January 2009

Guitar Hero: World Tour (GH:WT) is the latest installment of the Guitar Hero series. GH:WT is capable of allowing up to four players to join in on the fun simultaneously with a lead guitar, bass, drums, and vocals. Some of the games enhancements include a new guitar, all new set lists, new game modes, effects, and new playing techniques.

The most notable difference between GH:WT and its predecessors is the addition of a second guitar (which technically was in previous versions), drums, and vocals. With that said, let’s take a moment to look at the new hardware. The guitar has received a significant upgrade in regards to ease of use, additional features, and new button locations. The first thing you will notice is the new touch pad located at the bottom portion of the neck. The touch pad allows players to play notes by tapping the corresponding color location on the pad just as you would with notes previously. However, players can also use the pad to freely change the tone of sustained notes by moving up and down the touch pad. The whammy bar is still available as well. Additionally, the guitar can be tilted up or down (similar to activating Star Power) to alter the tone of the note in the same fashion. Star Power can still be activated by tilting the guitar neck up. Furthermore, the back and select buttons have been relocated by the strum bar to resemble that of a guitar bridge. The back button can be used to palm mute notes or activate Star Power. The last change is the redesigned D-pad that is now more of a knob. The old style D-pad was the same as on regular Xbox controllers which were rather difficult to use on the guitar interface, the new design is much friendlier in terms of usage. One thing to note about the D-pad is that from certain angles you can’t see the Xbox button glow indicating the remote is on, you have to look almost directly at the center of the knob to acknowledge the light. This is more of a nuisance than anything as it doesn’t directly affect game play in anyway.

Moving on, next we take a look at the first set of drums to be included in a Guitar Hero series. The GH drums represent much of what the gaming drum market has come to expect, but also introduce a new feature…cymbals. All together, the GH drums have six music related buttons: three pads, two cymbals, and one kick pedal. Unlike the Rock Band 2 drums, the cymbals are included with the bundle and are not alternate buttons for already accounted for notes; the GH drums require you to use the cymbals. The stand for the drums is quite wobbly due to its compact design, but is overall adequate for its purpose. The pads are pressure sensitive, meaning the harder players hit the pad the louder the notes are, and they feel more solid than the Rock Band drums. The kick pedal feels pretty solid also, although, it is plastic and my previous experience with the Rock Band plastic pedal tells me that plastic is not the best material for a pedal that gets stomped hundreds of times a night; RB2 features a metal pedal for this precise reason. Did I mention that in all their awesomeness, the drums are wireless? The drums are wireless.

The least exciting instrument of all is the addition of a microphone. Not to say that adding vocals to the game is not exciting, it most certainly is. The instrument itself doesn’t include any revolutionary features (what could there possible be?) which is why it makes the bottom of the list.

GH:WT features 86 tracks consisting of all master recordings, that means there are no covers, as well as a healthy amount of downloadable content already available. One notable reference regarding this would be the first ever release of an album via downloadable content the same day as its debut. Metallica’s Death Magnetic was made available on September 12, 2008 for Guitar Heroes to download nationwide. The default tracks for the game consist of a wide variety of songs and artists from previously featured artists such as Muse and Nirvana to newly featured artists such as 311, Korn, and Tool. Short of listing the entire track listing there is not much more to say about the music in this game. I will make note that Neversoft sure did a good job of picking some gems that have been overlooked in previous music games, including some lesser known songs that I know I personally appreciate.

The primary game mode in Guitar Hero, as it always has been, is the Career mode. Career mode is available for solo players or in a Band Career mode. Band Career requires that at least two band mates participate, either locally or over Xbox LIVE or a local area network; Solo Career exists for the lone wolves out there. Following the way previous GH games have worked, career mode consists of several gigs with a couple songs, anywhere from two to five songs each. Typically, after completing a gig an encore song (to be performed immediately) as well as new gigs will be unlocked. Some gigs are “bonus” gigs and must be purchased with in-game earnings before they can be played. In a solo career, some gigs lead to a slightly altered boss challenge from previous GH titles which have taken the focus away from power-ups and is more similar to the already existent game mode, Face-Off. Quickplay is also available for less serious jam sessions, but still earns players in-game money. Quickplay also allows for up to six song custom playlists eliminating the need to return to the menu after each song. Additionally, up to four players can compete against other bands online in a full on Battle of the Bands mode. A new mode, the Music Studio, has been added as a place for Guitar Heroes to compose songs of their own comprised of any of the instruments available in the game. User-created songs can be uploaded and shared through a service called GHTunes.

The in-game play has received numerous updates from subtle menu changes to all new types of notes. Straying from the genre norm, GH:WT adds a fifth difficulty level, beginner. Now, beginner is no more than what it sounds like. Beginner mode only requires the player to strum on time, or kick in the case of drums, allowing the player to get used to the timing. This sounds good in theory, but let me assure you that it is very boring, even for beginners. On that note, there is an increased overall difficulty in GH:WT. I am not sure if it is the fact that there are more notes per beat pattern, or if the note combinations are more complex. Never the less, the songs are overall more difficult to play. The number of buttons required per difficulty has remained the same: three for easy, four for medium, and five for hard and expert. A new type of note has been introduced, the slider gems. These notes have a semi-transparent purple line connecting the notes and don’t require the strum bar to be used for each note, just like hammer-ons and pull-offs don’t require it. The slider gems are also an excellent place to use the new touch pad. Additionally, players must sometimes strum without any notes to simulate an open fret; this is represented in the same manner the drum kicks are, with a solid colored line across the virtual neck. One other significant change is the ability to change difficulties from the pause menu while playing a song. The song is restarted, but this way is more convenient than having to quit the song, back out to the menu, select a new difficulty, then start the process of re-selecting a song all over again.

When all is said and done, Guitar Hero: World Tour is comparable to Rock Band in almost every way. Although the downloadable content for Guitar Hero still seems to lack that in comparison to Rock Band, but with the unique tracks included it makes it worth the purchase alone. Mix in the new features built into the instruments, not to mention the new instruments themselves, the new Music Studio and you have yourself a title that needs to be in any music game lovers library.

Plays Like: Rock Band.
ESRB: T – for lyrics and suggestive themes.
Pros: New instruments, innovative playing techniques, more DLC than previous titles, and now supports up to four players at once.
Cons: Lacks DLC in comparison to Rock Band.

Line Rider, the popular Flash toy, is an intriguing way to spend a few minutes, but it wasn’t the most likely to turn into a retail product. It had no goals, no levels, and no real original content. The player was presented with a white screen and a few controls at the top of the screen. That was it. All the fun came from drawing on this canvas and watching a little guy on a sled ride on these lines. The guy usually got stuck or crashed until the player got the hang of it, and from there the experience really took off. (Of course, many people never got that far.)

So how did Genius Products turn Line Rider into a game? Well, by adding goals, levels and original content. There’s now a rough story: something involving a snowy mountain and a stolen girlfriend. It’s certainly not crucial, but it makes for a few amusing Pac-Man-style shorts between groups of levels.

The gameplay of the campaign takes a puzzle-style approach: the majority of the level is locked into place, but certain areas of each stage are open to drawing, and players take a trial-and-error approach to getting to the end. This would be monotonous, but Genius Products injected a bit more variety by adding different line types. Some lines speed up or slow down the rider, while others break or disappear after use.

Rather than making players with unsteady hands suffer, Genius implemented a line-drawing system similar to the pen tool in Photoshop. After first drawing a straight line, players can alter the curve of the line by dragging two little handles. It’s an intuitive approach, and works well.  The only gripe would be with the general inaccuracy of the Wii’s pointer, but this two-phase approach mitigates the situation.

Also included on the disc is a recreation of the original game with the added line types. This is the primary attraction of the game, because the story mode is relatively short. Players can upload levels via wi-fi, and download others’ creations for extra challenges. It isn’t for everyone, though; creating complex levels requires an uncommon level of skill and dedication.

If you’re one of those people that became addicted to the Flash game, you’ll have fun with the extra features. If you didn’t like it, there’s nothing here to bring you around.  This game is very similar to the DS title, though, so you might want the portability of that version…there’s not much that higher-res graphics can add to a game about lines.

Plays like: An upgrade of the flash game.
ESRB: E- The little guy crashes, but he doesn’t seem to be hurt so much.
Pros: Fleshed-out version of the Flash game, added modes
Cons: Could have been done on WiiWare more easily

I’m sure you’ve all already heard that the vast majority of the fine folks at 1up are no longer employed. All of us at Snackbar wish them well, and another podcast that I listen to, 360 Arcadians Live, recorded their latest show while the 1up news was breaking. It’s an interesting listen and a little bittersweet to think about because at least two of the ‘casters there (Marcus Corrin and Karl Fite) got into podcasting because of the 1up crew.

A quick word of warning – 360AL is associated with a video game forum, not a dedicated news site. As such, the podcasts are a little less appropriate for work speakers than some others might be. With that out of the way, say goodbye to 1up with 360AL.

An acrobat, a cell, some self-replicating machines, a ball and a hat-wearing man with a beak will be the stars of the eleventh annual Independent Games Festival, as their games are now the official finalists for the $20,000 Seumas McNally Grand Prize.

The IGF announced CarneyVale Showtime, Osmos, Dyson, Night Game and Blueberry Garden as the finalists for its biggest prize yesterday along with finalists for its other categories.

Well-known PlayStation 3 game PixelJunk Eden is a finalist in the “Technical Excellence,” “Excellence in Visual Art” and “Excellence in Audio” categories.

The complete list of finalists is after the break. The IGF website contains links to each game’s individual site where free demos or full games are usually available to download.


Microsoft is in talks with Treasure to bring Radiant Silvergun to Xbox Live Arcade. For the three people out there with a working copy of the Sega Saturn original I suggest you sell it now before we can all play it for 800 spacebucks.

Sadly, Treasure hasn’t said yes to the project yet. Apparently it would take quite a bit of work to bring the title to the 360. Please say yes, Treasure – if for no other reason than to have both Ikaruga and Radiant Silvergun running on current hardware for an affordable price.