When evaluating a new Guitar Hero — or any music-related game — it helps to picture a Venn Diagram consisting of three circles: "Good Songs," "Challenging Songs," and "Songs that are fun to play on plastic instruments." The point where all three circles overlap will ultimately determine whether or not the game is worthy — hopefully, the overlap will include more than half of the entire tracklist. And if there are more than a handful of songs that fall into none of those circles — songs that would be plotted outside of the chart altogether — then something is wrong.
|Guitar Hero: Smash Hits | For Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, PlayStation 3 And PlayStation 2 | Rated T for Teen | Developed by Beenox | Published by Red Octane|
After applying this test to Guitar Hero: Smash Hits, it can be said: GH:SH is an acceptable entry into the GH catalog, even though it brings nothing new to the table. As the name sort-of implies, GH: SH is the gaming equivalent of a "best of." All the songs here have appeared in previous GH games; they're being re-released so that gamers can now experience them in full-band form. These are the original masters of these songs as opposed to the cover versions that dominated the first two Guitar Hero games. Beenox has recharted the guitar parts. But these are still songs you've strummed through before (except for the songs from Guitar Hero Rocks the 80s; nobody played that game). It seems like an odd idea, but it works for those of us who want to wail on "Free Bird" again without having to remove our previous consoles from storage, to say nothing of those who've always wanted to bash along to the punishing drums in Helmet's "Unsung," or do their best imitation of Ozzy on "Bark at the Moon."
Play-wise, Smash Hits is a carbon copy of Guitar Hero: World Tour, meaning the timing is looser than Rock Band's metronomic precision, and the musicality is a hair off as well. The Beenox team's approach to note-charting seems to be "when in doubt, add a third note to that chord!" — but at least it feels as though someone who has picked up a real Gibson Epiphone in the past five years worked on this game (which was more than I could say for GHIII). It's possible I'd never be aware of these things if I had never played Rock Band, but for those of us who have, the difference is noticeable. Compounding this problem: a good chunk of these songs have shown up in Rock Band already.
Beenox continues what Neversoft started two years ago by prioritizing difficulty over musical fidelity. In the past, that's the sort of thing I would have scolded them for, but now I think there's some value in this approach — after all, if both games were identical, there'd be no point for them both to exist. Beenox has figured out how to make each song strenuous and challenging without provoking the despair and plastic-instrument-breaking frustration levels of GHIII. Think of it as "Guitar Hero: Championship Edition"; the designers were wise to unlock every song at the beginning of the game, giving you the option of starting with the tough stuff immediately.
It all comes back to that Venn Diagram. By my count, more than half of the songs fit into at least two of those categories, and the bad, boring songs (like Aerosmith's meandering "Back in the Saddle") can be ignored. Not bad at all.