LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my divine honor to introduce this next act. Having such huge hits in the past as Guitar Hero and Guitar Hero 3 there is certainly no need to say anything more; however, you’re here for the newest rendition and bear witness to the latest transformation of this guest. In effort to bring you a more complete package, they have added the percussion and vocals unaccounted for in the beginning. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you,


GUITAR HERO WORLD TOUR!


*coming out of the smoke like super-heroes*

Well lets face it, this is the Wii. A glorious, inexpensive, highly competitive platform that knows it doesn’t have the power of the others, but it makes due just fine. The graphics are “only” 480, and it’s GPU can’t paint a Mona Lisa in exquisite detail per pixel, but its pixels are still smart and pretty and chock full of personality! Ok, that may sound a little backhanded, but my eyesight is 15/20 and I like the Wii’s version just as much as I like that of the 360. It’s noticably less refined and lacking in pearly gloss, but it certainly does not detract from its job.


The notes steam down the appropriate neck, and the big colorful buttons are still big and colorful. It is kind of funny that they start looking like smiley faces after a while, but that usually means it is time to take a break. The menus are plenty usable in regards of being able to see what is where, but the functionality takes a hit in the control section. The lyrics are kind of hard to read as the font isn’t the clearest I’ve ever seen.  So, to keep it brief, the graphics are suitable, but not spectacular. There are no problems with clipping or anything like that so it stays on par with other Wii titles.

Now this game is all about the sound/music. Let’s break that down into two categories: content and quality. As for its quality, the sounds are good. It’s crisp and hi-fidielity. They made sure to use master tracks for everything this time. There are no extras in the menus and stuff save a simple click and a random track playing in the background. The tutorials’ voice actors are quirky, but do their job. That’s the easy part.


The content itself, however, spreads itself a bit thin. It seems to me that a marketing department got their hands on this field and said, “we are going to make sure as many people want this as possible!” Commendable, but not as easy as it sounds. So they took from a list of high-grossing songs in several categories and spackled them to the CD. Like the older stuff? We got 4-6 oldies but goodies for you. Like the Emo-scene? We got 4-6 whiney and easy to sing tracks for you. Like rock ‘n roll? We got 4-6 guitar-laden, lyrics-be-damned-to-the-drums tracks for you. Get the picture?


Imagine this was a green room. The bands waiting their turn for the stage while nibbling at the cheeses, beers, wines, and scotch. R.E.M. rubbing elbows with Zack Wyldd. Van Halen twiching out of his skin standing next to Sting. (Yeah, Sting! No, not the wrestler.) Michael Jackson (!) and the re-animated corpse of Jimi Hendrix in the same bloody room? To all that, add a dash of Willie Nelson and you have a cultural equivalent of chaos! Who thought that was a good idea? Maybe Willie brought brownies to pull it off.


The problem is that it will probably work. You’ll sit through 2 or 3 dreary off-taste tracks to get to your killer greatest-of-all-time-in-your-head smash-hit. The best part is that there’s hope. More will come later about this, but the hope of which I speak comes in 2 forms: custom tracks, and downloadable content. Yes, you read that right. EVEN IN THE WII will you have the option to make your own songs (sans vocals), and upload them or download others from the in-game’s Wii Shopping Channel. Like I said, more later.


Let that sink in for a bit.

Alright, enough sinking in. Sit up!


Now, these are all new. These are not your GH’s controls. These are not your Rock Band’s controls. I won’t go so far as to say revolutionary, but this is definately new. The microphone is the simplest part of the equation being merely a brand-marked USB microphone. This is the least of assinine decisions that were made in regards to the Wii’s control set. The microphone has a really long cable, and its comfortable to hold and delivers your voice as well as your voice can be delivered. Fine. No problem.


The problem occurs when you want to use the instruments. Aside from the instruments themselves, the problem is that each one of them REQUIRES its own Wiimote! The guitars are gorgeous, well balanced, easy to hold, but that you have to stuff your own Wiimote into the special hidey-hole is just bananas. The drum set also has its own special hidey-hole for a Wiimote. The 2nd guitar, another wiimote! And the singer needs a Wiimote for all of 2 moments to get into the band and select an avatar. Why why WHY? Don’t you know how much those things cost? I just slapped down nearly $200 for the whole kit, and I have to drop another $40 per Wiimote for the other family/friendly units? What else could go wrong?


Well, let’s start with the guitar. It’s gorgeous, well-balanced, easy-to-hold and all that good stuff, but those buttons are just not quite as functional sticking up out of the guitar’s neck like that. They’re nice. They respond well. They’ve made the strum-bar larger, and the wah-wah bar is longer and more useful. The string-anchor at the base of the guitar is used for the +/- keys and can be used for releasing star power. These are very nice.  There’s also this new section for solos and allowing for one to blend harmonies, or use it to tap-out your section Eddie-style. But me having to get my fingers over those big plastic bumps loses a touch of the experience and I’m clumsy enough. Trying to go back and forth from the digital pad to the buttons is steeped in difficulty curve. It takes a lot of getting used to, but if you do get it then you _will_ impress your compatriots.


Then we have the drums. Three, nice, wide cushy pads in red blue and green flavors standing over a black PVC network of a stand. Then two flat, vulcanized bits of foam rubber on a second level above the 3 soft cushy discs. A rich intermingling of high-quality and comfort stacked on top of durable but ill-fitting plastic with all manners of wires and such with which to deal. The stand seems sturdy enough to not collapse onto me, but the locking mechanisms aren’t the best. The left-side’s height is adjustable whether the anchor is engaged or not and over time that will be a problem. The rubbery ‘cymbals’ are adjustable in terms of height, but not very high, and further back might have been a better option. There are wires underneath to detect your strike. That part works well, but the striking often feels like you’re about to break a crisp bit of styrofoam. They rattle if you hit them in anything but the sweetest of spots. My first day practicing I often looked down at them to make sure they didn’t fly off anywhere. They never did, but getting the screw down tight enough to keep them in one place took some work. Regardless, I love the 3-dimensional approach, and find them much easier to get into the role than the clangy 4-head set from the other side of the fence. Each pad makes a unique sound, not drum like but not like the others either, which helps entrench me into the experience. I really like the idea. I just wish the execution had been a few points further up the scale.


The foot pedal … argh, the foot pedal, is a flimsy piece of plastic with maybe a half-inch of room to strike. At least mine doesn’t squeak, but every moderate toe twitch caused the bass drum to go off and blew many a streak I had going. Especially given the issues that the other guys had with their first edition instruments you’d have thought the QA department had large bonuses riding on this implementation. If they did, I hope they aren’t getting them.

It’s fantastic that the kit comes with 2 guitars, the drums, the mike, AND the game! I certainly hope that you have, or can get enough friends — with their own Wiimotes perhaps — that will play with you. While the solo tour is certainly rich with features and possibility, the game works best in the party situation. The game even subconsciously delivers this message in the opening scene. We have a lone Kenny G wannabe — having struck a deal with the devil — mezmerizing an audience with the drones of his soprano saxophone, when an alert goes out to out super-hero-like band. A wrist-watch beeps, a cell phone rings, a sense that something just isn’t right, and a spectacular prison-break scene ensues as the band rushes forth to save the crowd. In the nick of time the audience is spared a nasty fate as the devil’s siren is pushed aside, and the real party begins.


In spite of the opening credits showing the cast as living lives of luxury to: persue other projects, visit remote graveyards, commit crimes that land you in an electric chair, and having your own plane to fly about in … you start with nothing. Depending on which path you start on, you get a simple 2-3 song gig to make a quick grand. Rinse and repeat. It seems odd then that one has to pay to get certain gigs. After a few shows I’d earned several bits of equipment, clothing lines, tattoos, and a good handful of cash. I came upon a stop for Tool — one of my favorite bands — and I was excited to jump on in. Imagine my surprise when I was asked to pay $8000 of in-game money to play! Why put that set of tunes so close to the front and make you pay to get into it? Being one not of the industry that seemed backwards to me.


Speaking of backwards, the menu system is still a mess. Sub-menu upon sub-menu gets in the way to merely practice a song. If you have to make a change, such as going into lefty mode, you have to back out and start all over. I’m no GUI guy, but this seems like it has been a problem before and I would have thought they’d improve upon this level by now.


The gameplay overall is pretty awesome. The full-kit and all the instruments make for a large party game, or plenty to do for households of any size. If you get a second drum set you can play head-to-head, or do that with the guitars that came along. You can even write your own tracks or just jam out and watch your Mii mimic you on the screen. The Mii’s don’t get involved with the world tour, but you can customize your rocker in a wide selection of ways.

In spite of the initial problems coming out of the box in regards to song selection, the downloadable option makes me rather excited for this title. Connecting to the store is simple, quick, and doesn’t require any nonsense about exiting the game. There were a handful of free tracks to download and test and they were moved swiftly off the menu and onto my flash card. They work great, provide a nice change of pace from the other songs I’d been banging out, and prices ranged from free to 200 Nintendo credits (real money, but not very much).


Guitar Hero was not the first to come out with the whole band thing. They are also not the best version at their start. Reports of drum heads failing here at the office dampened spirits initially. I haven’t had any issues, and after some calibrating with the screen in the game options I have had a pretty good time so far.


With this chapter we have a new difficulty setting: Beginner! This is great for people who have no idea what this is all about. As the notes come down the path you can hit any drum, or any button of the guitar and just strum to the beat. Multi-colored lines come at you slowly and you can just plunk away until you get the hang of the show. The game is rated T for Teen, but my 8 year old is able to get into the game with this level. The bonding experience far outweighs some suggestive lyrics that she isnt paying attention to anyway. The step up from Medium difficulty to Hard is rather large and that can be frustrating, but it boils down to technique and patience. If you want to be great it takes some blood and sweat.

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