Posts Tagged ‘guitar hero’

Review: SingStar Guitar

October 20, 2010 Leave a comment

This is a re-print of an article originally posted on another site, included here so that the blog is a complete repository of my written work. The article is reproduced without pagination, formatting, images or editorial changes made on the original site prior to original publication.

I know what you’re thinking. When SingStar Guitar arrived, I was thinking the same thing. We have Guitar Hero and Rock Band in a billion incarnations, is there really any need for this? How can SingStar Guitar possibly compete with an existing line-up of thousands of songs, full instrument sets and the impending release of what will likely be the all-conquering music game of all-time with 17 fret guitars and MIDI keyboards that is Rock Band 3.

SingStar Guitar

SingStar Guitar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The answer is, SingStar Guitar is aimed at a different market, and I was shocked and dismayed to discover that the game is really rather fun.

The gameplay is the familiar highway that you would expect, with the chaff stripped out: there is no star power, no multiplier and only three difficulty levels (using 3, 4 and 5 of the buttons respectively). The presentation is very clean and SingStar-like and I actually prefer it to Rock Band’s highway. Obviously, the emphasis is more on pop music.

Regarding the logistics, SingStar Guitar is basically like any other SingStar disk: you get 30 songs you can sing, but this time you can play them on the guitar as well. Wisely, London Studio have implemented support for all existing Guitar Hero and Rock Band guitars so you won’t need to gunk your house up with even more plastic junk peripherals. The SingStore has been enhanced to allow selected songs you already own to be upgraded for guitar playability for a small fee. These upgrades are being released fortnightly along with the regular SingStore song releases. If you already own SingStar, your game will be patched to version 5.0 next time you play, which will allow you to use your guitar, so there is technically no need for the disk. The only difference between SingStar Guitar and other SingStar disks after patching is that the Guitar disk includes 30 guitar-compatible songs out of the box.

Now that’s out of the way, why should you bother to buy this, or upgrade your existing songs?

  1. Roles: any combination of one or two players can be assigned to any combination of instruments, ie. One player can both sing and play the guitar at the same time, or two players can sing, or play the guitar, or both. The single player singing and playing guitar simultaneously mode makes for some very tough challenges and is a lot quicker and less hassle to set up than in Guitar Hero or Rock Band which requires you to fudge it by creating two players. Also it’s not possible to have two people singing at the same time except in the latest Guitar Hero and Rock Band releases supporting 3-part harmonies.
  2. Load times are instant – load times in Guitar Hero and Rock Band are considerable.
  3. You get the music video. Which turns out to make quite a difference.
  4. Every song is scored out of 10,000. This means your scores are comparable across songs – something you can’t do in Guitar Hero or Rock Band, which may be important to you if you are competitive like me.
  5. You can’t fail. The song won’t stop if you play poorly, which is much better for social players and parties.
  6. No need to change disk during parties.
  7. If you prefer pop music, SingStar is clearly going to be a better choice for you, musically, than the other games.

Of course, there is no career mode, no character customization, no bass play or drums, no challenges. And right now, there are only the 30 songs on the disk plus another 8 or so released on Wednesday 20th October on the SingStore which you can actually play – however this will change pretty quickly in the coming months. Your desire to play therefore will have to come from self-motivation to beat your own scores and those of your friends.

There isn’t much more to say. As usual it’s another solid SingStar disk release, more of the same, but with added plastic. I didn’t think the guitar element would be much good, but in fact it was, and made me inclined to upgrade some of my other songs for guitar play.

You can find the full track list here:


Review: Guitar Hero Van Halen

February 1, 2010 Leave a comment

This is a re-print of an article originally posted on another site, included here so that the blog is a complete repository of my written work. The article is reproduced without pagination, formatting, images or editorial changes made on the original site prior to original publication.

Do you know how many music games have been released in the UK in Q4 2009 and Q1 2010? I’ll tell you: Guitar Hero 5, The Beatles: Rock Band, SingStar Motown, Disney Sing It: Pop Hits, Rock Band Metal Track Pack, Lips: Number One Hits, DJ Hero, LEGO Rock Band, Band Hero, SingStar Take That, Karaoke Revolution, Lips: Party Classics and now in Europe after a 3-month delay, Guitar Hero Van Halen. If we take the international market you can add SingStar Latino (USA), SingStar Chartbreaker (Germany) and Lips: Deutsche Partyknaller to that list. After increasingly poor sales of Guitar Hero 5, DJ Hero and Band Hero respectively, Activision’s brainiest had a stroke of genius and released that another Hero game was exactly what was needed to solve this embarrassing cashflow problem.

Guitar Hero: Van Halen

Guitar Hero: Van Halen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Granted, we could level the market saturation complaint at the deluge of FPSs flooding the market in the last year as well, and some of the aforementioned games are actually good games, so we have to take each one on its individual merits. As mentioned, Activision owns the Guitar Hero franchise and here we have a half-baked, half-assed and mostly talentless product – but that is where the good points end. The game isn’t that great either.

Let’s check the target demographic. Raise your hands if you play Guitar Hero. Mmm, quite a few of you. Now keep your hand raised if you’re a Van Halen fan. Ok, quite a lot of hands disappearing there. Now keep your hand raised if you think 25 Van Halen tracks plus 19 apparently random selections from unrelated artists and no DLC access represents good value for money at forty quid. Uh oh, this ship is sinking fast.

So let’s cut to the chase. Guitar Hero Van Halen consists of 25 tracks from Van Halen, plus all the expected Guitar Hero filler from timeless inspirational bands such as Blink-182, Foo Fighters, Judas Priest and The Offspring. Seriously, if your only exposure to rock music was Guitar Hero you’d think that Blink-182 and Foo Fighters is all there is. The main problem with that in GH:VH is that the tracks feel totally out of place. The disk covers only the Van Halen era from 1978-1984 when David Lee Roth was in the band, completely ignoring Sammy Hagar. For many of us we probably don’t really care – you’ve got the classics like Jump, Hot For Teacher and You Really Got Me – but the Van Halen enthusiast will likely be disappointed at the omission of some important songs. The filler tracks on the other hand start at about 1998 moving forward. It makes the experience feel completely disjointed.

I whinged quite viscerally about Band Hero’s career mode in an earlier review. The career mode in GH:VH makes that look good. It’s basically the same, only without the extra star challenges or cut scenes. It’s a one-page list. You plow through it and in about 6-8 hours you’re done. Going back to collect the stars I missed felt more like a chore than a joy. There were only a few songs I felt inclined to play more than once.

On the upside, the game does make very good use of the slider bar mechanic (where strumming is not required) and playing other notes while sustaining an existing one – both features that are still missing from Rock Band and underused in other Guitar Hero titles. There is a lot of variation in the note charts and that’s a good thing. The drum tracks are also more interesting and varied than in earlier titles. The box states “The most challenging Guitar Hero ever!”. Perhaps not, but it certainly will present a challenge if you are used to playing on medium as the difficulty has been increased versus earlier titles. On hard it seems to be about the same, however the difficulty does ramp up towards the end of career, and there are 3 Eddie Van Halen solos (Spanish Fly, Cathedral and Eruption) which I must confess are exceedingly fun to play and master. All the songs are unlocked from the start for quickplay mode.

For reasons unknown the game appears to based on the Guitar Hero World Tour engine – not the Guitar Hero 5 engine – and while Beginner and Expert+ drum modes (with two drum pedals) are supported, the only local multiplayer modes are Pro Face-Off, Face Off and Battle – none of the new game modes from Band Hero are included. The character models are exactly the same as those in Guitar Hero World Tour with only the Van Halen characters added, which must be unlocked. Strangely, you start off with present day Eddie and have to unlock the ‘classic’ characters later. Eddie 2009 does not look very flattering.

The Music Studio is GHMix 1, not the GHMix 2 found in the latest games. You cannot access any DLC you already own nor buy new DLC. You cannot export the songs to other Guitar Hero games.

If you want a bit of Van Halen trivia, prepare to be disappointed again. The Aerosmith and Metallica disks were reasonably solid compilations (although Aerosmith was missing a few songs), with band video interviews and a career mode that loosely followed the rise and fall of the bands. GH:VH affords you no such luxury. The venues are simply city names. There are no video interviews. Most insulting is that some – yet not all songs (Jump being one of those omitted) – have a Rock Facts section. This consists of the song playing as normal with 3 lines of text in a huge font appearing for 30 seconds or so before the next fact appears. You will require the patience of a saint and be very interested in some extremely mundane and somewhat obvious facts to sit through these.

I presume online play works fine, but I wouldn’t know because on the occasions I tried to get an online game for this review there was nobody online.

Finally, we have to wonder what on Earth prompted Activision to select Van Halen for a band-specific disk in the first place. How many people is this actually going to appeal to, as opposed to say Coldplay, Evanescence or Megadeth?


  • Challenging and interesting note charts on some songs, especially the 3 solos
  • A bunch of mostly easy trophies to collect
  • Van Halen fans who are purists that don’t care about Sammy Hagar will probably love it


  • Missing multiplayer game modes
  • Abysmal career mode
  • No access to downloaded songs
  • Only 25 Van Halen tracks, the rest is irrelevant and mostly uninteresting filler

It’s amazing how the opinion of the gaming press can differ from the actual users. Guitar Hero Van Halen scores 73% from its users on LivingSocial, which would seem to mean that some people do like it. On the face of it, this game is basically comparable to Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, which was a good game, yet has very similar layout and structure to this one. If we were reviewing GH:VH in early 2008 we would probably applaud it and give it a 7 or 8, but in 2010 with the music gaming genre having advanced as much as it has, this game simply doesn’t cut the mustard. The fact it was given away in the US as a freebie with Guitar Hero 5 for a while pretty much speaks for itself about Activision’s expectations for the product.

If you haven’t yet been summoned into the empire of plastic guitars, our recommendation remains the same: buy Rock Band 2 or LEGO Rock Band. Although Guitar Hero 5 is a little more feature-rich, Rock Band 2 remains the superior guitar and drumming game, especially when you take the price and vast quantity of downloadable songs into account, and the fact that Harmonix are not pumping out new disks every 3 months. LEGO Rock Band has a softer track list, but suffers from the disadvantage of only being able to access the family-friendly portion of the download store, which excludes you from a lot of good tracks.

In many ways, Guitar Hero Van Halen is a good metaphor for Activision CEO Bob Kotick: it smacks of arrogance, insults its target audience, its natural habitat is the gutter (of the bargain bin that is), and if you strum it for long enough you will likely end up with a rather bitter taste in your mouth.

Van Halen deserved better, and so did Guitar Hero fans. Avoid.



Review: Band Hero

February 1, 2010 Leave a comment

This is a re-print of an article originally posted on another site, included here so that the blog is a complete repository of my written work. The article is reproduced without pagination, formatting, images or editorial changes made on the original site prior to original publication.

The Hero franchise has suffered quite a bashing of late. In many ways a victim of its own success, the market has been deluged with sequels and spin-offs designed to milk the last drops out of this cash cow, and is now seeing sales leveling off. Widely touted as nothing more than a track pack for Guitar Hero, Band Hero is the latest addition to the franchise, so what does it bring to the table?

First, if you’re in any doubt as to Band Hero’s gameplay: it’s Guitar Hero. The gameplay is identical except that in Band Hero you can use the same instrument more than once in a band, which opens the door for 4-player karaoke, or if you have a peripheral-buying fetish, 4-player drumming. Band Hero is based on the Guitar Hero 5 engine so peripheral compatibility is the same (your Rock Band and Guitar Hero instruments will work in Band Hero on the PS3 and Xbox 360; the Wii is a bit more picky).

Band Hero is restyled to aim its sights squarely at the pop-loving casual gamer audience. Replete with blue and purple boxes, neon lights and a retro font that may leave teeny-boppers jumping with excitement and the rest of us looking for a bucket, the interface has been re-designed to be quick and accessible, and works well. Loading times are generally short. All the tracks are unlocked by default which is great for casual players who don’t want to slog through the game’s uninspired career mode. Trophies have received the same treatment and made considerably easier to acquire than previous Guitar Hero and Rock Band games. Two minor tweaks also improve the game’s accessibility considerably: Singalong mode can be accessed with one button press after the game loads and drops you immediately into a quick fire karaoke mode with automatic track selection (individual tracks can be skipped if desired). Party Play is also accessible before the main menu appears and plays random tracks or your own set lists on repeat. You can jump into the game at any time you feel like playing with no failure; just pick up the instrument you want to use, set your difficulty level and off you go. This is great for use as a jukebox, and you can just dip in and out as you feel like it with no interruption to the music.

Further ease of accessibility comes from the ability to play songs in short mode, and to disable the drum pedal. The latter was made available for the first time in Lego Rock Band as an option; in Band Hero it is a cheat code which can be readily found on the interwebs.

The 65-song track list is meant to be pop, and includes tracks by the likes of Alphabeat, Duffy, Lily Allen, Taylor Swift and so on, but unfortunately in true Activision-style the smattering of good new tracks is diluted by a crescendo of American pop rock, which is fine if you live in the US, but for the rest of us we’re left with a real mixed bag and a fair number of songs you’re never going to want to play. This is a real disappointment when music games live or die by their track list. They could have done so much better for Europe. This problem is exacerbated when you pop onto the online store to grab some DLC and discover that Band Hero fans have been immediately abandoned after the game’s release: the store is a combination of the Guitar Hero 5 and Guitar Hero World Tour stores, and provides no pop tracks whatsoever. The only DLC releases for Band Hero will be those released for Guitar Hero 5, which already aren’t too popular even with Guitar Hero 5 players. So, don’t expect anything exciting to download anytime soon in the way of related genre music.

The weak point of Band Hero is undoubtedly its career mode, which is a straightforward slog of 6-8 songs spread over 11 venues that gradually unlock as you earn more stars for completing each song. Each song has a bland additional challenge worth up to 3 extra stars (for a total of 8) such as hitting a certain streak, percentage of notes, only up-strumming and so on. These challenges add nothing to the gameplay and only a hardcore purist would bother trying to collect all the stars. The career mode is bland, boring, uninspired and stale. At least, you will be able to rip through it in a couple of days and feel a sense of satisfaction for finishing. One redeeming feature is that you can now save multiple progressions, which for example if you play like me, means you can have separate careers just for guitar or just for drums. This is a boon if you want to hammer through career mode with separate instruments.

On the multi-player side, things get more interesting. Online matchmaking is quick and easy, and you and your opponent or co-op partners can play at different difficulty levels. Offline local multiplayer is of course supported and here there are a range of new options – some good, some less so. Aside from the usual face off-type modes, there are various target-based competitive modes such as who can hit the most number of phrases, a strike out mode where if you make 3 mistakes you have to wait until the start of the next phrase before you can earn further points, and most interestingly a mode which starts at medium difficulty, and increases or decreases in difficulty automatically according to how well (or badly) you play. Some of the game types do not work well at all, but others are really fun to play with a friend.

Music creation fans will be pleased to hear Band Hero comes bundled with GHStudio 2.0 and GHMix 2.0, providing enhancements over those found in Guitar Hero World Tour.

Finally let’s turn to song imports. Band Hero allows you to import some but not all songs from Guitar Hero World Tour and Guitar Hero 5. For this you’ll need a free 288MB patch, followed by £3 and then a 1397MB download. The game doesn’t actually import; it just downloads the songs direct. All of your Guitar Hero World Tour and Guitar Hero 5 DLC will appear in Band Hero automatically with the exception of 3 Jimi Hendrix songs which haven’t been licensed. Band Hero songs cannot currently be exported.


  • Lots of new play modes some of which add quite a bit to the game
  • Easier accessibility, more options for playing the game the way you want, all songs unlocked at the start
  • The same solid gameplay you’ve come to know from the genre


  • Track list is fine for the US market but may be partially unsuitable for Europeans
  • Lacklustre career mode
  • No prospect of related genre downloadable content

Band Hero is an incremental improvement on the Guitar Hero series with a softer track selection. The acid test is whether the tracks will hold your interest long enough to make the purchase worthwhile. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with Band Hero – it is a good game – however ultimately it is a tweaked version of more of the same. If you’ve never liked the series, there is no reason to buy Band Hero. If you are a fan of earlier games and have a preference for pop, you’ll probably love it.


Full track list:


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