Guitar Hero: No More Curtain Calls

A couple years ago, a friend of mine called me up and invited me over his house to play Guitar Hero II. He just bought the game and, with the addition of owning the first game, now had enough guitars for the two of us to play.

We spent hours plowing through the main branch of the game, unlocking new songs and obsessing over mediocre covers of others. Being a musically challenged individual, I found the gameplay both accessible and realistic (to me, anyway).

Flash forward a few years to the release of Rock Band and Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock. What began as an earnest experiment in musical games had become a videogame sensation. Suddenly, my older brothers (who dismissed the game initially) were playing it; soon after my entire family wanted in on the action. The game was incendiary.

But, just like a fire, it eventually burned out. Quickly. The games became their greatest enemy, overlapping one another with new peripherals, special editions, downloadable content, and gimmicky features. It was too much of a good thing and people lost interest.

Now Activision has canceled the Guitar Hero series. The game that started it all had bowed out of the race, taking with it its hip-hop cousin, DJ Hero. A recent article in Game Informer cited that the series had peaked with 2008’s Guitar Hero World Tour, which sold about 3.4 million copies. The latest installments of the series, combined with DJ Hero 2, “failed to sell one million units.”

guitar hero

In my mind, Activision made the right move. In fact, I don’t think musical instrument games are going to be around in a few years, and that includes Rock Band. Much like a musical group past its prime, Rock Band is still trying to relive the glory days. In fear of stagnating, the series has added new elements (keyboards) that both alienated and intimidated fans. Unless they find a way to truly freshen the series, I don’t know what course of action Harmonix can take to keep the series plugged in. I’m pretty sure Viacom knew this too.

Why? Because fans have mastered the games. Maybe they haven’t mastered every new song or every new band addition or every new instrument that is thrown at them, but they have mastered the experience. I played Rock Band and Guitar Hero because I enjoyed the illusion of being a musician. I think a lot of people played it for that same reason. And any good illusion, in one way or another, eventually loses its appeal. Once you’ve seen through a magic trick, it’s really not that impressive.

That exemplifies the whole Guitar Hero/Rock Band experience to me. It was a magic trick; a well-crafted, highly addicting magic trick that has since lost its allure. So while Rock Band will keep trucking along, trying to play a revival tour, the fan base has shelved its plastic Fenders and Gibsons. There are still a few die-hards that will follow the game to the grave, but not me… and not the collective millions that swore by this genre only a few years back, especially those in Europe.

Ubisoft is currently planning to release Rocksmith, a music game that utilizes real instruments to teach players how to actually play guitar. While this is probably a bad idea, I’m interested to see the response. The success or failure of that game will answer whether fans of Rock Band and Guitar Hero were playing just for kicks or in order to acquire some semblance of musical skill.

For me, it was for kicks. Like I said, I understood and respected the fantasy of these games. Unfortunately and unquestionably, however, that’s all it was.


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Author: Greg Galiffa View all posts by
Greg Galiffa is an Associate Editor at GamerNode. He's also an apologist for the first TMNT film. You can follow him on Twitter @greggaliffa

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