Guitar Hero: World Tour

29th May 2009 – 5.07 pm

I have had a few brief flirtations with the Guitar Hero style of game, picking up a Fisher Price guitar and single-string strumming in time with downwards-scrolling notes, but as my initial forays in to the genre were with a group my self-consciousness kicked in to overdrive and I became awfully aware of my mistakes rather than my successes. However, a curious thing happened when Guitar Hero: World Tour was released and the opportunity to play lead guitar, bass guitar, drums or sing was introduced. At the next gaming day we have some multiplayer fun with Guitar Hero: World Tour and after a few goes with the various options I settle in to playing the fake plastic drums.

I discovered two points that day. The first that the drums don't have to be hit anywhere near as hard than I first expected to produce a response, the second that I enjoy the drumming a huge amount, much more than the guitar equivalent. I think part of this is the verisimilitude between fake plastic drumming and real drumming, in contrast to the stringed instruments, such that I feel I am playing or at least learning to play the drums and not simply learning how to play a game. I don't know why this should bother me, as I don't particularly care that in playing Burnout, for example, I am only learning how to play Burnout better. Maybe it's because I already try to play the guitar, maybe I know that drummers are the butt of many jokes*. Probably it's simply because I actually enjoy playing the drums and this seems a pretty good way to learn at least the basics at home.

Whatever the reason for my enjoyment I come away thinking about getting the game for myself so that I can enjoy it more regularly. After some investigation I find that the fake plastic instruments for competing game Rock Band are not compatible with those for Guitar Hero on the Wii. Whilst the fake plastic drums for Guitar Hero look much more interesting to play than the Rock Band equivalents—two fake plastic cymbals as well as three drum pads and a foot pedal for Guitar Hero compared with the four drum pads and foot pedal of Rock Band—the music included with Rock Band looks to be more my style. Although the fake plastic instruments are not compatible across games on the Wii they certainly are on the Xbox 360. If I am to get the better instruments and more suitable songs it looks like the Wii is not platform I should be using.

Luckily, the Xbox 360 is relatively cheap nowadays, I find a bundle that includes the latest installment of the Burnout racing series, and work gave me a small bonus again this year. It is almost cost effective to get the console for the game rather than limit myself by sticking with the Wii, so I take the plunge and order an Apple Xbox 360 on-line along with the complete Guitar Hero: World Tour package. Big thanks go to both Melmoth and Zoso of Killed in a Smiling Accident for their help in getting me hooked up with a console and the game, particularly for Zoso's inexhaustible knowledge about fake plastic instruments.

It doesn't take long to get the Xbox 360 set-up—after winching the monstrosity in to place and taping over the bat-signal of a power light on the external supply—and soon I have Guitar Hero: World Tour installed on the internal hard drive. The instruments require a little assembly too, but nothing complicated, and I get myself in the game creating my drummer rock star. It is not long before my band, Moos, is booked to play its first gig. I start on the 'easy' setting, eschewing beginner mode, and start rapping away on the pads.

The easy level pretty much ensures you have a sense of rhythm without being too tricky, with only a few occurrences of two notes needing to be hit at once and the occasional use of the bass pedal. The only problem with the scarcity of some notes is that if you happen to miss then the associated drum sound is excluded from the song until the next note of that type is struck properly. If you miss a bass note the accompanying music track can seem a little empty for the next while until you get another chance to play a bass note. It all adds to the illusion of actually playing the drums, though.

With the exception of one gig, which I bizarrely don't have enough cash to pay for, I blast my way through all of the gigs on the easy difficulty setting, getting good scores in each. The free-form drum fills are still an amusing exercise in trying to hit everything as rapidly as possible and occasionally see a drum stick fly from my hand. They really should have wrist straps attached for the safety of surrounding objects and televisions. Did Activision not learn from the Wii-mote debacle?

Even being able to keep a firm grip on only one stick hasn't hampered my progress, my skills surpassing Meg White levels already. Now I am moving to the medium difficulty setting, which has a lot more notes and isn't shying away from simultaneous notes, but still keeps the drumming relatively simple. I like the way the game slowly builds up competency whilst still throwing in the occasional tricky section to keep me on my toes. I am also having a whole load of fun! Did I mention I bought a drummer's stool?

*How do you know when a drummer is at your front door? He doesn't know when to come in.
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