking out there aren’t any gimmicky distractions, just pure music game fun. This game is just really, really fun to play.
Polish seems to be the central idea behind Guitar Hero 5. It isn’t a radical change from past games and it doesn’t drop a lot of gimmicky features in like World Tour did. Instead it’s a gradual progression, a refinement of the very rough setup we saw in World Tour, with a few innovative ideas like Roadie Battle. And in the end, wasn’t Rock Band 2 just a much-needed polish job on Rock Band 1? I still remember back at Chuck’s launch party that at first glance, I couldn’t tell the two apart. Thankfully GH5’s improvements are more noticeable, and while it still misses a few beats, it isn’t being different from Rock Band just for the sake of being different. GH5 imitates what works with Rock Band and tightens up the best elements of the GH series, which makes for a supremely satisfying experience at the end of the day.
After a rough start as a full band game Guitar Hero has found its sweet spot. It ditches gimmicks in favor of accessibility and refinement,and the Wii version adds some great features that make GH5 a must buy on the platform. The DLC could use some work but above all else Guitar Hero is just plain fun again.
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