Guitar Hero is now like Rock Band, except it's like a Saturday morning cartoon starring Ozzy, Ted Nugent, and that girl from Paramore.
Activision's latest foray into the growing rock rhythm game genre, Guitar Hero: World Tour, is no longer just about being a guitar hero. With the addition of drums and vocals, the Guitar Hero franchise now provides the full band experience like their competitor, EA and Harmonix's Rock Band. However, unlike Rock Band, Guitar Hero: World Tour is a video game.
Now I know that both games are games and all that nonsense, but Guitar Hero is over-the-top cartoony. That doesn't make it bad, it just makes it different. The game even begins with a humorous animated cut scene in which a faux Kenny G is commissioned by the devil to brainwash kids into liking his music. Then, Team Guitar Hero is signaled on their matching watches as they come and rock out and brainwash kids into liking their music. That's the note the game starts on, and the gameplay compliments the opening's cartoony style.
The latest guitar adds numerous new gameplay elements with its new touch pad, which is similar to Rock Band's solo buttons but with more delusions of grandeur. The touch pad allows you to tap through designated sections that are signified by see-through notes. However, these sections often flow in-and-out of normal sections and are very difficult to jump back and forth to. Regardless of that, it is almost impossible to tell which section of the touch pad is which. Another thing the touch pad allows you to do is tap on it to play notes instead of strumming, which works well for the most part. The touch pad has great ideas, but none of them are executed in an exceptional manner.
The boldest addition to the game is the new drum set, which comes with a stamp of approval from former Blink-182 drummer, Travis Barker. My anticipation for this drum set was very high. The set up of three pads, two higher cymbals, and a bass pedal looked to be the perfect evolution from Rock Band’s drums. For the most part, this is true as the new drums look great and are easier to transport than their Rock Band counterparts. The cymbals are equally as fantastic, but the three pads have disappointed me a bit. While this might just be the fault of my particular drum set, the three drum pads don't seem to be too responsive. I have to basically beat the living hell out of the drum pad in the direct middle of it to register a note on a consistent basis. It doesn't help that the drum sticks that come with the game are light and cheap-feeling. Another bone of contention I have with the drums is that star power is activated by hitting the two cymbals; to me, it is very difficult to break my rhythm in faster songs to activate star power.
The vocals are what one would expect from a game in this genre. One thing that is nice with the new microphone that, as our own Jonathan Metts pointed out, you can activate star power by just hitting a button. Despite that nice addition, the vocals still bother me for one very specific reason: there is no way to easily determine if you're singing a phrase correctly. This isn't an issue in Rock Band because they have a circle that fills in as you go through a phrase. In Guitar Hero: World Tour, you find out if you got the phrase right when you see your multiplier or streak go up.
As far as the whole band gameplay goes, there are not many changes from the single-player affair. Everyone's star power goes into one pool and each player uses it on their own to boost only their score. Also, if one person fails a song, then everyone fails the song.
The set list is very impressive and pretty robust at 86 songs. Alongside newer hits, the game also has classics such as "Hotel California" by the Eagles and "Crazy Train" by Ozzy Osbourne. This is also the first game in the series that is made up entirely of master tracks. The guitar boss battles are back, as you do battle with Zack Wylde and Ted Nugent. Along with these two rock stars, numerous others make appearances such as Ozzy, Paramore's Hayley Williams, Sting, Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan, Blink-182's Travis Barker, and the late Jimi Hendrix. There is also a venue designed by the band Tool.
The music studio, one of the much-hyped new additions to the game, is way too confusing for its own good. Even after going through its tutorials, I still have no idea what I am doing. GHTunes, the place where you can download user-created songs, is set up well and is easy to navigate. There are numerous video game themes ranging from Pokemon to Zelda to Mega Man, but it is only a matter of time before they all get taken down for copyright infringement. Once GHTunes is accurately policed, it'll probably just be a lot of generic original songs.
Another new addition is the Wii-exclusive Mii Freestyle Mode. This very simple mode is a lot of fun as it allows player to wail on their instruments however they like as their Miis act it out on screen. The guitar has some structure to it, as you play different cards with notes on them. As you successfully play these cards, you build up to big solos and chaotic rock endings. While it does add a lot of depth, this mode also provides nice, accessible fun.
All in all, Guitar Hero: World Tour is a good game that still has a ways to go until it achieves greatness. While the new instruments are wonderfully crafted, the actual gameplay can be too in-depth for its own good. The game’s arcade nature seems to focus on its competitive aspect, taking away from the fun of playing a rhythm game with your friends. Regardless, this is currently the best game of its kind on Wii. It is entirely full-featured with downloadable content and online play, but the series as a whole doesn't seem to understand the band experience as well as its main competitor.