Guitar Hero II

For XBox

SIDEBAR: was redesigned and re-launched on November 28, 2007. As a result, this page was updated and released as a Hands On Review of Guitar Hero For XBox. I encourage you to take a look.

You can alco click here to visit the new Home Page, then look at the navigation bar on the left side of the page for all of the lessons.

If you can't play guitar, but love to play video games, can Guitar Hero II help you learn?

If you can't play video games, but love to play guitar, is this your opportunity to finally blow your friends away?

SIDEBAR: My version of Guitar Hero II is for the Xbox 360, but other versions should be mostly the same.

The folks at Harmonix Music Systems, developers of Guitar Hero and other music oriented video games, combine a series of familiar rock songs with progressively challengine play-along action, to create a video game that you literally don't want to put down.

The XBox version includes a nearly full-sized plastic guitar known as the X-Plorer Guitar Controller. Based loosely on the Gibson X-Plorer guitar, this one is made for a right handed player, but I've seen lefties flip it upside down and not miss a beat. Though made of plastic, it seems to hold up even under energized game play.

The basic idea is to press one of five color-coded buttons with your left hand (like fretting a guitar) while simultaneously pressing on a bar with your right hand (to simulate plucking or strumming). In addition, there is a useful whammy bar for racking up additional points, if you dare. Remarkably, when you operate the whammy bar the soundtrack responds!

When game play begins you're presented with a sort of moving fretboard. Notes are represented by colored circles. As each note reaches the bottom of the screen (just in time to play along with the song) you must press the matching color button and strum the guitar. Sometimes a note has a bar attached to it, indicating a held note. It's during these held notes that you squeeze in the whammy bar action for increased points. If you miss a note, the solo momentarily stops. Miss too many and your power gauge drops to red. If it stays red, you fail the gig.

It helps to know the songs since the game acurately reproduces the timing of the original recording. Downbeats, upbeats, fast-riffs, they're all here. Of course, your first songs require simplified playback of single notes. Later, you'll be challenged by more complete patterns that include simulataneous note play.

To play, you select one of three play modes: Career Mode, Practice Mode, or Quick Play. You can also play along with a friend. You simply need to decide who the the rock hero is, and who will play bass or accompaniement.

You can jump right to Quick Play or Career Mode, but if you begin in Practice Mode, you'll experience less frustration as you get used to coordinating screen-play with using the X-Plorer Guitar Controller.

If you use XBox Live you can download additional songs for your game.

The question I get asked most is, "Is it anything like playing a real guitar?" The answer is, "Yes, and no."

Yes: It demands that you stay in time with a song, so it can help your timing. You have to coordinate your left and right hands to succeed, just like the real thing. You learn to keep going even if you miss a note or two, or you'll fail (many beginners stop when they miss a beat, they need to learn to keep going). If you're good, you get your place in the limelight (well, at least in your own home).

No: You're not going to play a real guitar just by mastering Guitar Hero II. The fretboard is too simple and (face it) you're not really playing guitar, you're pressing buttons (sort of how Dance-Dance-Revolution won't really teach you have to dance).

In addition to the original Guitar Hero, and it's updated sequel Guitar Hero II, Harmonix Music Systems develops a line of music oriented games. Guitar Hero II is distributed by RedOctane, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Activision, Inc.

Guitar Hero II costs about $90.

Return from Guitar Hero II Review to Home Page