Given Activision's love of releasing ten billion Guitar Hero games a month, it's somewhat surprising that the evil publisher has taken so long to wrap its tendrils around iTunes. Titles like Tap Tap Revenge have already demonstrated a healthy portable music game market, while rivals such as Rock Band and Guitar Rock Tour have already settled into the market.
Still, better late than never. Guitar Hero has finally stamped its boot into the iTunes market, with a little help from Vicarious Visions. The question, of course, is how well Guitar Hero translates to the iPhone, and how does it compare to the music games already available to Apple thralls? Well, that's what this review is for, stupid!
Guitar Hero (iPhone)
Developer: Vicarious Visions
Released: June 7, 2010
From the outset, Guitar Hero doesn't deviate from the well worn path, featuring a setup familiar to those who have played Rock Band or Guitar Rock Tour. Notes fall down the screen in typical Guitar Hero fashion, while the player taps the "buttons" at the bottom when notes align. Fundamentally, it's nothing that hasn't been done before, but the implementation is what makes Guitar Hero stand out.
For a start, Guitar Hero works better than either Rock Band or Guitar Rock Tour do on the touch screen. In those prior games, I always felt the interface wasn't responsive enough, and it was very easy to miss notes or play the wrong ones due to how bunched together the interactive parts of the screen felt. While Guitar Hero looks no different from those other games, the interface feels much more responsive and efficient. Unlike Rock Band, where it was easy to mess up notes with a misplaced finger, Guitar Hero seems to clearly interpret the borders between its "buttons" and make sure that the area you want to tap is the area that works.
Guitar Hero spices things up a bit with a "strum" gimmick designed for the iPhone's touch screen. Simply put, it's a case of touching a note and then sliding to the left or right while keeping the finger held down. It's a very simple thing, but it does enough to change the way the game feels, especially when your fingers are slaloming across the iPhone during a particularly tricky solo. Star Power also makes its obligatory appearance, and its activation requires the pressing of a bar just above the note "buttons". The only problem with the Star Power is the fact that getting a breather between notes to activate it can be tricky, although it's far easier to use than Guitar Rock Tour's version, which stuck it far away from the notes.
To keep things interesting, the game also has a set of challenges (Achievements, basically) and a rank progression system, which are used to unlock various costumes and items so players can customize their avatars. Community leaderboards and Facebook integration are also thrown in to keep competitive players interested.
As you'll notice, Guitar Hero is currently $2.99 on iTunes, which may strike you are very cheap for an Activision game. That's because you're essentially buying a platform as opposed to a fully fledged title. The standalone package only provides you with six songs for the money, while further song packs can be bought for $1.99 apiece. Essentially, it's a fiendishly clever way to ensure people get into the game for a pittance, but keep paying into it in order to extend the initial experience. Like a crack dealer, ostensibly. It's actually not too shabby an idea, either. For $2.99, you get what essentially amounts to two song packs, and you can expand the library at your leisure. Some may dislike the business model, but I happen to enjoy it.
Despite being a really well put together game, Guitar Hero does suffer from an unfortunate slowdown bug at the moment. The game can randomly dip in its framerate and everything onscreen begins to stutter, which of course is no good for a game where timing and precision is important. It's not a huge issue since it appears infrequently and only temporarily, but some people may wish to wait for an update before jumping in.
That one issue aside, Guitar Hero is quite possibly the best music game of this nature on the iPhone. With a nice variety of starter songs, a solid interface, and a great aesthetic, not to mention extra challenges and avatar customization, Guitar Hero for the iPhone is a great little music game, and worthy of your attention.
Score: 8.0 -- Great (8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.)
Review written by: Jim Sterling