March 8, 2009

10 Things Guitar Hero World Tour Gets Right

While I love fake plastic rock in all its forms, I’ve been sort of underwhelmed with Guitar Hero: World Tour. I dutifully bought the full band kit on launch day, of course, and it’s a solid fake plastic rock game, certainly a worthy way to bring the Guitar Hero series into the full band experience. I do boot it up every now and then to check out any unique downloadable songs, but that’s about it. After completing the (lackluster) band campaign, I just haven’t felt compelled to play Guitar Hero: World Tour when Rock Band 2 offers a better experience in so many ways.

There is a lot to criticize about GH:WT. It’s maddening. I often wonder why they failed to copy the good stuff from Rock Band 1, much less the improvements in Rock Band 2. But rather than pile on criticisms of GH:WT (you can read dozens of mostly positive reviews for that), I thought I’d list ten things Guitar Hero: World Tour gets right.

  1. Addition of the open bass note on bass guitar.

    An open note is a strum with no buttons held, signified by the purple line on the note chart. It’s similar to the way a purple line indicates kick pedal on drums. It’s fantastic to see Neversoft innovating on bass, which is not exactly the most glamorous of instruments. This may not sound like much, but the slightly upped complexity of an additional “no buttons” strum in the charts makes bass guitar much more fun to play. And given how boring bass guitar can be on some songs, this takes bass guitar from “meh”, to “sorta fun” on those tracks. This is the one feature from GH:WT that I most wish was in Rock Band. But I’m not holding my breath, as they’d have to re-chart every song..

  2. Relaxed note chart timings.

    The ultra-loose (some would even say “sloppy”) note timing first seen in Guitar Hero III is carried forward to GH:WT. This isn’t new, per se, but I have to say that the loose timing does make playing guitar a bit more fun… while feeling sloppy some of the time. I think the ideal guitar timings would be a mixture of both GH:WT and Rock Band2. I’d like tight (RB2) on “normal” sections of songs, and loose (GH:WT) on “solo” sections. Another pipe dream, probably. But a man’s gotta dream.

  3. Heavy drum notes.

    Some notes on the drum chart are “armored”, indicating you can hit them extra hard for a small score bonus. These usually correlate with places in the song where the drummer actually did hit the actual drum or cymbal with more force. It’s a neat (and totally optional) way to make the new drum pressure sensitivity a part of the game, in a musically meaningful way.

  4. Fake plastic cymbals.

    Although I have some serious issues with the layout of the GH:WT drumkit, the inclusion of cymbals was genius. You can’t understand how much of drumming is cymbals — or how playing drums means moving in three dimensions, not two — until you have to actually play them! So, kudos to the GH:WT team for making cymbals a first class part of the fake plastic rock drum experience. (oh, and if you have a RB2 kit, do not pass go, do not collect $200, go directly to the store and buy the official add-on cymbals for the RB2 kit! It’s a night and day difference.)

  5. Sustain notes in the drum chart.

    There are occasionally sustain notes, analogous to the held notes on guitar, where you play the same pad or cymbal rapidly to “sustain” the sound. Rare, and minor, but it does follow what the song is doing musically and it’s interesting.

  6. Bridged chords on guitar.

    Rock Band 2 has something similar to this in multi-button (chord) hammer-ons and pull-offs; the difference here is that the chord starts on one button, then brings in one or two more buttons over time. It’s essentially just a chord hammer-on that visually shows you the progression from button to button. I’m still getting used to this, but I like it.

  7. Purple rope connecting rapid solo notes.

    This is intended to help you use the sliding touchpad on the GH:WT guitar to play these sections. I love the GH:WT guitar, but the touchpad is kind of a bust, honestly; it’s too fiddly and analog to be accurate. Still, even when playing solos using the regular guitar buttons, the purple wire connecting the notes does help because it gives you an indication which way your fingers should be moving to play that rapid sequence of notes. It’s a nice innovation.

  8. Countdown on un-pause.

    When you un-pause the game, there’s a 5 second countdown with the note tracks visible, so you can reorient yourself and begin playing again without missing 20 notes in a row. Awesome! Why hasn’t it always been done this way, in every fake plastic rock game, ever? This is a small but important victory for a game with a user interface that feels like it’s actively out to get me in every other possible way.

  9. Skipping failed songs in a setlist.

    There’s no direct analog to any of the Rock Band 2 tour career in GH:WT, per se. But when playing custom setlists, you can skip songs in the setlist that you fail, with no penalty! One of the most requested RB features is to skip failed songs in a career set (perhaps with some penalty) without failing the whole thing.

  10. Variable note chart scroll speeds in multiplayer.

    If one player is on “Easy” and another player is on “Expert”, their note charts will scroll independently at the easy (slow) and expert (fast!) speeds. For some reason in Rock Band all note charts scroll at the speed of the lowest skill level, which can be kind of aggravating for players who are used to the scroll speed of their preferred difficulty level. Scrolling at the correct, different speeds for each player, as GH:WT does it, seems far more logical. Sort of a head-scratcher why they didn’t do this in RB.

So, there you have it. Ten things I really like about Guitar Hero: World Tour. I’ll spare you the list of things I dislike; I’m not sure I have time to write a blog entry that long. :)

Here’s hoping they continue to improve the platform with each new release this year — GH: Metallica, Guitar Hero Greatest Hits, GH: Van Halen, and of course the inevitable Guitar Hero: World Tour 2.

Good points – even if most of them are totally peripheral to the experience. You could have included certain awesome tracks like Beat It and Hotel California – although this is subjective due to music tastes. Not to mention that it’s not impossible that we might see these songs in Rock Band as DLC.

March 14, 2009 at 7:30 am

One more thing I forgot to include:

** streak count and detailed post-song statistics

I’m ambivalent about streak count, since it’s just more visual clutter on the screen and most players don’t care. But the “hot start” and “200 combo” alerts are sort of fun, if relatively pointless.

The GH2 style detailed post-song statistics, though, are a no brainer.. It’s convenient to see which sections of the song you struggled with so you can practice them later! And it’s eminently skippable for everyone else, so it doesn’t add any clutter to the UI.

Jeff Atwood
March 29, 2009 at 5:23 pm

In regards to the purple lines – besides visual effects they actually does more than that:

1. It means you can use the slider to hit the notes, when there’s no purple lines the slider actually works like a whammy (wah wah effect) / strum-bar combo

2. All the notes connected on purple notes are hammer-ons / pull-offs – with one twist. If you fail a note midway through, there’s no need to sturm to catch back up – simply “hammer on” the next colour to start playing again (be it on the slider or the regular colour buttons). This makes practicing tapping sooo much easier.

I gotta say though, you hit all these points right, but I, as well as you it seems, prefer RB2 much much more as well, although I feel that RB2 lacks a proper hyperspeed (read: several levels of their breakneck speed).

May 19, 2009 at 11:59 am

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