taking risks to drive the series in a new direction
those same risks not paying off
There’s no denying that Guitar Hero has been a successful franchise, and a cash cow that publisher Activision wasn’t afraid to milk last year. By releasing the main entry to the series Guitar Hero 5, as well as five other spin-off titles, the market was saturated and fans became overwhelmed and disinterested. Resultantly, sales were lower, and development efforts refocused this year for the latest sequel: Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock. In so doing, the main game has been revamped with a storyline involving titular “warriors of rock”– but is this enough to revive the series? While the title deserves an ‘A’ for the effort to reinvigorate a stale franchise, it’s ultimately a step that leads nowhere.
The core mechanics remain: hit buttons that correspond with notes on screen on guitar or drums, or karaoke up by singing along with your favorite tunes. But like any major game franchise, changes are needed to make a title worth your hard-earned dough, and that’s where Quest mode– narrated by Kiss’ own Gene Simmons– comes into play. Gone are the days of selecting an on-screen persona and rocking out for hours. Now, rock is used to defeat “The Beast,” and gamers must select from eight warrior forms of familiar Hero characters, such as Johnny Napalm and Judy Nails, or as an unlockable newcomer.
Each character has his or her own themed setlist to play, for better or worse. For example, Echo Tesla has a distinct alternative theme, while Lars Umlaut claims heavy metal. While grouping music by genre in story mode seems like a good idea, it ultimately falls flat. Before, if a song wasn’t liked it could be skipped, and favorites could be played through at whim. Now, the title forces play of songs, so those who don’t like modern rock will have a tough time with Pandora’s setlist.
Characters also have special abilities when unleashing the rock, and these abilities are enhanced further when warrior status is achieved. For example, star score multipliers are increased from 2x to 3x, and then to 6x. While these abilities allow for a boost in points, there’s a sense that the experience is somehow cheapened by this extra point padding. Add to that how up to forty– yes, FORTY– stars can be achieved for a song (as compared to the standard five), and the feeling becomes all the more apparent.
As awkward as Quest mode may be, we came here for the music. However, like the game’s plot, the setlist’s a mixed bag. Some songs are great– Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” immediately come to mind– and the over-twenty minutes of “2112″ by Rush was also fun (bored narration from band members aside), and actually fit well into the storyline. But other songs, such as Nickleback’s “How You Remind Me” show how the series is starting to struggle to find decent music. Perhaps it comes down to licensing, as the music world is filled with songs that would perfectly fit Guitar Hero, and some songs (such as anything by Tenacious D) would feel right at home with this particular game’s style and story structure. Ultimately, given the theme of an epic rock odyssey, it was surprising to find a lack of music that would fit the bill.
Other modes that have become mainstays of the series are still here as well. Quickplay+ mode is pretty self explanatory, allowing play of any on-disc or downloaded song. Party Mode is also here, where songs play on their own and gamers can hop in and out with their rock method of choice. Finally, the Wii-exclusive Roadie mode allows for connectivity with Nintendo DS– no handheld franchise entries required. Up to four additional friends can interact through the handheld by way of creating setlists, or assisting or distracting Wii players during songs. For those who really like to rock in large groups, Roadie mode allows for just that, granting the Guitar Hero experience to up to eight total.
New not just to the series but to Wii systems in general is Twitter and Facebook integration. While a neat idea– one that could easily be utilized to better effect in other titles– here it just falls flat. Facebook is already becoming overrun with spam, and it doesn’t need Guitar Hero to add fuel to that fire. Likewise, for some, letting others know that they have unlocked this or that acheivement via Twitter sounds cool, but it just serves as a painful reminder of a missed opportunity on Nintendo’s part with the online experience. Kudos to developer Vicarious Visions for including this functionality not for how its implemented, but for what it (hopefully) means for future titles.
Graphically, the game looks as would be expected: cartoony, yet polished. Singers’ mouths still move robotically, but on Wii the series has made great progress since its first appearance in Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock several years ago. Likewise, the audio is crisp, with voicework coming through clearly, though admittedly unemphatically.
A new release of a Guitar Hero title wouldn’t be complete without a new guitar model, and for Warriors of Rock the situation is no different; however, the guitar model this time around offers a significant face lift. The guitar’s appearance can be changed at will (and with additional purchases of) with snap-on and -off plastic pieces for the guitar’s body. This results in a limited landscape for the whammy bar and strum button, so the Wii Remote is moved from its normal location into the neck of the guitar, meaning the touch-sensitive trackpad found on Guitar Hero guitars since World Tour got the boot.
This also means that not all functionality present in the game is accessible with the very peripheral it comes packaged with it. The new guitar feels flimsier than previous models, and while it may embrace the idea that a plastic guitar controller does not look like an actual guitar by going for its own style, the result is something that looks more toy-like. Also, the result of a guitar having swappable plastic pieces is more plastic that just clutters your gaming space. While an ambitious move to reinvigorate the hardware-end of the franchise, it’s a step back in controller design.
Ultimately, Warriors of Rock isn’t bad, it just doesn’t live up to the legacy and quality set by previous titles. For fans of the series, this title will still likely be picked up– just be forewarned that Warriors of Rock strays a bit from the classic formula. For those looking to jump into the series, it would likely be best to choose a previous entry, if nothing else than for those having better setlists than what’s here. Here’s hoping that if Guitar Hero 7 sees light of day– which it likely will by this time next year– it will come with better music and a more enjoyable experience.
Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.