Cleveland Has A Reason To Rock Again: Grandma Has Guitar Hero
As one walks through the sometimes loud and noxiously stimulating halls of the museum, one finds a room dedicated to the Ohio born stars. Devo went to Kent State back in the day; Marilyn Manson was from Canton, Trent Reznor is an Akron native, Dave Grohl was born out this way- and all escaped the clutches of the rustbelt. One unmentioned hero remains, however.
Many folks recommended Guitar Hero for Playstation 2 to Grandma, and she got to pick up one of the guitar hybrid controllers during her first trip to MTV studios. Some said it would be a great alternative to Dance Dance Revolution for someone who couldn't move their feet that quickly. Some said it had to be tried to be believed. Some said the guitar controller looked like something crafted by Fisher Price and the Devil. No one said it would be so god damn ADDICTING.
The game has somewhere around 40 playable songs, ranging from "I Love Rock and Roll" by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts to "Bark at the Moon" by Ozzy Osborne, plus a whole pack of unlockable songs. The first songs we all learned how to play on guitar come first; replicating the practice process fairly well! Easy chord songs like The Ramone's "I Wanna Be Sedated" can be played as soon as you fire up the game. Add to that four difficulty levels per song and you get hours of intoxicating, musical goodness.
There are five fret buttons on the guitar controller. In easy mode, you only have to worry about three of them; in medium difficulty four; and in hard mode all five. In "Expert" mode, more grace notes are added, chord changes become more difficult, and you're going to look like a fool when you play it for the first time. The buttons are sometimes too wide for Grandma, so she has to move her hand even in Medium difficulty, rather than floating a finger above each button in anticipation. The buttons press easy, so you don't need to prepare for bleeding fingers like you did in High School. After playing for awhile, the plastic can get a little sweaty if one grips with their thumb too hard, so ease up a bit. Otherwise, if you're playing with a large group of people, SOMEBODY's getting herpes. And no one wants that. You might think it's silly sitting with a little toy guitar in your lap at first, but after five songs or so, you begin to groooooove. Don't fear it, baby- it's natural!
Instead of strings, you have a little ...clicky...thing that you can either strum with your thumb, or hold like a pick. It goes up and down, which facilitates turning the guitar for lefties and really fast solos. The plastic coating on the flipper is the the only real problem we've encountered with the controller. The sweat thing is no big deal, you just hold it differently. After two family wide "I BET I COULD KICK YOUR FUCKING ASS AT GUITAR HERO" tournaments and completing the game in Easy, Medium, and Hard modes, the plastic coating has come completely off the button. It doesn't affect gameplay so much as it just looks bad.
Grandma's favorite song to play is "Ziggy Stardust" by David Bowie. She's gone for hours with the guitar and a set of headphones trying to max out her score and achieve 100%. She liked the song SO much, the two of us went out and bought two things: David Bowie's Greatest Hits Collection, and the movie that truly represents growing up in the 80's: The Labyrinth. This is the same movie that broke through the Nancy Reagan "Just Say No" campaign and convinced millions of children to make a mental note to go ahead and try marijuana when they're old enough with Jennifer Connelly's wide-eyed utterance of the phrase "Everything's dancing....."
Grandma puts it this way: "Look, you have George Lucas before he started worshiping George Lucas; David Bowie as... well, basically himself; Jennifer Connelly before she got stoned, went down on a guy and puked in the street in 'Requiem for a Dream'; Jim Henson was still alive and kicking ass; Frank Oz did some of the voices; and motherfucking TERRY JONES wrote the whole thing, so you know it's going to be awesome... they might as well say it's the best movie of all time."
My own personal obsession spawned by Guitar Hero is the Boston band "The Slip." One of their songs, "Even Rats" is an unlockable feature after you reach Medium mode. Put simply, they fucking rock. I invoke my band whoring skills and advise you to buy every album they've ever made from their website. [A side note, the first song you hear upon entering the site is "Even Rats."] The Slip is touring now, and they will be at The Grog Shop in Cleveland in March. You bet your ass Grandma and I will be at the concert.
This creates a problem. The Slip have a bit of a college following. Whenever they're in town, they encourage folks to print out and put up flyers, etc.,... MOST of the fans I've met are cool people, but they REALLY hate that The Slip's music has been "bastardized" and "attracted the wrong sort of fans by putting their music in some shitty fucking... VIDEO game." I'm an Indie rock elitist myself, when I saw Rilo Kiley on television for the first time hid in my room and feared the corporate powers would destroy them, stealing them away from Saddle Creek Records. I felt the same way when I watched a movie trailer for 28 Days Later, and to my horror I heard a "Godspeed You Black Emperor" tune, a band who SWORE their music would never find its way into a movie or an advertisement. Good music seems to be even better when it's your own little secret; enabling you to laugh and point at people rocking out to Hawthorn Heights.
Guitar Hero is a fantastic game, and it leaves a lot of room for expansion releases with more venues, characters, guitars, and most importantly SONGS for those of us who already own the guitar controller. Grandma wishes the guitar felt more substantial, but dig this: the game with the guitar costs $70 here in The States, at least that's what we shelled out for it. A PS2 costs what now, $150? So for $220 one can probably find a cheap, used six string electric and a small used amp. If it's something more substantial you want, go buy a real guitar. I haven't touched mine in a while, but tomorrow I'm going to buy some new strings and pull that little beauty out of dormancy. Guitar Hero might be fun, but it's a tease. I'm sure the creators would love to know that a generation of instrument-phobic gamers were inspired to try learning guitar by this game.
[Full disclosure: Red Octane, Harmonix Music Systems, Wave Group Sound and House of Moves, Inc. made Guitar Hero; it was published with an MTV Games label. Grandma is a games correspondent for MTV Overdrive's game show: THE G-HOLE. We paid for ours; this ain't no viral advertising, guys. So.... yeah.]