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Guitar Hero

Published December 5, 2005

Company: RedOctane

System: PlayStation 2

Price: $69.99 with guitar

Rating: T

Grade: A

There's a central aspect of video games that's simultaneously acknowledged and ignored: They can do anything.

Everyone who plays video games knows this intuitively. Getting to make zombies' heads go splat or nurture a civilization is why games can be so fun and enchanting. But every umpteenth football sequel and kill-the-dragon role-playing game leaves video games' potential untapped.

Guitar Hero is the rare game that reminds you of the medium's limitless possibilities. And it rocks. Hard.

The premise is simple. You get a mini plastic Gibson SG guitar, and while songs play you press colored buttons on the neck as a circle of corresponding color reaches the bottom of the screen.

On the easier settings and songs, you only have to press one button at a time while "strumming." As the difficulty increases, more buttons and chords come into play. You can hammer on and pull off like on a real guitar - and you'll need to, to get through a Jimi Hendrix solo on Spanish Castle Magic .

All of this makes for an incredibly realistic guitar simulator. And if some people are too scared or tone deaf to fulfill their karaoke dreams, who doesn't want to be Tom Morello of Audioslave or Eric Clapton?

I've had about 10 people try out Guitar Hero - some gamers or musicians, some not - and everyone has gotten this goofy smile by the middle of the second song. It's an I-can't-believe-I'm-actually-rocking-out smile. (Only half of them struck killer rock poses, though.)

With 30 big-name, high-quality covers (as old as Cream's Crossroads and as new as Franz Ferdinand's Take Me Out ) and a bunch of indie unlockables, there's plenty to make rock newbies and aficionados alike grin. Even the loading screens are fun, referencing Nigel Tufnel's goes-to-11 amp from This Is Spinal Tap and mocking drummers.

Play this with your nephew and niece to introduce them to some real rock. Play it with the uncle who introduced you to Ziggy Stardust . Show a skeptical colleague that video games aren't just for kids and nerds.

This is the right way to expand the gaming audience. Show people there's more to gaming than upgrading chain mail and 32-player online death matches, and they'll be more likely to pick up the guitar controller - and then a regular one. Show them games can be fun to play in groups, even if only one or two people can go at a time, and they'll start to rethink their notions of video games.

And if Guitar Hero 2 lets them play Stairway to Heaven ? They'll be gamers for life.

[Last modified December 5, 2005, 03:00:29]

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