Guitar Hero has had a great run so far, going from quirky unknown to must-have gaming in less than two years. Released back in early November 2005, it took a mere two months to become a gaming phenomenon, and Guitar Hero II only upped the quality and popularity. The series is still well under two years old, however, and now Guitar Hero Encore Rocks the 80s has shown up to make us wonder if a little restraint wouldn't be a bad idea.
It's not that the new game sucks or anything. Far from it. If you've never played a Guitar Hero before you're in for a real treat. Almost all the reasons to love Guitar Hero are intact, from the instantly rewarding gameplay to the ridiculously fun multiplayer. The song list has a good variety of 80s tunes ranging from Turning Japanese, to the odd choice of the 70s version of Ballroom Blitz, to (Whadda you wanna do with your life!?) I Wanna Rock. The note patterns in some of the easier songs are a bit repetitious, but once Guitar Hero gets rolling it's as challenging as ever. I'd like to say it's as rewarding too, but over-familiarity is starting to take its toll.
It's a lot of (very familiar) fun, but like an overpriced concert t-shirt, there's no escaping the feeling that it's not quite the value it looked when enthusiasm had free reign over your wallet,
GH80s has two big issues. First off, this obviously should be viewed as an expansion pack, but it's priced at the full $50, and therefore must be viewed as a full-fledged sequel. It features the exact same arenas from Guitar Hero II, slightly made over in an 80s style. With fewer guitarists to choose from and not a single bonus track outside the Career mode's 30 songs, you're left wondering who's getting a stylin' new money-hat out of this. Honestly, I could live with the cheap facelift and missing guitarists, but the lack of some great 80s indie rock bonus songs is inexcusable. Was Peter and the Test Tube Babies's back catalog too expensive?
The second problem is one that can affect any quickly-released sequel, the dreaded disease of Maddenitis. Getting new songs for Guitar Hero should be a wondrous thing, but three full-fledged games (and a fourth on the way) in under two years is a whole lot of guitaring. Obviously, this is something that will hit different players to varying degrees, but personally I'm finding an unwelcome sense of apathy setting in. Combine the number of games in a relatively short span of time with the quick & dirty song swap, and it's far too easy to get jaded over something that should be special.
Other than those little details casting their dark and unpleasant shadow over the joy of Guitar Hero, GH80s is a big fat load of fun. Tearing through a song, whether it's an "as made famous by" cover version or "performed by" original, is a guaranteed good time that's only made better when multiplayer is added. Like the single player game, multiplayer is identical to Guitar Hero II's, but the competitive and co-op play was just about perfect so no complaints there.
Honestly, the only real problem with Guitar Hero Encore Rocks the 80s is that it's not priced as an expansion pack, so has to be judged by the harsher measures demanded by its $50 price tag. At $30 this would earn the full 5-star rating of its two predecessors, but the lack of content and cheap GHII facelift just don't warrant it. It's a lot of (very familiar) fun, but like an overpriced concert t-shirt, there's no escaping the feeling that it's not quite the value it looked when enthusiasm had free reign over your wallet.