Review: SKUs for everyone: Without a guitar if you bought it with the first game, with a guitar if you didn't buy the first game and with a guitar if you did buy it with the first game, but decided to smash it against your coffee table after mastering a song.
The first Guitar Hero gave gamers the ability to rock out to their favorite songs in a music video game instead of being forced to sing them in Karaoke Revolution or dance to them in DDR. Come to think of it, before last year's hit from RedOctane and Harmonix, it was almost like the gaming industry had all of us training to become members of a boy band. With the release of Guitar Hero II, we're given more reason to put away the microphones and dance pads and break out the plastic guitar again, and not just because there are some new songs. In addition to the 64-song track list, the sequel adds a co-op mode for guitar and bass parts, a solid practice mode, extra challenge and ?Free Bird.? So, not only does the game make you look cool compared to other music/rhythm titles, but it also adds more than a handful of new songs to the mix.
Guitar Hero II, for those who didn't get in on the act the first time around, uses five colored fret buttons and a single strumming flipper on the same nifty guitar made of plastic. Fretting and strumming are done in time with the corresponding colored circles that move toward the bottom of the screen. Hitting the correct frets and holding down the strumming flipper at the right time not only builds your rock meter to prevent you from being booed off stage, but it also makes you feel like you're playing the lead guitar for one of rock's all-time classic songs.
The expanded track list includes rock favorites like the commercial's ?You Really Got Me? from Van Halen, this year's ?Woman? from Wolfmother and aforementioned rock anthem, ?Free Bird? from Lynard Skynard. There's also ?Sweet Child O' Mine? from Guns N' Roses, ?Heart-Shaped Box? from Nirvana and the awesome lyric-less and guitar-centric ?Jessica? from The Allman Brothers Band just to name a few more hits. Of course, by ?from? I really mean ?made famous by? since all but two of the game's songs are rerecorded cover versions of the famous originals. Your eyes and ears are going to be more focused on the colored circles and music cues than anything else, so it's hard to tell the difference if you're concentrating on playing the game.
In addition to the chart-toppers, Guitar Hero II features a bunch of indie bands that contribute to the bonus tracks. They aren't as well known, but these songs sure do sync up nicely with the strumming and fretting gameplay. Sadly, some notable band names also contributed their own lesser known tunes, like Aerosmith with ?Last Child? and KISS' with ?Strutter.? There are a dozen better choices between the two bands, so while the attempt to include smaller hits is commendable, more famous ones should've come first. RedOctane can always make it up to us by including at least one of the highly-requested Led Zeppelin tracks in the next game.
Songs are made more challenging with the inclusion of new three-button chords on some of the most difficult to master tracks. There are two other additions to aid you in finishing these songs. First, it's easier to perform hammer-ons and pull-offs. Second, there's a fulfilling practice mode. You can play song sections here and slow down the full speed tempo to slow, slower or slowest. Unlike the gig-touring career mode and instant-guitar-action quick play mode, you can't get booed off stage in the training exercises. Instead, you're able to take your time and learn each note of the gameplay. Doing so is essential for earning cash to buy guitars, songs and outfits in career as well as perfecting your strumming skills against a friend in multiplayer.
Face-Off returns to Guitar Hero II, but this versus mode is only one of three types in the sequel's multiplayer. Instead of alternating play between segments of a song and allowing players to select different difficulties, Pro Face Off requires dueling axes to play an entire song at the same time on the same difficulty level.
A little less intense, Cooperative has two guitarists working on songs together, one person on the lead guitar and the other on the bass. Alternatively a rhythm guitar is used in place of the bass on about 18 of the songs, like The Allman Brothers Band's excellent ?Jessica.? Interestingly, if you want to activate the score-multiplying star power, both players need to tilt their guitars in the air at the same time, sort of like the choreographed commercial for this game. It's disappointing that none of these modes are online. Nevertheless, there's more than enough guitar dueling multiplayer here if you know somebody with a Guitar Hero SG controller.