Once upon a time, if you asked "Have you played the cool new music game?" everyone knew what you were talking about. Whether it was PaRappa the Rapper, Space Channel 5 or the original Guitar Hero, the field of music games was neverall that crowded. That's changed a lot over the last few years. Now, not only do we have the two giants of Guitar Hero and Rock Band saturating the market as they battle for dominance, but also a number of bandwagon-jumpers hoping to capitalize on popularity of new gameplay concepts and controllers. To help make sense of it all, we thought we'd take a look at the four biggest music game releases of the holiday season. All are out right now for the Xbox 360, PS3 and, with the exception of Power Gig, the Wii.
Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock
Let's kick off this survey with the latest game from the series that started it all. There may have been music games before Guitar Hero but that's like saying there were platform games before Super Mario Bros. After years and years of market oversaturation, the series has taken a bit of a break before launching Warriors of Rock, a story-driven tale of mythic proportions where the players must complete guitar challenges and rescue the God of Rock. On the whole, it seems like the game is really trying to be earnest about the whole affair, even including the talents of Gene Simmons, Rush and Dave Mustane, but it all comes across as a bit too campy to fit the concept. I mean, I expect a little camp here and there, but the guitarist as mythic hero angle just seems laughable.
Having a story-based campaign also confines the progression of the game. It's interesting to consider how a more traditional adventure game quest might be incorporated into a game like this, but that also means that players aren't as free to pick and choose their challenges as they advance through the game. There's something to be said for having to unlock the classic "2112" or the new Megadeth songs but having only one clear path through this content is a pretty radical step for the series.
Also, some of the song choices seem a bit off, reflecting a lack of focus. If this is supposed to be a hard-rocking guitar game, what am I doing playing mandolin in "Losing My Religion" or piano in "Bohemian Rhapsody"?
DJ Hero 2
I admit I never got caught up in the small ripple of enthusiasm for the original DJ Hero. Judging from the sales, I'm not the only one who was largely indifferent to the concept. The mixes were largely unfamiliar, the controller was bizarre and the glut of music games made me suspicious of any game which followed the naming convention, "[blank] Hero." But in playing all the big music games of this season, I found I liked DJ Hero 2 once I was forced to give it a chance.
If you can get past not playing it with a guitar, the rhythm-based gameplay is genuinely fun and much more variable than I anticipated. Yes, just hitting the right color buttons on beat is still the biggest part of the process, but you also can be satisfyingly expressive with the freestyle scratching, mixing and effects. When you really get into the zone, it's every bit as fun as the gameplay in Guitar Hero or Rock Band. I particularly like the combat battles against rival DJs, which let you trade off sections of a track in a real "call and response" style competition. The controller itself is awkward if you're used to playing with guitars, but I think we're all so used to guitar controllers these days that we forget they used to be a bit awkward as well.