Guitar Hero II is a game that’s been released on both PlayStation and Xbox 360 but this review is based on the Xbox 360 version, using the guitar controller. But even calling Guitar Hero II a ‘game’ seems a little misleading – with a dedicated controller that looks almost like a real one and game play that gently but surely teaches you the mechanics of playing a real-life guitar, Guitar Hero II is almost a simulation of the real thing. But it’s a simulation built for the whole family and is as simple for an 8-year old to pick up as for an 80-year-old.
The basic challenge in Guitar Hero II is to strum along in time to the musical tracks that you’re presented with onscreen. You do this on the game’s guitar controller by selecting a ‘fret button’ with your left hand, mimicking the way you’d hold down a selection of strings on the neck of an actual guitar, then hit the ‘strum’ lever on the main body of the controller at the right point in the music. The buttons on the guitar controller and the corresponding points for hitting the notes shown on screen are colour coded to help with this and, at least at first, the game lowers you gently into the challenge so you’re not overwhelmed, only giving you a couple of fret buttons to worry about to achieve success. It’s like being lowered gently into a swimming pool, nice and easy, and a great feeling when you nail your first song.
And, just like that swimming pool, the experience that Guitar Hero II can bring you once you’ve gained a bit of confidence and dive on in, is incredibly immersive. There’s a nice set of tutorial videos in one section of the game that’ll take you right from the basics outlined above to much more advanced techniques that introduce the whammy bar as well as, excitingly, even rocking the guitar itself all over the place to give you both a load of bonus points and a warm, fuzzy glow of satisfaction that’ll put a smile on your face and make you feel like a rock god. Once you’ve got those all worked out, you can work your way through some of the superb tracks in the game and, as you get more proficient, choose the songs that will test your newfound talents a bit more.
And that’s really the sweetest thing about Guitar Hero II – it’s a huge amount of fun and it makes you feel great. Not something you could easily say about watching the latest episode of Neighbours or Gray’s Anatomy! But get this game and you’ll appreciate some of the greatest things about videogames – at their best, they can be fun, sociable experiences that can actually make you think or, better still, teach you something. And if you’ve got a peewee budding musician in your household, Guitar Hero II could very well be the best way of kicking off his or her star-studded path to musical glory – in our house, Guitar Hero II enthused our 10-year old so much, we went from playing this game as a family to visiting the local musical store to buy him a real acoustic guitar for his birthday!