I remember playing Guitar Hero for the first time on PS2 and being amazed at how accurate it felt to play the guitar. Rocking out to classics like Cowboys from Hell, Godzilla, Ziggy Stardust, and other classic rock songs was like a dream come true. Guitar Hero got me to play the real guitar and actually move on. The feeling of beating your high score on Expert and finally getting through Bark at the Moon on Expert was pulse-pounding and so satisfying. Walking away from that song shaking with my heart pounding was how any game, in general, should make you feel.
Then Guitar Hero II came along at a reasonable time, and I knew it was time to start a new with a whole new set of songs. GH2 proved to be better with more awesome songs and a longer tracklist, plus the addition of DLC when it came to Xbox 360 so what could go wrong? Nothing at that point with Freebird being the end song and proving 10 times more difficult than Bark at the Moon I would need a-whole-nother six months to master this beast. But by the time I got around to that Guitar Hero III was announced with music companies on board and finally giving Harmonix the original songs so I thought nothing could get better. Not only this, but real rock stars were jumping on board with avatars in-game, plus a whole slew of great indie songs.
I felt like I couldn’t keep up at this point because after mastering GH2 I finally got GH3 about 6 months after its release. With the huge price points and the guitars now starting to constantly change I felt the genre was going in the wrong direction aiming toward money and forgetting about letting us breathe and master these games which is what rhythm games were all about. By the time I mastered GH3 a little game called Rock Band was out that added the whole band set and by now my head was spinning because not only did I have to master the guitar, but vocals and drums too? I also had two different band series to master, but I pressed on and picked up my copy about 8 months after release.
Rock Band proved to be the more solid game with a huge downpour of downloadable songs that Activision couldn’t keep up within Guitar Hero III so I stuck with the new guy. Being a natural at drums was something I found out with Rock Band so a few short weeks I was pounding out songs on Expert and Hard with ease while struggling with the weird design of the Rock Band guitar. By now Activision announces Guitar Hero IV and includes the same instrument, but I blew this off for a while.
While completely ignoring the band set I just pick up the game and use the Rock Band drums to realize that the series has gone completely downhill because of the weak song selection and weird design of the whole game. By now I sit at my drum set thinking the whole genre has spiraled out of control…but it’s not done yet. Rock Band 2 comes out and I quickly jump on board feeling grateful that maybe EA has the right idea with RB2 being way better than the first, so by now I have abandoned all hope for Guitar Hero and continue on with RB2 for a couple of years. As the years go on I hear about several Guitar Hero offshoots for Aerosmith, Van Helen, and other weird things that help bring down the beloved series. Guitar Hero 5 comes out and resurrects the series with a solid comeback to the original and leaves the other instruments as options. I finally have faith in the series and enjoy the decent song list. Rock Band finally comes out with a third entry that finally reaches the ultimate goal of the rock rhythm genre: To be able to use a real guitar in the game, but it’s too little too late. With the addition of keyboards and added cymbals on the drums, it feels like the series is just a ghost and fails sales-wise while Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock comes along and completely goes crazy with a big finale for the series because both Activision and Harmonix drop their franchises due to the lack of interest in the series.
In the background, Activision releases DJ Hero to lukewarm acclaim while releasing a sequel, but countless hell spawns such as Rock Revolution and Band Hero continue to kill the genre while the terrible portable versions of these series continue to smear the genre’s name in vain. At this point in time (2008) the genre is just everywhere with Lego Rock Band, Rock Band on PSP, iPhone, Guitar Hero on Java-enabled mobile phones, but while the last of the fireworks are exploding no one is paying attention, and thus the series dies in later 2010.
With all that said and done developers need to learn a lesson that a genre needs to be left alone and approached with caution because you can kill it in a few short years. Will the glory days of the first couple of Guitar Heroes ever come again? Probably not, but in the meantime take that guitar or drum set from the closet, dust it off, and rock out to your favorite tunes because what is here is all that will be here. We are now in the post-apocalyptic wasteland of the rhythm genre, so long live the king.