Jul 032009

Because I’m a sucker for the genre I picked up a copy of Guitar Hero: Smash Hits. Is it a complete waste of money, or do you get some value for your sixty bucks?

Smash Hits has a hard road to climb simply because of the nature of the game. It’s nothing more than a collection of “greatest hits” from every Guitar Hero game up to World Tour. The hooks to this collection of retreads are that every song is a master recording, and the game uses the World Tour engine, so full band play is possible. In fact, Smash Hits uses the refined engine from GH:Metallica, which is probably the best Guitar Hero engine to date, and very close to being the best rythm game engine out there. The overly rich character creator from World Tour makes it’s way into Smash Hits. In a welcome change they even brought back licenced guitars, this time from manufacturers Paul Reed Smith and Schecter — it’s a minor point, but I appreciate the added “realism” of my avatar jamming on an “authentic” axe. They also tweaked the models of the computer controlled bandmates so they are both nowhere nearly as cartoony as they were in World Tour, but also appropriate for the song being played. Again it’s a small point, but small points matter, especially in the presentation. It’s not as nice as Rock Band that let’s you populate the NPC’s in your band with characters you create, but it’s a step in the right direction.

The game itself is pretty quick to get through. It took me about four hours to push through roughly three fourths of the songs. Of course the very nature if the game is such that the replay value is very high, so how long it takes to get through all the songs once is a useless metric. The songs included are, up to where I stopped playing, a good challenge, but not impossible. On Medium I have yet to score less than five stars, and a lot of times getting there has felt like a real accomplishment. Of course I’m also about to hit the hard songs so I suspect my scores are about to fall off a cliff.

Gameplay is straight from World Tour, and this is where things start to head downhill. One of the worst additions to World Tour, in my opinion at least, was the addition of tap portions of songs, where you could tap and slide between notes on the touchpad built into the guitar neck. This mechanic was a weak response to Rock Band’s solo feature, it’s clunky, gimmicky, and breaks my flow when I’m playing. I really wish the developers had realized this, and left the tapping out. Also, hammer-ons and pull offs are far more prominently featured than in any other GH game I can recall. While a few hammer on’s are fun, huge rus of them get old fast.

The worst flaw to Smash Hits though is in how you progress through the game. World Tour represented a step forward in that regard, taking a page from Rock Band 2’s and letting you play sets instead of single songs. Sadly Smash Hits takes a step backwards in that regard, forcing you to play each song at a venue individually. It’s a terrible approach and I’m disappointed the developers took that approach. There’s also a story being told, but it is useless window dressing. Again, Harmonix had the right of it when they ditched such sillyness in the Rock Band franchise.

All in all, Smash Hits is a capable enough addition to the Guitar Hero line. I do appreciate them bringing a lot of these songs into the modern Guitar Hero environment, full band Freebird should be great for parties. However, as a full priced game it leaves a lot to be desired. My recommendation would be to wait for the game to hit the bargain bin. At a thirty dollar price point the game would be a steal. At it’s current price you just can’t help but shake the feeling that Activision is trying to squeeze you for all the money you have.

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