Gitaroo Man Lives! (PSP) review
"Now that you can shred through your favorite tunes with a plastic guitar controller, the idea of using face buttons and analog sticks to keep the beat must seem antiquated. As the handheld remake of a 2002 PS2 cult classic, Gitaroo Man Lives! hopes youíre in need of such a blast from the past. But this game is about more than learning the rhythm of a few songs. Itís a story of a young man stuck with the strange name of U-1, as he rises from a wimpy doormat to an intergalactic savior. ..."
Now that you can shred through your favorite tunes with a plastic guitar controller, the idea of using face buttons and analog sticks to keep the beat must seem antiquated. As the handheld remake of a 2002 PS2 cult classic, Gitaroo Man Lives! hopes youíre in need of such a blast from the past. But this game is about more than learning the rhythm of a few songs. Itís a story of a young man stuck with the strange name of U-1, as he rises from a wimpy doormat to an intergalactic savior. Each strain he strums is a perilous battle for survival. With GML!, itís time to make a real guitar hero.
Ten songs must be cleared to accomplish that feat. During each one, your focus will be on a little blue dot sitting in the center of the screen; it rules the two forms of playing the gitaroo. In the defensive phase, an opponentís attacks fly in along this pointís vertical and horizontal axes. Each direction corresponds to one of the four face buttons, and damage is deflected by pressing when the attack is centered on the blue dot. This keeps U-1's life bar steady, but he must also deplete the enemyís energy and replenish his own to emerge victorious. In attack and charge modes, a trace line flows to the origin, but it can come from any angle. The analog nub has to be continually pushed in the direction of this lineís approach. At the same time, bars appear along the trace line that designate the guitarís part in the music, and holding and releasing a face button as the bar begins and ends sounds out the harmony. The modes will flip several times during each song, and seamlessly transitioning between the two is quite a challenge.
The latter style of gameplay makes a surprisingly authentic connection to the guitar arrangements. The trace line winds around as the notes change, veering off suddenly as the pitch bends or slides. A new bar comes with every note, and it gets extremely hectic with intricate picking sections. The manual actually advises laying the PSP on a flat surface during play in order to free up all your fingers to follow the rhythm. The major problem with these control schemes, though, is accuracy. The idea is that the buttons must be depressed exactly as the target is aligned with the blue dot. Absolute perfection is required for a high performance grade, but the interface of lines, bars, and circles make it difficult to perceive that degree of precision. Even in beating a stage without any mistakes, itís hard to feel as though youíve done that well.
Itís a small cloud hanging over everything else that is great and unique about Gitaroo Man Lives!. The predominantly instrumental music, composed by a duo know as COIL, jumps between diverse genres. The game starts off with the thrashing power cords that signify traditional hard rock. Then it quickly shifts to high-strung electronic pop, and just as coolly swerves to low-key lyrics and slower tempo of reggae. Thereís even a sweet acoustic lullaby, and its gentle strumming charms a pretty girl to nap on U-1's shoulder.
Rocking a cutie to sleep is by far the most benign challenge found in this title, however. Worlds arenít saved with soothing melodies alone. The moment our heroís dog presents him with a mystical guitar, U-1's quest begins. In order to save the planet Gitaroo, U-1 must acquire the power and assume the mantle of the legendary Gitaroo Man. Standing in his way are the wicked Gravalians, a spectacular group of enemies who want the mastery of the gitaroo for themselves. One is a funky brutha sporting a giant fro and white disco suit, accentuated by a giant bee costume. Another is a waifish glamour boy with long silvery hair and the chops of an opera singer; his voice resonates throughout the gothic cathedral he inhabits. Thereís also a trio of skeletons who strike their ribs like a marimba, banging out Latin beats while U-1's part provides a mariachi feel.
Thatís the kind of crazy, wonderful world Gitaroo Man Lives! inhabits, and its energy must be tough to create. Maybe thatís why the game is so short. With the number of songs and levels barely breaking double-digits, the single-player campaign simply canít last more than a few hours of play. There is an unlockable Master Mode that requires you to cover a lot more notes, and conquering its greatly increased demands will take a ton of additional time. But it hurts that the game doesnít have more difficulty settings inbetween that would offer greater variations on the gameplay choreography. The ad hoc multiplay functions, versus and duet, provide a little of this because you get to perform sequences usually reserved for enemy. As your partner or opponent can be either human or the CPU, these modes are accessible to anyone. Thatís particularly important, since the duet mode features two songs not found in the original or single-player game.
Ultimately, though, the limited playlist wears out all the options in Gitaroo Man Lives!. Even with characters and surroundings that are colorful, detailed, and a little insane. Even with gameplay mechanics that are uniquely authentic. Even with a soundtrack that is high-spirited and distinct, you can only listen to the same songs so many times in a row. Any recommendation for Gitaroo Man Lives! has to include this major qualifier.
Community review by woodhouse (August 04, 2007)
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