I’m not sure how many people realize this, but Guitar Hero wasn’t the first fake plastic guitar game. That honor goes to Konami’s GuitarFreaks.
This interview with Bryan Lam, who at the time worked for Red Octane, summarizes:
YVG: How much did Konami drop the ball? Their GuitarFreaks franchise has been around for a long time, but never hit American consoles. Now you guys swoop in and take over the whole genre — essentially making other music games look silly.
BL: It’s just being able to target who your demographic is. I believe [GuitarFreaks] mostly had Asian pop songs. It’s very niche, and doesn’t really translate into who the video game player is in general. Everybody has their own musical taste, but to put your game on the market and have people buy it, you need songs people can relate to or know of. Guitar Hero was able to put in some of the greatest bands of all time, and songs people already knew about. Another big thing is having the guitar peripheral work really well with the game. I can’t say whether or not Konami dropped the ball. They had a great idea, but it’s more being able to capitalize on that opportunity.
The arcade version of GuitarFreaks had two guitars, and they’re quite recognizable by modern fake plastic guitar standards — but they only have three buttons each.
Gameplay seems a little quaint compared to the 5 button guitar we’ve gotten used to from Guitar Hero and onward. However, it had both bass and lead guitar multiplayer mode long before Guitar Hero II did! And the tilt “star power” mechanism is in place as “wailing play”.
Gameplay is similar, but the kick pedal is its own “note”, not the horizontal bar that Rock Band introduced us to.
Neither game was never released in the US, technically. There was a Playstation 2 combo disc containing both DrumMania and GuitarFreaks you could import, which is reviewed here on GameSpot. You’d need the imported drum and guitar peripherals as well.
If an arcade contained both games, and they were the correct versions, you could link them — and play both drums and guitar at the same time.
One of the major selling points of DrumMania is its ability to be linked to another of Konami’s Bemani games, GuitarFreaks. This allows up to 3 players to play together, the music will play from both games, and the players’ guitar and drum sounds will be relayed between the two games as well. Linking only works with the same “version pair”.
Two guitars and a drummer? Shades of Rock Band!
But wait, it gets better — or worse, depending on your perspective. There’s no vocalist, but remember all that talk about a keyboard peripheral? There was a short-lived keyboard arcade game from Konami as well. Its name? You guessed it, KeyboardMania.
Seen only in two releases each of GuitarFreaks and DrumMania, Super Session (or Multi Session) allowed the games to be linked up with Keyboardmania 3rdMIX as well. In addition to having three players control the guitars and drums, two more could be added playing along on keyboards. However, when linked with Keyboardmania, only about a dozen songs are available to play. Keyboardmania 3rd Mix can be linked with GuitarFreaks 5thMIX and DrumMania 4thMIX, or GuitarFreaks 6thMIX and DrumMania 5thMIX.
Did you notice each player gets a 24-key keyboard? TWENTY FOUR BUTTONS! That’s incredible. Gameplay video follows.
Again: holy crap. Playing with a 5 button guitar with a single hand (+ strum) is plenty challenging for me. I can’t imagine using both hands on 12 buttons (keys), that’s easily an order of magnitude more difficult.
It’s a shame that Konami’s response to the popularity of Guitar Hero and Rock Band was the awful Rock Revolution. Between GuitarFreaks, DrumMania and Karaoke Revolution* they basically invented the entire fake plastic rock genre long before Guitar Hero hit the scene in 2005, much less Rock Band in 2007.
But as they say, history is written by the victors.
* (not to mention the Karaoke Revolution titles, which were ironically developed by Harmonix under contract to Konami!)