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Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s Review

JP_Hurh By:
GENRE Rhythm 
PUBLISHER Activision 
T Contains Lyrics

What do these ratings mean?

Hair band today, gone tomorrow.

There are degrees of notoriety for all decades. The Roaring 20’s for example, in which, according to both  popular lore and statistical evidence, everyone was drunk all the time despite alcohol being illegal. Or what about the Fifties, the era of the suburb and the home appliance? If the Twenties is a drunk hottie with a bobcut, dancing the jitterbug while balancing a martini, the Fifties is a business man in a starched shirt, hiding depression behind a smile, a two child family, and a three martini lunch. But then there’s the Eighties - an androgynous youth with spiky hair, bandanas tied around both legs, for whom the epitome of rebelliousness is smoking up in detention. Dude, where's your martini? Next to other decades, the Eighties look downright spastic. As in, “you’re such a spaz.”

click to enlargeSo now that we’ve closed the door on that incomprehensible chapter of our history, everyone in the room must wonder why Guitar Hero went and opened it again with Rocks the 80s. The game, a glorified expansion of Guitar Hero II, gives us 30 reasons in the form of songs recovered from our deepest of deeply repressed memories. Some of these reasons, good, the rest, probably not worth the effort. Or the outrageous $50 price tag.

And that’s hard criticism, because Rocks the 80s does give Guitar Hero fans, PS2 Guitar Hero fans, no less, more to do with their expensive guitar controllers. However, by trying to represent an entire decade (and a weird decade at that) musically, the track list ends up scattered and listless, probably containing a few songs you remember and love (or hate), but containing a lot more that you have never heard.

Rocks the 80s is a stand-alone game, but it reuses the old graphics (now done in flourescent colors) of Guitar Hero II. It doesn’t offer any new characters, modes, or even unlockable songs—so the game feels much more like an expansion pack than anything new.

click to enlargeNot that that’s a bad thing. Guitar Hero fans will be eager to get their hands on new tracks, and the gameplay itself is just as addictive as it was the first time around. But since the only reasons to buy this game are the tracks themselves, it is unfortunately on the rather thin and obscure list of songs that the success of this game hinges.

A quick look down the list reveals that the makers opted for quirk over icon. The one hit wonders do the best—Flock of Seagulls’ “I Ran (So Far Away)" and Asia’s “Heat of the Moment” for example. But for the bigger names, we get B-sides over the popular singles. There’s Twisted Sister, but not their “We’re Not Going to Take it” anthem. There’s Quiet Riot, but not “Come on Feel the Noise.”

And then there are those tracks that were composed in the 80s, but don’t feel like they fit the theme. Anthrax and The Police each make an appearance, but they were represented in earlier Guitar Hero games, and their songs don’t shout 80’s. You know, like “Shout, Shout, Let it All Out” which, by the way, isn’t included.

To criticize a game for what’s been left out sounds unfair, but Rocks the 80s flirts with disaster by choosing from such a wide range of 80s songs. Sure, “Turning Japanese” is quintessential 80s pop, but “Police Truck” is more punk, “I Ran” is more emo, and “Wrathchild” simply metal. There wouldn’t be a problem with the eclecticism if it weren’t that most of the tunes are B-sides. When one of the tracks is a Limozeen song, you know that they were really stretching (the song, “Because, it’s Midnite,” wasn’t even released in the 80s).

click to enlargeOnce you’re past gripes about which songs got in and which ones didn’t show up, you may find that the difficulty and interest is uneven across the board as well. Some of the pop tunes just don’t translate so well to a guitar sim, repeating the same long chords over and over again for several minutes. The game, until the final few tunes, will seem easier than the previous installments, and that’s in the main due to the fact that the songs were chosen for thematic, not guitaric (my term, now coined), reasons.

There is still the occasional success. I blogged about how awesome “Play With Me” was in the preview build. Now, in the final build, the song has made the signature and final track. It still is the best song in the game, and it’s nice that it comes last—leaving you with a good feeling about what is otherwise an uncharacteristically mediocre Guitar Hero game.

So, thanks to our standing ovation for the earlier titles, the “encore” game boils down to a spastic track list with a $50 price tag. Even though Rocks the 80s can stand-alone, it isn’t very likely that it will. And only if you were four different kinds of personalities during the 80s will you like everything on the track list. Thus, $50 for 30 songs actually feels more like $50 for ten to twelve decent tracks—not a good deal in any decade. Like, totally bogus, dude.
C- Revolution report card
  • More Guitar Hero
  • Some obscure winners
  • Many more obscure losers
  • Full price for a fraction of game
  • 80s tracks not always guitar heavy

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