A guy takes his girlfriend to a Killers concert to celebrate their one-year anniversary. They stand up near the stage, and during one crooning moment, the lead singer lavishes all of his attention on the girl, singing to her star struck eyes. Her boyfriend is abashedly proud and watches the whole scene with bemused awkwardness. When the singer has finished his serenade, the boyfriend turns to his girlfriend with a smile, and she turns to him with this: “Oh my God, I forgot to take my pill this morning.”
He did a little deductive reasoning, figured out what sequence of ideas led to her epiphany, and felt a bit glum. He tells me this story later, asking “How can I compete with a guy in a band?”
My answer? Join one.
Yes, rock stars get royal treatment. Something magical happens when a guitar player is on stage, and just the addition of a guitar, or even a cheap plastic substitute, is enough to transform the geekiest loser
into a total lady killer
. For the price of a PSP, you could get a guitar right now, learn a few chords, and be halfway up that stairway to heaven before Christmas.
Or you could buy a PSP, a copy of Gitaroo Man Lives!
, and be halfway up the stepladder to fleeting thrills before the end of the week. It’s not a guitar, and it won’t make you attractive, but Gitaroo Man Lives!
is a quick learn, a fun rhythm romp, and a quirky take on guitar simulation that could even teach a few tricks to Guitar Hero
Gitaroo Man Lives! is the PSP port of the cult PS2 hit, Gitaroo-Man. If you missed it like the rest of us, then the game will be minty fresh. PS2 Gitaroo cultists, however, may want to drink the purple kool-aid first, since the PSP version is a direct port of the PS2 game with the minor additions of a “duet mode” and some unlockable art.
The premise is as ridiculous as any rhythm game. You play a skateboarding youth named U-1. U-1 is the heir to the magical gitaroo, given to him by his pet dog Puma, and capable of saving the universe. U-1, however, doesn’t really want to be the “gitaroo man” as he is more occupied with learning how to skateboard and getting mocked by the alpha male boyfriend of his secret love Piku. U-1 eventually gets over his hang-ups and defeats a series of bad guys in music duels, eventually uniting the magical three gitaroos and generally making the rocking world go round
And even though it doesn’t come with its own clunky piece of plastic, the guitar simulation here is pretty great. At the center of the screen is a tiny cursor, and button prompts approach it from all four sides of the screen. In addition to single button icons, long, twisting and syncopated lines also approach the center. Pushing the thumb nub in the direction of a moving line targets it, and holding a button down for the duration of the line plays the note. It’s difficult to capture in words, but easy to pick up in practice.
When things really get going, the PSP feels strangely like a guitar itself. The turns on the left stick correspond with rising and falling notes, and blistering string bends require your left hand to pull, as if on a string, while your right hand plucks the note furiously. The dynamism of the twisty-line (I don’t know what else to call it—the gitaroo snake?) complements clever transcriptions of funky tunes into gitaroo-ese and is a big part of why this game separates itself from other rhythm games.
Since every song is a battle, each song features another instrument against which you play your magical gitaroo. For example, in the swampy marshland, U-1 battles a trumpeter, trading licks over a deep Louisiana funk
backline. When the trumpeter goes on a nasty solo, you have to defend yourself with entirely right-hand button presses. When you go on the offensive, the twisty gitaroo snake emerges and you wail away with power chords and lightning fast syncopated riffs.
Miss enough notes and you’ll lose all the juice out of your health bar. It’s a mediocre way of limiting mistakes, but the fact that the game is posed as a battle (you win when you reduce your opponent’s health to zero) adds a little aggression to a usually passive genre.
Using the ad hoc function, you can also go head-to-head with your friends in a “vs.” mode or play cooperatively against a computer opponent in the new “duet” mode. The duet mode is the more interesting of the two, as it introduces new songs, specifically made to utilize two harmonizing guitar parts. If you can’t find a gitaroo honey to trade fours with, however, you can get the computer to play the other part. It’s a nice addition, but it really amounts to just a little more music in a sparse, but excellent, selection.
The music, all of which is original, is about as funky as Japanese musicians
ever get. A few of the beginning tunes are very catchy and melodic, though the later tunes tend to get overly choppy and wild (since they are more difficult). The best use of music comes near the end of the game, however, in which you serenade a girl on a beach with a quiet and simple lullaby. You don’t get into her gitaroo-pants, but the song is reprised at a later point significantly. The music, in this case, is actually tied into the insane asylum of a plot, and it works to near perfection.
However, a few shortcomings conspire to thwart the game’s bid for best rhythm game of the year. One is that it is entirely too short. The game can be finished, or nearly finished, in the space of a couple hours. There are only a few over ten songs in all, and they go by fast until the last battle, which is a gitaroo-version of guitar-hero’s Miserlou
Another missed note is that the hyper graphics sometimes get in the way of the icon prompts. Behind the target-cursor overlay is a cinematic and overly colorful panorama of U-1 battling whatever instrument-toting creature. Lots of crazy colors, explosions, and movement make game’s graphical elements exciting—but it can be difficult to discern the small, important icons moving among them.
And finally, the game doesn’t have much replay value. Finishing songs with perfect performances earns unlockable game art, and finishing the entire game unlocks the requisite big reward. But nothing will keep you coming back to Gitaroo Man Lives! once you’ve beat it dead.
Still, this is a remarkable music game, one that captures the two-handed feel of playing a guitar, pairs it with some fascinating and challenging original music, and, at one shimmering moment at least, successfully fuses music with plot. Unlike most guitar solos, this one ends way too soon.