If you were a gamer growing up in the mid-2000’s, there’s no doubt you would have spent a large amount of time unleashing your inner rock-star while handling a plastic guitar. Despite the success of franchises such as Guitar Hero and Rock Band, I now keep an array of plastic instruments cooped up underneath furniture, or crammed into the corner of a room.
If you did happen to miss out on these games, the explanation is quite simple. You hold a plastic instrument and press buttons in synchronisation with the notes that appear on a virtual fretboard. While I may have felt a little silly grappling my over priced, battery-powered plastic guitar, I couldn’t help but enjoy strumming along to some of the biggest rock artists in the world.
My adventures in rhythm gaming began with Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, where my teenage-self strummed joyfully to hits such as AFI’s, ‘Miss Murder,’ The Killers‘, ‘When You Were Young,’ and Weezer‘s, ‘My Name Is Jonas.’ I quickly found that not only were rhythm games a source of entertainment, they also served as a source for discovering new music. Legends of Rock is where most people heard Dragonforce’s epic power piece, ‘Through the Fire and the Flames,’ and is arguably one of the most difficult songs the games ever presented.
“I quickly found that not only were rhythm games a source of entertainment, they also served as a source for discovering new music.”
The fourth instalment in the series, Guitar Hero: World Tour is where cracks in the rhythm genre system arguably began to show. Since Guitar Hero III, the series had been developed by Neversoft and published by Activision. Harmonix subsequently began the Rock Band franchise, to compete with their original title. Rock Band took the rhythm genre to a new level. Not only was the game bundled with the now commonplace guitar peripheral, it now incorporated both a plastic drum kit and microphone. Despite the mass appeal, the add-on peripherals made the games largely over-expensive, a contributing factor to the genre’s downfall.
Being the self-proclaimed purist I was (as well as the fact that teenage me had no money), I avoided these new gameplay methods, sticking solely to my plastic guitar. In the midst of this, both Guitar Hero and Rock Band continued to expand with a myriad of sequel and spin-off games. Activision began capitalising on the popularity of big-name bands, releasing three games in less than three years, based on the careers of Aerosmith, Metallica and Van Halen respectively. Harmonix continued this trend with Rock Band entries based on The Beatles and Green Day.
In 2009, Activision published DJ Hero, which introduced a new member to the plastic instrument family: the turntable. Amongst an array of spin-off titles released that year, the rhythm genre as a whole became victim to immense oversaturation in the market. In fact, 2010 saw a whopping seven titles released under the ‘Hero’ brand, including Guitar Hero 5 and Band Hero. While each game continued to be received warmly, the consistent release of new but largely unchanged games did not appeal to consumers. Sales began to drop. Gamers began to lose interest. Both franchises stood stagnant for some time.
After this extended hiatus both of the series are set to make a grand return to the market later this year, with Guitar Hero Live and Rock Band 4 being treated as full reboots of the series. The former is taking an ultra-realistic approach, claiming to provide the ultimate ‘live’ experience; while the latter will take a ‘back-to-basics’ approach to the genre.
Although I enjoyed my time strumming a piece of plastic in front of a television, I still can’t help but wonder what would have happened had I learnt to play a real guitar…