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DN Video Game Review: Guitar Hero II (XBox 360)

Time to indulge our non-football side once again.  I'll probably get another mock draft put together tomorrow, and I have a semi-major announcement later on today, but for now let's have a little fun.

A while back, while my wife and I were wandering around the local Wal-Mart, they had one of their PlayStation II systems set up with a copy of Guitar Hero II for people to play around with.  I had heard friends of mine raving on about how great the original Guitar Hero was, and I just sort of said to myself, "How much fun can it actually be?  It sounds like one of those God-awful dancing games that you see kids playing at the arcades all the time."

(They DO still have arcades, right?  I told you, I'm old.  YOU DAMN KIDS GET THE HELL OFF MY LAWN!!)

Anyway. . .

I just didn't understand the appeal of the whole thing.  Regardless, I like messing around with the demo systems as much as anyone, so I picked up the guitar and played around with it a little bit.  45 minutes later, my wife had finished all the shopping and I was still playing around with Guitar Hero II.  I finally got what my friends were talking about.

While the PS2 version of GHII has been out for a while now, the XBox 360 version just came out this last week.  The basic concept IS like one of those arcade dance games. . .you're given a plastic guitar with five "fret" buttons on the neck.  As you watch the screen, notes come toward you, and it's your job to hit the proper fret (or frets) and strum in time with the music.  The more accurate you are, the higher you'll score.

And it's not lame music they have, either.  Some of the bands and songs you'll encounter in GHII include:

K.I.S.S. - Strutter
Black Sabbath - War Pigs
Nirvana - Heart Shaped Box
Van Halen - You've Really Got Me
Kansas - Carry On, Wayward Son
Allman Brothers - Jessica
Warrant - Cherry Pie (One of the all-time great "songs you like but don't want to admit to anyone that you like" songs.)

There's a ton more, too.

As you progress through the game with your created band, you'll unlock other songs, you can buy hidden characters and different guitars at the store, and you can purchase some songs as well.  I went with the not terribly original name of Gonzodeth for my band.  (Shortly after that, an infinitely better band name. . .Oreo Speedwagon. . .popped into my head, but I had already started my career.  Damn creativity.)  Red Octane (the game's publisher) has promised that the 360 version will have songs available to download in the not-too-distant future as well.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that this game probably isn't for everyone.  However, if you give it a shot, there's a chance you'll be pleasantly surprised.  This game will give you a serious case of "one more try"-itis. . .if you get a four-star rating on a particular song, you'll want to take another stab at it to try to get a five-star rating.  It also has four levels of difficulty.  On the lowest level, the game only makes you use the first 3 buttons on the fretboard. . .but as you go up to medium or hard (and eventually to expert), you'll have to use the entire range.  That gives GHII a pretty high replay factor, as do the downloadable songs that the XBox 360 version will have in the future.

Unfortunately, the other thing that this game will probably give you is a pretty nasty case of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.  If you're not used to playing a guitar for long periods of time, the amount of time you'll be able to play without having to take a rest might be limited.  Another thing that might steer people away from this one is the fact that, if they you already have a guitar controller, the game will set you back $90, which is considerably more than your average XBox 360 game.

Still, when it comes right down to it, Guitar Hero II is an unconventional game that knows how to bring the fun in a major way.  Like I said, it's not for everyone, but if you can find a demo at your local super store or game shop, give it a whirl.  Your mind might get changed.