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When Guitar Hero 3 came out on 360, PS3 and Wii my two sons and I were initially dubious about the game. We hadn't played any of the previous incarnations as we'd only recently got the Xbox 360 that was a first foray into console gaming. I was astonished at the cost of the thing - how could a game be good enough to warrant such a price tag? But we played the demo - albeit with the standard controller and all thought it was great fun - I think the Tenacious D track sold it to us on its own. Pooling resources one weekend we became the proud owners of Guitar Hero 3 and proceeded to have a great time with it.
As a family game it was, I must admit, a bit limited. There was no way we were going to buy another guitar so the second player was forced to use the standard controller if they wanted to join in. My youngest was actually pretty adept with it though, and so he was always the one who had to use it. It was pretty good fun playing together but the lack of a second guitar really made it more of a novelty than anything else - and one that soon wore off.
The difficulty levels of the game were also pretty steep - I never managed to complete the 'hard' level although both my children did. Their youthful fingers and quick reactions serving them well, whereas I could never get the hang of it once the fifth note was introduced - I felt like I needed an extra finger. I would often stand there in awe as my eldest breezed through a song on 'expert' level. Luckily when we teamed up though, I could play on a lower difficulty level and so never became too much of a hindrance!
We have been lucky enough since then to play several other titles in this genre, including Rock Band, Guitar Hero Aerosmith, Lego Rock Band and more recently Guitar Hero World Tour. The introduction of the other instruments seemed like a great idea, but we were restricted both by space and budget, something that meant we only ever played with a single guitar. And this made it pretty much a solo game. We're also not a family that's overly keen on the singing aspect of these games - all of us are a little too reserved for that, even within the family. Though I remember playing a SingStar title once when we visited some friends and I actually enjoyed the experience - and we hadn't even had our inhibitions relaxed by alcohol either.
It's nice to have a game that family members can play together as the majority of our other games are pretty much solo affairs.
So when we got hold of another guitar controller - a snazzy Fender Telecaster replica - we were excited to try some 'group' playing. First up were the two boys playing Guitar Hero World Tour. Things went okay for a while until a Kaiser Chiefs track came up and the youngest claimed he would 'own' the other because he knew it so well (one of the songs on his We7 playlist). The challenge was duly accepted and guess what - yep, he was the one being owned and did not take the 'rubbing in' well at all. 'Gnome Idea' - his band name - experienced a sudden and acrimonious breakup, never to play together again - well, until the next time!
I've also played along with one or other of them and we've had a pretty good time. It's nice to have a game that family members can play together as the majority of our other games are pretty much solo affairs. The ones that aren't have a limited 'family' appeal as they tend to be co-op shooters so they're restricted to play when the kids get friends around. I still haven't convinced the other half to have a go though - she's happy with the Germ Buster game from More Brain Training and has never been much of a gaming fan.
The one big downside to it as a family game is still the price tag of the full kit: to buy something like Rock Band or World Tour with all the instruments, and then maybe get another guitar will set you back around GBP200 which is a huge amount to spend on a single game. However if you can turn it into something that you can do as a family activity then maybe you could say it was good value for money when there are a lot of games out there that are aimed at the solo player.
As family games go Guitar Hero and Rock Band are great fun.
As family games go Guitar Hero and Rock Band are great fun. Some of the earlier titles may have been a little hard-core for younger players (although as I mentioned, both my kids are much better than me), or the older non-gamers; but later versions have introduced features that make them more family-friendly. Being able to jump straight into play without having to unlock all the songs, not being quite so 'hard' on failure, and even making it difficult to fail at all are all good things. If you want hardcore then you can have that instead, but it's nice that occasional players can get something out of playing along without the embarrassment of getting kicked off the stage.
As for me, I think the addition of a drum set will have to come next. I've seen some little 'portable' ones that would fit the bill and I fancy getting Beatles Rock Band and pretending to be Ringo!
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: