Sunday, July 29, 2007

I Wanna Rock!

Last week, the latest release in a Playstation 2 game franchise that we enjoy in our household came out. Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80's is the third installment in the Guitar Hero line. It takes the same game engine from Guitar Hero II, alters some of the character designs and settings, and drops in a new soundtrack featuring all tunes from the 1980's.

My son and I got into this game last Fall. We had constantly been seeing folks playing the demo version at the local Best Buy, usually with a crowd of folks around them. The player uses an actual-size guitar shaped controller (with a strap to hang it properly over your shoulder) with five color coded buttons, a strum bar and a whammy bar. The concept is that you play the various notes (combos of buttons with a strum) as they cross the line on the scrolling fret bar. The game has various levels of play from easy (only three colors for notes that move rather slowly) to expert (all five colors for notes in various combos and a rather rapid scrolling pace). Hit the notes right, your score and crowd meter goes up. Miss notes and crowd gets upset. Miss too many and you're booed off the stage.

At first, I was hesitant about getting the game because it really requires two hand coordination to play. My son has a birth injury (brachial plexus) which included nerve damage in his right arm and hand. He's had corrective surgery over the years to help improve things some, but his usage of that hand is still limited. What amazes me is that he is actually better at this game than I am! I don't know how he does it, but he is able to play full songs on Hard while I'm lucky if I can get through 15% of the first song on the first difficulty tier on Hard. I actually think, in some way, that playing this type of game with such complex controls can actually be a kind of therapy for him. I am really thankful he excells at it. It is always encouraging for him to have something he can do better than someone with two good hands.

One of the coolest parts of the game is the rock n' roll soundtrack. The first game had cuts from Joan Jett, the Ramones, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Boston, Judas Priest, ZZ Top, Queen, David Bowie, and more. 30 classic tracks in all. Then there were another 17 songs you could unlock by some indie bands. The second game added in another 40 licensed tracks from Motley Crue, Cheap Trick, Spinal Tap, Kiss, Nirvana, the Police, Van Halen, Kansas, the Pretenders, the Rolling Stones, Guns N' Roses, Aerosmith, Heart, Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird" (the ultimate rock song!) and many more. And it also included another unlockable 26 independent tracks. The most recent release is a bit skimpy on tracks - only 30 licensed tracks and no bonus tunes. The classics include songs by Quiet Riot, the Go-Go's, A Flock of Seagulls, Skid Row, Scorpions, Asia, the Vapors, .38 Special, Scandal, Twisted Sister, Ratt, Oingo Boingo, Poison and more. I can tell you that my son has gotten a better appreciation for the "older" music from the game. He'll ask me to put tracks on his MP3 player for some of the songs. I guess I don't have to worry about him complaining about "old fogey music".

I can't begin to tell you how quickly the time flies when we're playing this. My son and I take turns doing a set of songs, or sometimes we'll play in cooperative mode or head-to-head. Even my wife has succumbed to the game's siren song and tried a few tracks on easy. It is a lot of fun, especially when you have a lot of people around. I actually stand when I play, totally getting into the moment and moving to the music.

I look forward to having a few months to master these tunes. Then, just when we're getting a little tired of it, Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock is slated for an October 2007 release. Rock on!

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