Guitar Hero II 360

There’s no accounting for musical tastes. Opinion and criticism of music is as varied and subjective as the people listening to it. You’ll never find a concensus, even amongst psychologists and academics trying to find out why we like what we like and what it says about us.

Game preferences are equally subjective, but when you consider music games it enters a whole new realm of complication. If you like the mechanics and presentation of a music game, but hate the music, it is hard to derive enjoyment from the experience. It becomes a chore as you focus solely on the mechanics, to get through a song you hate, instead of playing along with a track you like. Which, really, is the whole appeal of music games.

When the first Guitar Hero was released, it was received exceptionally well. A game where a non-musician could hold a guitar and rock hard to a number of classics? Awesome. I had to have it.

Unfortunately, it was a tiny, then-unknown publisher pushing a game by a never commercially proven (though critically adored) developer. Distribution was weak. EBs didn’t pick the game up. BestBuy had, maybe, a copy if you were lucky. And, if you were in Canada, the game was not released anywhere. Thank heavens for a small, independent game shop in uptown Toronto that imported several copies of the game the instant it could. One copy was for me. For a brief while, I was one of only a handful of people rocking out to Guitar Hero in Canada. Yes, I am that cool.

As people got their hands on the game, somehow, they began to talk about it and spread the love. More people wanted it and more people asked for it and, seeing that, BestBuy (and really, I do think that BestBuy had a large role in defining GH‘s success) started carrying more copies and started putting up demo kiosks. Everytime I’d visit BestBuy, I’d notice people playing the game. It spread like a virus. More than for any other game in recent memory, word of mouth turned an obscure little title into a massive seller. A sequel was a no brainer.

With that came unreasonable expectations. The first Guitar Hero came out of nowhere, rocking people like a hurricane. Afterwards, people had their own ideas about what they wanted from a sequel. Sure, there was a desire for a practice mode and better multiplayer and more customization, but most the talk was about what songs should — need — to be featured in the sequel. Everyone couldn’t possibly be satisfied, so when the game was finally released last fall, the most prevalent criticism was “I don’t like the tracklist.”

My personal experiences with the PS2 version of Guitar Hero II were limited. It was released on my sister’s birthday and, being the perfect gift, I bought it for her and gave her the first game and my guitar controller. Then the rumours, and confirmation, of an XBox 360 version hit the internet and it became more worthwhile to wait for that one than get the PS2 copy for myself. I was barely touching my PS2 as it was. So when the XBox 360 version came out two weeks ago, it was a new title for me — not just a port with some extra songs — so I rate it as such.

The guitar. The first thing you notice is the guitar. It is sleek and awesome, but the first time you hold it, it does not feel as comfortable as the old SG guitar. The angular edges of the X-Plorer don’t sit on your lap as comfortably as the SG did. Yes, rocking out while sitting down might be lame, but you can be excused from that lameness when doing it alone in the comfort of your home. The X-Plorer’s whammy bar is also awkwardly placed, but as with the edges you just get used to it after a while. To a new comer it will all feel fine, I’m sure.

The songs. Yes, a lot of people complain about the track selection, but I find it perfectly reasonable. It’s not much better than the first game, but not much worse either. It’s just another balanced soundtrack that covers the full, expected, spectrum. Instead of “Cowboys from Hell” and “Ironman”, you now have “Hanger 18” and “Warpigs”. Instead of the instrumental “Spanish Castle Magic” and “Frankenstein”, you now have “Misirlou” and “YYZ”. Instead of “The Exies”, “The Donnas”, “Sum 41” and “Incubus”, you now have less crap (“My Chemical Romance”). And instead of virtually nothing from the so-called Grunge era, you now have representation.

That’s what it comes down to in the end: musical taste. There’s no accounting for it. It develops in unique — sometimes strange — ways and for me, personally, it started during that grunge era when I hit my teenage years. That was the time in my life that music became relevant and even if that style of music waned and even if my tastes might have strayed far from that (blame the woeful late 90s “new rock” scene for that), that music still has resonance.

So when I grab that plastic XPlorer Guitar and get a chance to rock the fuck out to Alice in Chains, Stone Temple Pilots, Toadies, Jane’s Addiction, Pearl Jam, Rancid, Rage Against the Machine and Nirvana (poor Cobain impression notwithstanding), I rock the fuck out. Throw in some of the other song selections and, yes, I think I like it more than the first Guitar Hero, which only had the Red Hot Chilli Peppers representing (and it, sadly, wasn’t a “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” representation — aka. my first cassette.) There’s no complaining about the track selection from me. Just plain joy.

Still, some Dire Straits would have been nice…

Modal image