Hardy Plumbing
May 10, 2006

Game Dork

"Beatmania" (click for larger version)
usic Play In Games

Random adults kept telling me how great "Guitar Hero" is. It's not that I doubted them. Well, maybe I doubted them a little. Everyone also says great things about "American Idol," and that thing is as exciting as static cling. But wouldn't you know it? "Guitar Hero" is the most fun interactive video game I've ever played.

I confess to being months' late in reviewing "Guitar Hero." Once a year, I try to catch up on a game that has earned good word of mouth, and that fell through the cracks of my Game Dork Research Labs. This year, that game is "Hero," which is pure entertainment.

The PlayStation 2 game comes with a mini-guitar, a replica Gibson SG similar to the one Angus Young plays in AC/DC. Instead of strings, it has five buttons on the frets. You press those color-coded fret buttons in sync with colors that pop up on your TV screen, and that makes the guitar parts of a song ring clear.

There are 47 songs to learn, rockers like "Iron Man" and "Ace of Spades" and more current hits. The astonishing thing is it makes me want to play a real music instrument more than being a rock critic did. I'll be playing along to Franz Ferdinand's "Take Me Out" and Queens of the Stone Age's "No One Knows," and I want to break out my old stringed instruments.

To be clear, no one is going to learn how to play real guitar in "Hero." But there is musical genuineness in "Hero." It reminds me of how violinists who learn music appreciation via the Suzuki method get better at counting rhythm, without learning sheet music.

There are now only a few games that deal with music interactivity. A series for kids is called "Donkey Konga" and "Donkey Konga 2" for Nintendo. They come with bongos. The TV screen shows you when to bang and clap during songs, and your bongos register these sounds, then tell you if you're keeping the meter.

As I've said in previous reviews, "Konga" is potentially fun for kids, and it could serve as a good instructive tool, or at least as diversionary rehearsal, for children who want to take a break from practicing on sheet music.

A newer music game that works like "Guitar Hero" is "Beatmania." It comes with a seven-note keyboard that has a toy, DJ turntable attached to it. Its 50 songs are more adultish — hip-hop, pop and electronic-dance. A song like "Funkytown" spins, and you press keyboard notes and scratch that turntable to make those parts play in the song.

This would be a fantastic game if it weren't for the gargantuan size of the seven keys, which make it bulky. Still, it's pretty fun. And of these three games, it's probably the best at teaching melody rather than rhythm.

What's sweet about all these games is they veer players away from passive, often violent games, for a change of pace. And until you've replicated the notes to David Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust" in your living room, you don't know what you're missing.

("Beatmania" for PS 2 — Plays fun but musically challenging. Looks fine. Challenging. Rated "E 10+" for mild lyrics, suggestive themes. Three stars out of four.)

("Donkey Konga" and "Donkey Konga 2" for Nintendo GCube — Plays fun. Looks fine. Easy to challenging. "Konga" rated "E" for comic mischief; "Konga 2" rated "T" for mild lyrics; Four stars.)

("Guitar Hero" for PlayStation 2 — Plays very fun. Looks fine. Easy to challenging. Rated "T" for mild lyrics. Four stars.)

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