What You Need to Know About Guitar Hero Live

What You Need to Know About Guitar Hero Live - 2015-04-15 10:13:40

You can almost tell that someone over at Activison was in a planning meeting, looking at sales charts and seeing that the best-selling games were in first person perspective, so why not make the next Guitar Hero in the same point of view?

So yes, that’s what we’ve got. Not only is there an official announcement to counter Rock Band 4’s earlier official announcement, this new game entitled Guitar Hero Live not only ditches the numbers, it actually DIFFERENTIATES itself from Rock Band rather than just being a Harmonix knock-off.

Here are the most important things you need to take away from the Guitar Hero Live reveal:

  1. You WILL need to buy a new plastic guitar. The new play mechanic uses a six button design, a row of three buttons, with three MORE buttons on top of that. This is designed to more closely simulate fretting.
  2. This Guitar Hero game is actually guitar only. No more drums and microphones, it’s back to basics.
  3. The game doesn’t let you create your own band or choose from real time cartoon-y avatars. It’s actually using full motion, live action video, playing at different venues. When you rock, the crowd cheers and sings along. When you suck… they actually say so. Loudly.  And your band mates will give you serious WTF expressions.
  4. This is all done “Go Pro” style from the point of view of the guitarist, meaning you’ll see your band mates, take to the stage, and, when you’re not paying attention to the note highway, see everything in the background as if you were actually on stage, performing for a crowd.
  5. Instead of just buying new songs, you’ll also be buying music videos. So when you’re playing a Weezer song you bought as DLC, the original Weezer video will be playing in the background.

In a lot of ways, I’m in favour of all these changes, though we’ll have to see how they actually play out in practice. When Guitar Hero simply started following in the footsteps of Rock Band, it hurt both franchises. Now, with Ubisoft’s Rocksmith as a guitar instructor, Rock Band doing the band thing, and Guitar Hero focusing on being a “Rock Guitarist simulator,” there’s enough variety in the rhythm genre that more people will find something that tickles their specific need. Of course, they’ll also need a decent setlist of songs, but since Activision has absurd amounts money to spend on licensing, I don’t think it’ll be a problem of finance, so much as hoping their acquisitions people actually have good taste, and don’t just resort to Top 40 pop songs.

It’s coming to all the major consoles (yes, that means you as well, Wii U), so if you’re the sort that feels there’s a distinct lack of new plastic instruments in your life and you were looking for an excuse to add to the pile, here it is, ladies and gentlemen. Now with trailer, too!

What’s a Rhythm Game in 2015?

What’s a Rhythm Game in 2015? 2

While playing through Game Freak’s HarmoKnight, tapping the 3DS’ buttons to jump over pits and wallop enemies in time to the poppy soundtrack, I began to wonder when the last time was that I played a rhythm game. Since the genre’s explosion into popularity during the years of Guitar Hero and Rock Band, it’s gone into a bit of a decline. Developers and publishers appear to have moved on, perhaps thinking that there just isn’t much left to rhythm games after even the most widely enjoyed, commercially viable series have closed up shop. Is there a way to revive the genre in the widely changed videogame landscape of 2015?

Rock Band
Rock Band

Even though the genre has largely vanished from the modern mainstream, it’s easy to see how well attention to rhythm can be applied to videogame mechanics. The type of timing-based button-pressing that defines the genre has found a new home in action titles like the Batman: Arkham series, Sleeping Dogs, and Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. These games all couch their melee combat systems in rhythm: the player has to read enemy attacks and counter them by timing their dodges, blocks, and responding hits appropriately. These definitely aren’t rhythm games—there are too many other gameplay elements involved in these titles to be that reductive—but they still owe a large debt to the genre. While seeing this kind of influence worked into other types of games so successfully is wonderful, it’s also disheartening to think that rhythm may be relegated to little more than a design element in another title.

Still, as HarmoKnight shows, there remains a good amount of potential in a straightforward rhythm game—as long as it’s presented properly. At its heart, HarmoKnight isn’t much of a departure from the titles it draws inspiration from. The player manages every situation—whether attacking a giant boss monster or jumping past crumbling platforms—by timing their button presses in accordance with the tempo of the soundtrack. The main character may be able to attack, dodge, and leap over obstacles, but since he always runs on a set path, the mechanics boil down to nothing more than hitting the right button at the right time. Fundamentally, it’s the same type of game as Guitar Hero, PaRappa the Rapper, or Rhythm Heaven, only set apart by its presentation.

PaRappa the Rapper,
PaRappa the Rapper,

Though HarmoKnight’s story is yet another retelling of the standard heroic quest and its setting draws from the same variations on ice, water, and fire videogame “worlds” we’ve seen a million times before, the fact that any plot and defined setting exists at all helps make it stand out. The player is given reason to continue moving through the levels beyond the gameplay systems being fun to interact with. There’s a narrative arc to follow and characters to recruit along the way. Sure, the game would be much more interesting if the story and cast weren’t tired archetypes, but their very presence is enough to bulk up the solid foundation of working through increasingly challenging rhythm challenges. All of it makes me think that what audiences have likely tired of isn’t the rhythm genre, but the bare-bones nature of its most popular recent games.

Despite the fun of working through Guitar Hero’s set-lists or Rhythm Heaven’s ever-harder mini-games, there was never much attention given to anything that wasn’t the core gameplay experience. (The “career mode” of a game like Guitar Hero is a good start, but lacks depth.) If a bit of time was spent bulking up the systems surrounding the main game mechanics—if the example established by HarmoKnight was used as a springboard—it seems like there could be more life left in the genre. Consider a series of levels, wrapped up in a decent narrative framework; a cast of multiple playable characters with unique abilities; hidden secrets and challenge modes—toss in some RPG-style skill upgrading and stat-changing equipment and there doesn’t seem to be any reason a rhythm game based on the framework established by HarmoKnight’s couldn’t work well. Though I haven’t played it myself, a similar approach was taken by Square Enix with its Theatrhythm Final Fantasy series, which has been met with a fairly enthusiastic reception not just based on the nostalgic appeal of its soundtrack, but also because its gameplay incorporates elements from role-playing and side-scrolling action games. Why couldn’t these titles be used as the starting point for mainstream releases with even more robust feature sets and stories?

Rhythm Heaven
Rhythm Heaven

It’s likely that the genre is only in a temporary recession following the oversaturation it experienced in past years. Hopefully this is the case since, as even handheld releases like HarmoKnight and Theatrhythmm Final Fantasy show, there are still plenty of interesting ways for the rhythm game to evolve in coming years.