I feel bad for Power Gig: Rise of the SixString. It's hard enough to make it in the highly competitive world of video games, but this is a game that promises worthwhile changes to a genre dangerously close to becoming stale. Instead of giving you some fake plastic instrument, this is the game that dares to pack in a real electric guitar. It promises a bright future where you're doing more than hitting five colored buttons; you're rocking the audience one power chord at a time.
But Power Gig doesn't quite live up to its promises. In fact, Rise of the SixString stumbles in such spectacular fashion that I doubt I'll ever get it out of my mind. This is a game that fails to teach even the basics of guitar, all while getting most of the key elements of the Rock Band formula wrong. This (along with the even worse Rock Revolution) proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that making a great music game is not something you can half-ass.
I can't deny that the real electric guitar is a cool gimmick that makes a great first impression. I'm not going to say that my Rock Band 2 guitar is a kid's toy, but I don't expect it will impress the ladies. While this Power Gig axe is a lot smaller than my full-sized electric guitar, at least it's a step in the right direction. It has six fully tunable strings, volume nobs and a pickup for your amp. It's also a nice weight, giving off the feeling that you're holding something substantial while you're sitting in front of your TV.
As an electronic guitar it works fine, I was able to tune it with relative ease and annoy my neighbors with crunchy guitar riffs. The size was a little disorienting, especially for somebody who is used to playing regular sized instruments. However, once I got used to the smaller size, I was able to make the guitar sound all right. It's a cheap guitar for sure, but it's a great way to transition a kid into playing real music.
While the hefty control works well as an electric guitar, it's an absolute train wreck for actually playing the game. I've played my fair share of both fake and real guitars, and yet I was dumbfounded by this Power Gig control. There's something about adding six strings that adds a new layer of confusion to the mix. The game does make it easy on the player, allowing them to hold any (or all) of the strings. Just as long as you are holding the right colored fret you will successfully hit the note.
At least, this is how it works in theory. Because of the way the frets are positioned, I found that the game only recognizes some of my fingerings. It's not so bad when I only have to hold one fret, but holding multiple frets is a nightmare. The game has two-fret notes, and that's probably for the best given how difficult it is to get two working right. After spending several hours trying to make the expensive guitar work properly, I eventually gave up and pulled out my trusty Guitar Hero 5 control. Thankfully Power Gig is fully compatible with most of the guitar controls on the market.Unlike the more established rhythm games, Power Gig features a vertical note highway. It looks a lot like the layout of Konami's Rock Revolution, which I guarantee is not the comparison Seven 45 Studios wants. Notes falling down the screen has always been a little confusing to me, but it's made worse by the unnecessary line that ties the notes together. I'm not sure if it's an optical illusion or if the notes really are moving, but I found it extremely difficult to nail down which buttons to hit. I'm a seasoned veteran of this genre, yet the charting played tricks on my eyes and made me miss otherwise easy notes.
They say that you don't know what you have until it's gone; well that logic definitely applies to the Power Gig guitar. Gone is the whammy bar, a seemingly unimportant way to add a little personality to extended notes. Outside of using it to build up overdrive juice, I rarely used the whammy bar. But once it's gone, I realized that I actually missed having it there. I also dislike pushing the back button to activate the super powers, it's a shame you can't hold the guitar up like every other rhythm game. This isn't a big deal during a slow song, but you'll need a second person when things get fast.
Playing the game with a Rock Band or Guitar Hero control may be easier, but you lose some fairly interesting (though mishandled) modes. The game boasts that you can "learn to rock," and the power chord mode is the start. When it was originally described to me, this power chord mode sounded like a simple way of learning the standard power chords and applying them to some of your favorite rock songs. Sadly that is not the case. Instead players are given a brief tutorial that teaches you four chords that I've never used once in my years of real world guitar playing.
What the game manages to do is teach some basic finger positions, which will help budding guitarists become familiar with the six strings. But I don't think I'm wrong to say that the teaching elements of this game were supposed to be the star. Why else would they offer a real guitar if they didn't intend to teach you the basics? This was a way to differentiate the Power Gig brand from Rock Band and Guitar Hero, perhaps attracting a new audience of parents using video games to teach their children to play guitar. But this doesn't do that. It doesn't even make the effort. The power chord mode is too simplistic to be a helpful teaching tool and too difficult to be fun for casual gamers.
With so much time focused on the guitar, you might think that's all Power Gig has to offer. Here we get the standard music game trappings, including a karaoke-style singing and a weird drum kit (which was not part of the package I reviewed). Both of these elements work well and are largely unchanged from past music games. I was disappointed to see that the bass player doesn't get to come along for the ride, but I guess you have to draw the line somewhere.
Believe it or not, the game actually does offer a story mode. Through a bunch of cheesy animated clips, we're introduced to a world where rocking is outlawed and everything is tightly controlled by the powers that be. You control a group of ugly characters as they try to unite the various powers and take down the man. This is a completely forgettable story line that, to be perfectly honest, I had to force myself to remember for the sake of this review.While the story may be inconsequential, its impact on the game play isn't. Right from the get-go the player is given a long list of songs to choose from. But they can't just pick any song from that list, it's important to match icons. This inane game mechanic forces you to choose from a very limited amount of songs, which means the player will have to replay songs over and over again, like it or not.
Don't want to play a set list of songs you don't like? Tough! Because players won't be able to progress if they go against the icon. There is no legitimate reason for this structure, it's a restriction placed to force gamers to replay songs they normally would avoid. It's baffling that a company could look at the competition and think that Power Gig's story mode would cut it.
Things start looking up when it comes to Power Gig's soundtrack. The game features a nice mix of indie favorites (Surfer Blood, Silversun Pickups), heavy metal (Ozzy Osbourne, P.O.D.), pop (Paramore, Snow Patrol) and more. I was happy to see strong selections from Superdrag, Smashing Pumpkins, Queens of the Stone Age, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Flyleaf and The Black Keys. In total there are 70 master recordings, an impressive line-up by any standard.
Along with the standard music game fare, Power Gig sports three impressive exclusives. The first is Kid Rock, which offers up "All Summer Long," "Rock n Roll Jesus" and "Son of Detroit." If Kid Rock isn't your thing, then maybe you'll be impressed with the three Eric Clapton songs: "Lay Down Sally," "Layla" and "Let it Rain." And finally, the Dave Matthews Band are ready to make their music game debut with "Funny the Way It Is," "Tripping Billies" and "Why I Am."
I'll confess, these three exclusives don't do much for me. Eric Clapton is a fantastic guitarist, but these aren't his best songs. It's worth noting that Power Gig also offers three songs by John Mayer, which also marks his music game debut. Not to be unfair to Seven 45 Studios, but this game loses points for making me sit through that much John Mayer.
At some point we have to acknowledge that Rock Band 3 is currently sitting on store shelves. If Power Gig was the only game in town then we would be having a very different discussion, but that's certainly not the case. Right now there's a game that will teach you how to play the guitar. And not just that, but it will teach you the keyboards and drums. It offers 2,000 additional songs to download to improve your experience and even allows seven people to play at once. It out plays Power Gig in every conceivable way. It may not come with a real guitar (that's extra), but Rock Band 3 won't let you down.
I feel bad for Power Gig. It had some good ideas that should have set the genre on fire. But we live in a world where Rock Band 3 exists. With its terrible story mode, confusing charting, unresponsive guitar and weird air drums, Power Gig is impossible to recommend. It may have a solid line-up of music, but you're better off spending your money on a full-sized guitar and teaching yourself to rock. It beats the heck out of listening to John Mayer for the 100th time.