PaRappa the Rapper spawned a few games that tried to cash in on the music hybrid games – Dance Dance Revolution, Bust-a-Groove, Um Jammer Lammy, Samba de Amigo – and with each passing game, the controls get a little trickier, the music sounds a little repetitive, and the game is ultimately reduced to an hour or two of your time. Gitaroo Man falls along many of the same lines as these other games, with two notable exceptions – the music is really good, and the challenge is incredibly hard.
On the Lammy
One of the complaints of other music games is that you can’t see the action without taking your eyes off the button interface. In Gitaroo, the interface is up close and personal – overlaid on top of the action. The buttons are called out clearly, and even the tweaking, where you have to move the analog along with timed button presses, is represented by wiggly lines that you have to duplicate. The graphics are very Japanese-themed, with Ultraman type space creatures and insane hyper-psychedelic cut scenes. The one reprieve is the funky stage of MojoKing Bee, one of our personal favorites, where you get so caught in his disco-techno-hip-hop vibe that you constantly miss your cues. The graphics follow the goofy theme of PaRappa, but instead of paper thin 2D, the game goes in for full 3D characters.
The sounds make the game, but unlike other dance games, they serve up many different types of music, with an emphasis on guitar solos. Didn’t think a guitar solo would fit in with an orchestral choir? A funky swamp with trumpet accompaniment? Underwater? Think again. There’s a good blend between the music and the guitar as well – you don’t simply wait your turn and blare out a few teeth-grinding solos. You actually play along with the rest of the music in the stage, and the seamless integration is also the hardest part of the game – you have to be quick and have some rhythm in order to keep up. The character voices are the silliest part of the game, and much like PaRappa, they make little sense out of context.
Blessed are the Tweaks
The game’s controls are some of the most innovative and most difficult of the dance games. You press the buttons to defend against attacks from your opponent, and use your guitar playing to attack your opponent. When playing the guitar, you press a button, and then move the analog stick in the direction of the chord. Sometimes the line you move is a straight line that you simply hold while playing. At other times, you have to tweak the analog stick to match the tweak of the chord you’re playing – at times like these, the playing becomes increasingly difficult. The timing is crucial, and so is the accuracy – a deadly combination when you’re trying to make a game that’s fun and fast. In one incredibly hard stage against a giant whale, button combinations are thrown at you layered on top of each other – it’s enough to make you pull your six-strings out.
Gitaroo Man has quickly become a cult favorite around the office, and the reasons why are obvious. It’s fun and addictive, and although the challenge is steep, it’s not impossible. If Eddie Van Halen and Shigeru Miyamoto ever had a child (in a world where Kid Rock ends up with Pamela Anderson, anything is possible) Gitaroo Man would it. His steely six-string solos are some of the best ever in a video game.