Rhythm games are a breed apart. If you've ever seen anyone prance to the beat on a Dance Dance Revolution pad or torture bystanders with Karaoke Revolution, you've seen some very happy people looking silly to some non-rocking music. But take heart, throw up the devil horns, and get ready to empty your wallet: Guitar Hero is a rhythm game for those who like to rock, and we salute it as perhaps the best rhythm game of all time.
Guitar Hero comes with a special guitar-shaped controller that features five fret buttons, a flipper-like strum button, and a whammy bar, and is simultaneously so silly and so cool that it stands as a powerful metaphor for rock right out of the box. Once it's plugged in, the play mechanics should be familiar to anyone who's played a lesser music game. As 30-some (pretty decent) guitar-rock covers play, you hit the fret buttons indicated by colored on-screen scrolling cues and "strum" along to fill your Rock Star Power Meter. Once the meter is full, tilt your guitar controller vertically to unleash the full fury, majesty, and raw power of ROCK! This drives the crowd wild, and almost incidentally, earns a score multiplier.
Not that most players will pay much attention to their actual score. If you have any soul whatsoever, you'll be too busy rocking, giggling, and thinking "Wooo! I'm 'playing' 'Ace Of Spades'! Wooo! Man, just look at me shred! What the… Oh shit!" (This last because while the game ramps up slowly, it isn't exactly easy once it gets going.) You'll probably get booed off stage a dozen times while attempting Judas Priest's "You've Got Another Thing Comin'."
Beyond the game: The actual guitarists The A.V. Club asked to play Guitar Hero said it was fun, but "not as much fun as learning to play the solo from 'We Will Rock You.'" This is, of course, an extremely unfair standard of comparison.
Worth playing for: Every single minute is great, and the song list is diverse enough to interest anyone who likes guitar rock in the first place. Also, the two-player game is absolutely mind-blowing.
Frustration sets in when: You see the price tag. Yes, it's expensive. And everyone will have their own "Texas Flood" moment, when a really tough song is also really awful.
Final judgment: An epic rock masterpiece that may be the most purely fun game out there.