52 Weeks of Canadian Gaming - Week 31
Guitar Hero Smash Hits
Release Date: June 16, 2009
Developer: Beenox Studios
ESRB Rating: Teen
Reviewed by: Brian Wray
Who among us does not want to be a rock star? Every child has dreamed at least once of stepping up on a stage, in front of thousands of adoring fans, then to drive the crowd into a frenzy of excitement and joy with an incredible display of musical prowess that will go down in musical history. I also had such dreams, but reality is a harsh mistress. I came to realize that I have virtually no musical talents at all. Good thing the same cannot be said about gaming, a medium in which I am well versed. The Guitar Hero series of games allowed me to live out my fantasies of becoming a rock god.
Guitar Hero Smash Hits is the latest in an ever expanding series of games from Activision. This title was developed by Québec City's own Beenox Studios. As the title suggest, Guitar Hero Smash Hits is a game that is really just a compilation of the favourite songs through the first five titles in the Guitar Hero series. Most of the songs included in the game are from the first three games of which both Guitar Hero and Guitar Hero Encore: Rock the 80s were never released on the Xbox 360. The game does borrow heavily from Guitar Hero II, a game that did appear on the Xbox 360. In all, nineteen tracks from Guitar Hero II have been included in Smash Hits. This is not necessarily a bad thing as all the songs are now master tracks and enjoy full support for all the new features that have been introduced since the day of two player showdowns.
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Pretty much any one who have been around a gaming console are quite familiar with the gameplay of any Guitar Hero game. For the benefit of the two people who have accidentally stumbled upon this forum while looking for casserole recipes, I will explain it once again in simple easy to understand terms. The challenge of the game is for the player to match and press coloured buttons located on a plastic guitar shaped plastic controller with what they see represented on the game screen and press down on the strum bar (another plastic part of the aforementioned plastic controller) just as the on screen coloured buttons passes a specific coloured bar at the bottom of the game screen. If the gamer presses the correct coloured plastic button and timed the press of the plastic strum just right, he/she will be rewarded with a nice clear note and the cheer of adoring virtual fans. Oppositely, if the button sequenced was wrong or the strum button was pressed late or early, the player will be rewarded with a off key note and the jeers of the virtual crowd. Now multiply this sequence a hundred times over, with multiple plastic buttons having to be matched with their on-screen representation in a high tech, high octane version of Simon, blanketed in a backdrop of Rock 'N Roll songs and you have every Guitar Hero in a nutshell. The game is very simple to learn allowing anyone to be able to pick up the game and start playing withing minutes. The shear simplicity of the game is what makes the series so much fun to play. After all who wants to play a game that makes playing a fake instrument as difficult as playing a real instrument?
To be honest there is much more to the game than just pressing coloured buttons on a plastic guitar. For example gamers can also tap coloured plastic drum pads in sync with the game screen or, if they want a real challenge, they can test their vocal cords by singing along with the game. If singing is too difficult, worry not as the game is lenient enough to allow gamers to simply hum along with the song. Even I can do that (most times), Heck for those of us who are super talented individuals, why not do all three activities at once (it has often been attempted, but never mastered). Just as with Guitar Hero World Tour, the game offers full band support, via local play or over Xbox Live. This is were the game shines. Guitar Hero Smash Hits is a blast to play with friends. I do find the pleasure is only present if the friends are also present. Playing over Xbox Live did not provide the same level of camaraderie or enjoyment.
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Guitar Hero Smash Hits ships with all the other features found in Guitar Hero World Tour and Guitar Hero Metallica, namely the GHTunes and in game mixer. These features allow gamers to create their own custom tracks and upload them to the GHTunes servers to allow other gamers to download and play. This is a nice feature and there are plenty of interesting material on GHTunes. I was able to find some original tracks that had a very good beat to it, but this task was rendered quite difficult as the service is drowned in a sea of Super Mario and Halo mixes.
A Guitar Hero game is all about the music. If the music is great, the game will be great, even without any bell or whistles. With a set-list that includes such legendary track as "I love Rock 'n Roll" by Joan Jett, "Bark at the Moon" by Ozzy Osbourne , "Killer Queen" by Queen, "Smoke on the Water" by Deep Purple and of course "YYZ" by Canadian super group Rush, how could the game fail. I was a bit saddened to see once again a serious lack of Canadian representation. Aside from Rush, only "Lay Down" by Montréal band Priestess made the list. Sum 41"Fat Lip" just was not enough of a Smash Hit I guess. I cannot say that I am actually surprised as the Guitar Hero series as a whole pretty much ignored all Canadian bands.
Beenox Studios did a really great job with Smash Hits, but they did not really need to re-invent the wheel to create this game. The foundation for Smash Hits can be found in the previous titles of the series developed by Neversoft. I think that Activision provided Beenox with a very rigid template and informed them not to colour outside the line, allowing them only some creative freedom with the many venues in which the band will play. As a result the game starts to fell stale after only a few tunes. I think this was a huge mistake by Activision to not allow Beenox some creative freedoms as the studios is very talented. Anyone that can make games such as Bee Movie and Monster Vs Aliens a pleasure to play must be doing something right. I strongly believe, that if someone could have allowed Beenox to added their own spin on the game, the team of developers could have added something to the title that would have made it feel new and worthy of the full retail price. As it stands, I would not recommend the game to anyone but the most hardcore Guitar Hero addicts at the current price. Once the game drops under the $29.99 level, Guitar Hero Smash Hits is a fond trip down memory lane.