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Gitaroo-Man (PlayStation 2) artwork

Gitaroo-Man (PlayStation 2) review

"At the garish title screen, a woman’s voice can be heard. "

At the garish title screen, a woman’s voice can be heard.

“AHHHHH….GITAAROOOOO MAAANN,” she moans orgasmically.

You may very well have the same reaction.

Gitaroo Man thrashes, shreds, jams, wails, and rocks its way to legendary status. But most importantly, it rocks its way into your heart. As an air guitar virtuoso, I’m especially attuned to such things, but anyone can appreciate the mile-a-minute thrills and wild ass feats of musical machismo this game has to offer. Koei, a company known for sprawling military strategy, has delivered a very brief adventure that may be their magnum opus.

A cornball romance, a hilarious buddy comedy, a stunning sci-fi caper, a white-knuckle melodic extravaganza: Gitaroo Man does it all with confidence, synthesizing the best elements of its peers, the great musical games of years previous. The adorable storytelling, cartoon visuals, and unforgettable songwriting of Parappa the Rapper; the brutal reflex challenges and dangerously addictive draw of Frequency; the blindingly colorful aesthetic of both.

Gitaroo Man is indeed a fearsome intergalactic superhero, a courageous, steel-willed protagonist if there ever was one, but the greatest heroes have alter egos who face the trials of everyday life, and the G-Man is no exception. Spiderman is Peter Parker. Superman is Clark Kent. Gitaroo Man is U-1. Say his name out loud and you may think he’s a born winner, but U-1 is just a normal guy with normal problems. Or rather, he’s a wimpy guy with really wimpy problems. He speaks in sputtering, incomplete sentences, shies away from the girl he has a painful crush on, and frequently gets rocked by rival sk8r boiz.

U-1 may be an unlikely galactic savior, but his lineage portends great things. The woman who announces Gitaroo Man’s entrance also chimes in when her favorite hero lays an adversary low: “YOOOOOUUU WOOONN!” she squeals with delight. Don’t lose sight of the pun--U-1 is the hero here, and his quest for self-confidence is the beating heart of this adventure.

One day U-1’s dog and best friend, Puma, reveals that he is not a dog. Puma is, in fact, an armor-plated alien, keeper of the Last Legendary Gitaroo and guardian of the True Gitaroo Man!

The Gitaroo is your weapon against evil, injustice, and second-rate thrashers throughout the galaxy. Your foes have Gitaroos as well, but yours is undeniably the king: a fearsome futuristic guitar with a neon array of buttons for frets and a crystalline orb for strings that blasts forth energy fields, lightning bolts, and the meanest licks this side of Planet Gitaroo. The only way to conquer another Gitaroo wielder and absorb his (or her) power is a duel to the death. The loser is shredded into oblivion

During each confrontation, all sorts of visual chicanery will unfold in the background--Gitaroo Man will dish out attacks, the bad guys will summon their minions-- but you should really keep your eyes on the tiny blue dot in the center of the screen. A line peppered with orange nodes snakes its way toward the blue dot, and the goal is to tilt the analog stick in the same direction as the line while pressing any face button when a node passes over the blue dot. It’s intuitive, easy to learn, and pleasantly analogous to playing a guitar. The combination of thumbstick maneuvering and button mashing is a simplified but similar tactile sensation to working the frets and strumming the strings. There’s nothing more satisfying than nailing a killer riff and nothing more frustrating than biffing the last note and hearing the music suddenly die.

This rewarding system could have been wasted on unmemorable songs--any musical game lives or dies by (surprise!) its music--but Gitaroo Man is a genre spanning masterpiece with scarcely a dud to be found. The rollercoaster ride from synth pop to jazz to reggae to slow jam to mariachi to rock opera to power ballad never lets up. The songs are catchy and memorable, and the kicker is the amazing unity in which the player is immersed in those songs.

An early confrontation throws Gitaroo Man in the middle of an alien invasion set to an insanely infectious J-pop number. An army of flying saucers with some fierce choreographed dance moves hover over a fluffy pastel city, shocking innocent bystanders with pink electricity that forces the victims to shake it like there’s no tomorrow. The Gitaroo takes on a low, synthesized sound, and the short, punchy notes provide perfect accompaniment to the vibrant vocals. It all comes together.

As the game progresses and the climax approaches, the settings become appropriately epic. Imagine a neoclassical shred fest in a Gothic cathedral that seems abandoned, until its owner makes his presence known with a ghastly falsetto shriek. It's Gregorio III, a vain, androgynous glam rock superstar with a meticulously color-coordinated outfit. You provide the blinding arpeggios and screaming bends and he’ll bring the piercing vocals and unruly organ. Things quickly heat up when Gregorio summons an eerie choir of stone-faced angels and the walls begin pulsing with supernatural energy. The only option is unleash wicked solo after wicked solo.

In between all this galaxy defending, you’ll even find time to …get romantic?! Oh, fuck yes. As plain old U-1, working it out on his plain old acoustic, you’ve got to win a woman’s heart with a touching love ballad in front of a warm fireplace and behind a romantic sunset. Succeed, and she’ll fall asleep in your arms. This is the Gitaroo Man’s real capper: the nutty but heartwarming storytelling.

There are goofy touches, like Gitaroo Man’s back up band of little kids in animal costumes and bizarre manga interludes with broken English subtitles.

There are operatic confrontations, like a hard rocking Gitaroo battle to the death in an arena brimming with screaming fans against a very surprising foe. The robust multiplayer will also set the stage for many a classic duel.

There are intense challenges: forget the normal difficulty! The maddening Master’s Mode is the true, unforgiving test of excellence. After only a week of struggle, my Gitaroo brothers-in-arms and I discovered that the stretch of muscle from our thumbs to our forearms had become rock hard.

This is a priceless experience, and it all comes together with pure heart. U-1’s coming of age, his learning to believe in himself, is a story that’s been told countless times. But Gitaroo Man sells itself with such ridiculous flair and confidence that it’s almost impossible to resist. This short game has enough life and vigor for a dozen expansive epics--in its concentrated form, Gitaroo Man is a knockout.


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Community review by careless_whisper (May 05, 2005)

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