Guitar Hero: Smash Hits

If you ask the average consumer whether they preferred the Guitar Hero or Rock Band franchise, most would likely be curious what’s to prefer, since they’re both pretty much the same game at this point. If you asked someone very into gaming, however, the clear cut winner would be Rock Band nine times out of ten.

The game structure remains similar enough in both series that it won’t influence anyone’s opinions too heavily; what it really comes down to is how each game is sold. In the case of Rock Band, you either buy the Rock Band or Rock Band 2 game disc, and then it’s up to you to download extra music from the music store to enlarge your library as you see fit. On the other hand, Activision’s plan for Guitar Hero is to throw as many discs at us poor schlubs as possible, and offer very little in the way of DLC.

The big difference here is that with Rock Band, you get to choose which songs are added to your game, and you won’t have to pay for half-a-disc worth of songs you’re indifferent to or flat-out hate. Guitar Hero, on the other hand, forces you to buy the songs they want you to play. It’s a damn shame, but the franchise that started a revolution in music gaming has been poorly marketed and left behind the trend to the point where it’s starting to be passed over by people who are addicted to the genre. Myself included. Actually, it sounds a lot like Nintendo’s life story. Only I don’t see a Wii-sized comeback in Guitar Hero’s future.

With Activision flooding the market with “Hero”-branded games, it’s getting hard to keep up with all of them. I’ve purposefully neglected to buy two titles already, and I don’t see myself too interested in buying any of the upcoming games (with the exception Guitar Hero: Van Halen, obviously). The one GH game that I was very excited about, however, was Guitar Hero: Smash Hits. It may seem a bit redundant for me to want the “greatest Hits” version of a game series that I’ve been ragging on for being stale and overused, but I have a very good reason: these are the songs I want to play.

GH: Smash Hits contains a handful of the most popular tracks from all the GH series games that came before World Tour. This is important to me because these are the songs I played and obsessed over while I was still smitten with the genre. Only now they aren’t covers anymore. It brings back a ton of memories and while it follows the trend of running the Guitar Hero name into the ground, it’s got a few redeeming qualities that I’m very much enjoying.

The most obvious change, and the main reason of the game’s existence (other than another udder on Activision’s cash cow), is that all the songs can now be played with a full band, rather than being restricted to guitar and bass, or in the case of GH1 songs, guitar only. This alone does not add nearly enough value to justify my purchase, as I bought the Wii version, and I rarely do any multiplayering on my Wii. Also I do not own Wii drums and do not plan on buying any. What does add the value is that all the note charts have been mostly re-written, making use of all the new GH gimmicks like the slide bar sections and the open note on bass. Most songs are also a Hell of a lot harder, and these changes make the game seem fresh and adds a new challenge to songs I’d long since mastered. The only song that’s noticeably easier is ironically enough Dragonforce’s “Through the Fire and Flames”, which is now entirely possible to play through thanks to the slide bar sections.

The other little things that I really love are that the game finally provides a star meter. It was always a pain in the ass playing songs over and over, but never knowing exactly how far away you were from earning that fifth star. The game also lets you choose from any song right at the start of the game when you choose quickplay mode. It’s not something I would have ever benefited from, as I always blaze through career mode before touching anything else, but it’s a super-nice feature for casual players and people who just bought it and want to get the most out of it at a party they’re having that night. I dunno. Little things matter.

The career mode structure is also very nice. It’s back to the set list format, rather than World Tour‘s me-too gig setup. You unlock new sets by earning so many stars, and new sets unlock very, very quickly. Therefore, you can usually skip right to the songs you want to play without having to pick through too much of the other material. The only exception is the final set, which unlocks after you’ve played all the encore songs. But those are all the super-difficult songs anyway, and I doubt you want to play the new version of “Play With Me” without a nice, long warm-up anyway. (read: it’s very hard!)

I’d also like to make a little side note here, where must admit that I’ve forgotten how much fun it is to play these guitar-based games just for the sake of playing them. The last few I’ve been playing on the 360, and it’s really just become entirely about the achievements. Playing this on Wii has rekindled a lot of feelings of love for the actual gameplay, rather than the chase for arbitrary virtual medals. Just sayin’.

There are a couple of gripes I have with the game though. While the songs that Activision picked make an excellent roster of playable songs, the game only offers 40-some songs. This is essentially Guitar Hero’s Greatest Hits album, and everyone knows that the standard hits album is much longer than a band’s standard albums. There are 86 songs in World Tour, Guitar Hero 5 will have 85. We should have gotten at least 60 in Smash Hits (the entire GH1 soundtrack wouldn’t have been a bad idea). Also, there are no bonus songs! You earn money through career mode, but all it’s used for is bland clothing options. Get Ready 2 Rokk and Decontrol were probably my most-played tracks on GH1, so I’m very upset to see that no bonus songs from any of the GH games have been included. I expected Monkey Steals The Peach’s “Guitar Hero” at the very, very least.

But everything else aside, I really just bought Smash Hits because Guitar Hero doesn’t have a lag calibration option and nobody’s re-released it. All I really want is to play the first Guitar Hero game. That’s it. But I guess the fourteen tracks they provided here will be more than enough. I got what I really pined for-“Killer Queen”, “More Than a Feeling”, “Take it Off”, “Godzilla” and “Unsung”- but I sure do miss “Crossroads”, “Spanish Castle Magic”, “Texas Flood” and “Frankenstein”. Also, how could they possibly say this is the best of Guitar Hero music and have not included “Iron Man”. That’s like the biggest song ever. not a personal favourite, really, but it’s insanely well-known. Fuck, I think I’m just going to go play GH1 for a while, lag or not. I love those songs so much…

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