Posted by: smirkdirk | October 17, 2009

Some Thoughts On “Guitar Hero Van Halen”

3 1/2 out of 5 cookies – Some really good stuff but its got issues.

So a week ago this game came in the mail in a little cardboard sleeve. I didn’t have much hope for it since it was free with Guitar Hero 5. All you had to do was send out some paperwork after purchasing the game and, like magic, a few weeks later it appears in your mailbox.

But guess what? I like it – a lot! In fact, as far as music games focused on one particular band go – GH Aerosmith, GH Metallica, and Rock Band Beatles – this pretty much holds its own against them.

Make no mistake, there really is no plot or progression through the actual career of Van Halen like there is in the other games – its just the songs in different venues with the likenesses of the band (sans Michael Anthony since they’re currently shunning him)

Sidenote: Besides being all right at playing their respective instruments, that’s what the two Van Halen brothers do best – shun, shun, shun, former members until its in their financial interest to not shun – and then the shunning stops. Although, neither Eddie nor Alex guarantee the shunning won’t start right up again once they have no reason to not shun. Currently Michael Anthony and Sammy Hagar are being shunned, while David Lee Roth gets to bask in Guitar Hero glory with the brothers. I do predict that soon Sammy Hagar will be de-shunned maybe just in time for maybe GH Van Halen Part 2, at which point the Roth shunning will resume. We’ll see.

Anyway, yeah, Michael Anthony has been replaced by Eddie Van Halen’s chubster son and so you play a ton of Roth era Van Halen tunes which really work well with the whole Guitar Hero concept. Better, I dare say, then any of the other games mentioned above. Metallica? Most of the stuff is just too hard and halfway through the game it becomes clear that it was made for hardcore Guitar Hero fans who will soon have carpal tunnel syndrome. Not to mention that 75% of the songs are depressing as hell so after an hour or so with the game you find yourself either extremely angry or dangerously listless and sad depending on your chosen tracklist. The Beatles game has the opposite problem. Its too easy. After all, the point of music games is to give the player the illusion of playing an instrument, the vicarious thrill of being a pretend musician. Although there’s a lot to love about The Beatles game, the illusion of being a Beatle never truly achieves lift off. For a lot of the songs you just sorta feel like a dork pushing buttons. Aerosmith? This one had a lot of potential, but whoever chose the track list really blew it. A ton of their hits are missing and a ton of songs nobody but the most hardcore Aerosmith fans know are included – which may be why you can pick it up for an embarrassing $9.99 right now if you know where to look.

So where does Van Halen outshine these other games? As I said, since the whole point of Guitar Hero games is to simulate actually playing guitar – Van Halen tends accomplishes this quite well. “Pretty Woman/Intruder” is a perfect example of this, as the fingering of the five buttons really emulates the playing of the chords.

The playlist itself, which includes every major and minor hit from the Roth years, comes through as a celebration of happiness and life – ersatz life. These songs are happy as hell. They’re all about partying, and pretty girls, and rockin’. Let’s make no mistake about it – Roth’s Van Halen was philosophically-speaking pretty shallow. Pair that with playing video games which can be a pretty shallow past time and you have a marriage made in music game heaven. They were made for each other. “Beautiful Girls”, “Dance the Night Away”, “Ice Cream Man” – this is fun stuff!

The game is pretty bare bones compared to the other music games out there with, like I said, no plot. There are some other artists on there and some good non-VH tunes but there is no obvious explanation as to why these bands/songs were chosen, whereas on the load screens for the Aerosmith game as non-Aerosmith songs loaded the game told you that Stephen Tyler liked the song, or this particular band opened for them on that particular tour…

Even the beginning of the game is bare bones. The introduction is brief – just like a real rock and roll show. The lights go down, an announcer who sounds like he just blew 14 lines of cocaine welcomes Van Halen over the sound system, the band appears one by one and without further adieu you rip into the awesome “Panama” with nary a load screen in between.

This game is exactly what it needs to be – no more, and no less – and although the developers seemingly gave up on it and ended up handing it out for free, I can still see myself playing this game a year from now which is more than I can say for Aerosmith or Metallica..

And right now, I just can’t get enough of this song:

Its fascinating to me how early-80’s cool David Lee Roth is, and how uncool he is when you remove him from that era.


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