Sometimes you play a game and it’s like the developers passion is just oozing out of the screen. You can just feel it when you play, that the team loved making the game and put their all into it. Need I say anymore?
If you mention rhythm games, quite a few people first think of PaRappa the Rapper but I don’t think it’s generally realised that PaRappa is actually regarded as one of, if not, the first modern rhythm game. It was only in 1996 with well known arcade titles like Beatmania and Dance Dance Revolution following shortly afterward. PaRappa and other titles that followed mainly focused on rhythm but designer Keiichi Yano was intent on making something fresh. It was his belief that the people recognise songs they enjoy by their melodies and harmonies rather than by their rhythms. Now, how do you go about incorporating that?
Gitaroo Man’s gameplay is fairly lean but in a way that’s replayable time and time again. For those of you who’ve played Guitar Hero or Rock Band, you’ll know that behind the gameplay, is a rendering of your band as they play along. The concept is somewhat similar except instead of just playing songs, you’re engaged in musical battles against a wacky cast of colourful (gra)vill(i)ains.
Each stage consists of a few phases: Charge, Battle (Attack/Guard) and Final. Most battles start with the initial charge phase in which you’re regenerating your health. The higher your accuracy, the more health you gain back! Battle has two versions: Attack and Guard. As you might guess, Attack has you matching prompts to attack, and lower your opponents HP bar while Guard has you defending your own HP. Stages cycle between two until you hit the Final phase, and generally, the musical climax of the track. It’s an aesthetic thing for the most part but for those on Master Mode, it can be tempting to think things are over when really, one slip up can spell out failure for the overconfident.
But what’s it about? Gitaroo Man is… well, it’s a very odd coming of age story about U1, a young kid who lacks confidence. He’s the odd one out at school and spends most of his days daydreaming about his crush, Pico. The tutorial starts with U-1 being taught to play the guitar by his talking dog Puma and then revealing that U1 is really the hero Gitaroo Man from the Planet Gitaroo. In response to an attack from what I can only describe as a baby imp, Puma transforms and gives U-1 the last Gitaroo, and the ability to transform along with it.
It’s very light hearted and moves all over the place. One minute U-1 is jumped in the forest by a trumpet-playing man in a bee suit and the next he’s being chased through a wormhole by a space shark. I think just going full steam ahead like they did with the zany designs from art designer Mitsuru Nakamura was the best choice they could have made though. The main thing is that the game is fun! None of it needs to make sense really and if nothing else, it’s aided by how goofy the whole experience is.
So, what’s a rhythm game without music? The soundtrack for Gitaroo Man is perhaps one of the most varied I’ve heard out of any game I’ve played. You’ve got acoustic folk music, an Electronic-Reggae fusion, eccentric J-Pop, an Opera-Metal fusion and the list goes on. Supposedly, the characters were all designed after the fact. Actually, speaking of design, did you know that from start to finish, the entire production and development period only lasted a mere 10 months!? That’s pretty crazy for such a nicely crafted cult game!
Personally, I’ve only ever played the PSP version which boasts the additional of local multiplayer, added difficulty options and a Duet Mode with two exclusive songs. I haven’t actually tried any of the multiplayer options but they’re more like icing on the cake if you ask me. I highly, highly recommend picking up a copy if you can find one for a reasonable price. The PSP version seems to be cheaper, mainly since so few of the original PS2 version were printed and I actually prefer the game in its portable format. Either way, if you like rhythm games or even if you just want a unique game to try out, you can’t go wrong with good ol’ Gitaroo Man!
Released in 2001 (PS2) and 2006 (PSP)
Platforms: Playstation 2 and Playstation Portable
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