Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
Japan has a real tendancy to release games that people from western cultures simply find to be completely and utterly insane. No-one from America would make a mosquito simulator, (This is an actual game.) and it would take a genius (or a madman. Or both.) to make a rolling ball game. But, yet, Katamari Damacy was a spectacular hit.
Another thing Japan does is have a lot of music based games. From Dance Dance Revolution to Bust A Groove, their dancing feet are spoilt for choice.
With Gitaroo-Man, both of these aspects meld together to form one strange, yet enjoyable whole.
Please excuse me if I'm a bit vague, I'm going on memory here, as I haven't played the game in a while. I can't find a copy.
Anyway the story behind Gitaroo-Man is that you are a young kid called U-1 (?). U-1 is joined by his talking dog Puma (??) who can transform into a guitar amp (????) and give a gitaroo (read: guitar) to U-1, who immediately transforms into Gitaroo-Man, complete with a 4 foot growth spurt. (??????)
As you can tell, Gitaroo man is relatively insane, but you're not here for the story. No, you're here for the battles.
Well, I use the term 'battles' loosely. You 'battle' with your gitaroo. You play guitar riffs on it and it can either power you up, or damage your enemy. This is done using the analogue stick and circle button. You aim the central cone with the stick, and follow the green line on screen. When an orange 'splurge', for lack of a better word, approaches the central dot, you hold down circle until it's gone. You have to do it when the splurge reaches the dot though, and you have to start when the splurge just reaches it. Being a battle, you also have to dodge the enemies attacks too. This is done using the face buttons. There are 4 lines, each ending at the centre. On screen you will see a face button approach the centre. Pressing that button when it reaches the centre will dodge the attack. Failing to dodge, or dodging at the wrong time will cause damage to you, as will missing a 'splurge' when attacking.
You'll miss most of the time, though as you'll be too distracted by whats going on behind this. Behind the interface, there is a mini-action sequence played out between Gitaroo-Man and the opponent he is battling, be it a demon with a guitar shaped like an axe (?), a flying UFO with a synthesizer (??), or a blues playing bee (???). And that's just the first three levels.
Each standard battle has three distinct phases. Charge, Battle and Finish. Charge sees you playing to charge up your health bar. Missing will not damage you, but you miss out on health. Battle sees you playing your best power chords to knock a chunk out of the enemy, while trying to avoid their attacks. Final is the same as Battle, but you are the only one playing. The enemy is wounded, and you're finishing them off. Not all stages are like this though.
Through the course of the game, you'll play several different music genres. From blues to techno, rock to goth rock, house to reggae, you'll jam to it all.
And you'll play some sweet tunes. The music you play to is instantly likeable, and completely unforgettable. One stage, and you'll be scouring CD stores for the soundtrack.
Did I mention the two player? There is an option to play against a friend, or a NPC. Playing against a NPC here is harder than the single player quest though. You can only play to music from a stage you've completed, so don't expect to use it for practise.
Unfortunately, this game falls where it is strong. Some stages you will find completely impossible to pass, as too many things happen at the same time. Also, it gets very repetitive fast.
I would reccomend this game to anyone with a rhythm game fixation, and those who just like the unordinary. Because, this game is not ordinary. I don't know what kind of sick, twisted mind this game came from but I am glad for it.