If you play music games on consoles and also have friends who play real instruments, then you probably know at least one who won’t be bothered to play said games because he’d rather be doing the real thing. It’s a snooty perspective in which the musician is actually bothered by the idea of people pretending to do what he (or she) does without going through years of practice. You can try to tell them how the singing in Rock Band and Guitar Hero is real singing (karaoke-style), but by that time they’re probably outside smoking a cigarette while thinking of how much cooler they are than you.
Just as music snobs don’t get music games, as a music gamer, I don’t quite get Guitar Hero 5 Mobile. The real Guitar Hero is a simplified simulation of the complex act of making music that uses plastic instruments. The mobile version is a simplified simulation of that simulation, sans plastic instruments. It helps if you think about it that way – this version in no way recreates the act of making music. But it is kind of like playing the console game on a touch screen. Perhaps that’s reason enough for it to exist?
Plug in your amp and follow the jump for our full review.
Career modes vary from sequel to sequel in the Guitar Hero series, but GH 5 Mobile’s setup hues closely to the first two games’. Players travel from one location to another, playing four songs and an encore song at each venue. Like the newer Guitar Hero games (which shamelessly ripped off Rock Band), you can choose to play not only guitar but also bass and drums. On every song the game tracks the player’s score for each instrument. Thankfully you only need to play a song with a single instrument to progress, unless you’re going for Achievements.
Guitar Hero 5 is played from a vertical orientation. The top half of the screen contains the player’s score, life meter (miss too many notes and you fail the song), Star Power meter, and a little animated character who rocks away as the song plays. At the bottom half of the screen lays the note chart – the game’s actual playing field. It’s the only thing you can really concentrate on while playing, so I wish it was a little larger. There’s certainly plenty of room for it.
As the song starts to play, 3 different colors of notes scroll down to the bottom of the screen. Sure, the console games use four or five colors, but I’m thankful for the simplification here. The goal is to tap each note when it reaches the very bottom of the chart. Sometimes you have to hold a note as well, which I found kind of annoying on the touch screen. The more notes you hit without a miss, the higher your score multiplier goes, up to 4x. Miss one and the multiplier falls back to 1x.
Occasionally, a series of blue notes falls. Hit an entire blue batch correctly to earn Star Power. Activating that doubles the score multiplier for a short time. Star Power is unfortunately a bit hard to launch in this version as it’s activated by a button off to the left of the playing field. Reaching over there is a great way to miss notes on the actual play chart. I’m surprised the developers didn’t allow the option of shaking the phone for Star Power, which would be more like the way it works on consoles. That wouldn’t be a perfect solution though, as this game is best played with the phone resting on a flat surface rather than in your hand.
Three instruments for some reason
Even though Guitar Hero 5 Mobile allows gamers to choose from three different instruments, they play awfully similarly on the touch screen. Unlike guitar and bass, drum charts don’t require notes to be held. They also mix in wide horizontal lines to tap, which represent hitting the kick pedal. Bass is just like guitar except that it also has the wide open lines to tap, supposedly representing open strums. Since bass and drums don’t really add anything to the gameplay, I’d have left them out.
Tapping notes on a touch screen isn’t the most similar thing to playing guitars or drums, and the way missed notes are handled here reduces the simulation element even further. On consoles, there would be a sound effect and/or the music would cut out for a moment whenever the player messes up. In the mobile version, missing a note doesn’t affect the game’s sound in any way. This creates a huge disconnect between the music and the game play.
Speaking of the music, it’s pretty bad. The big two music game series have used master tracks rather than cheap covers since Rock Band 2. Yet GH 5 Mobile’s songs are nothing but covers. The singers generally fail to sound much like the original artists, making it very hard to enjoy the music.
Song selection is also problematic. The very first song, Sublime’s “What I Got” is censored in several places. I understand not wanting the kiddies to hear about the song’s many lame topics, but if they had to censor it to high heaven, why bother including it? Also, the game’s store description boasts of “32 of the hottest rock n’ roll songs.” But only about half of those are any kind of famous; less popular bonus songs fill out the remainder.
If Guitar Hero 5 Mobile’s poor song selection and reliance on cover songs wasn’t evidence enough of its humble origins as a cell phone game for non-smart phones, the graphics and presentation seal the deal. Only two non-customizable characters can be selected: Eddie Knock and Pandora, whose hairstyle looks goofier than Marge Simpson’s. Their sprites, along with the crowd’s, are uber cheap and poorly animated. It would almost be better if the game only showed the note chart during game play.
The game’s menus are highly unintuitive as well, often requiring the player to click a tiny check mark at the bottom left corner of the screen to progress. Song selection is incredibly awkward due to the instrument-selection interface being shoe-horned into it. And if you need to pause or lock your phone during a song, then the tune must be restarted from scratch. The Restart Song: Yes/No option implies that one might somehow just resume the song, but no dice.
GH 5 Mobile’s one saving grace is its Achievement difficulty. Most of them are really easy, and a skilled player could conceivably earn them all in less than two hours since there’s no requirement to play the bonus songs. The only three Achievements that gave me trouble involve playing a song perfectly with each instrument. I often hit extra notes, ruining my perfect streak. You’d think that knocking the difficulty down to Easy would help, but the note charts don’t seem to change much across the three difficulties. Still, with practice most people should get them all.
Guitar Hero 5 Mobile is one of those games that is poorly conceived from the start. It’s certainly possible to make a fun rhythm game for smart phones, but not by shoehorning in a game that’s meant to be played with a dramatically different interface. This game’s terrible production values and way-too-high $6.99 price tag make it even less appealing. Only Achievement hunters with low gaming standards need apply.
Guitar Hero 5 Mobile costs a ludicrous $6.99 and there is a free trial. Score it here (Zune link) on the Marketplace.