Gitaroo Man // PS2

October 8, 2008

In an videogaming era of same-again sequels and derivative and jaded takes on popular titles, it is refreshing to play a game that brings a joyous smile to your face, let alone one that will warm your heart a little as you play. A game that is so assured of itself, so bombastic in its approach, but so human in its delivery that you find yourself wishing that the whole industry would rewind itself 7 years just to experience more titles of its type. Gitaroo Man, originally published for the PS2, but now remade for the PSP, is certainly one of those games.

The game is outrageously Japanese – psychedelic colour, bizarre characters, chunky sprites and epic sentiment ooze out of every stage of this rhythm-action gem. Think Guitar Hero without the huge plastic peripheral, with an emphasis on tricky analogue stick control and a narrative which illuminates just how lazy Activision’s ‘story’ is.

You control U-1, a geeky adolescent boy who is smitten for his cute classmate, Pico. His dog Puma tells his master that he is actually the last legendary hero of the Planet Gitaroo, and using the last Gitaroo will transform him into Gitaroo Man, a confident, brash, heroic young axe-wielder that is the polar opposite of his U-1 alter ego. He must then face off against the evil Gravillians in order to unite all eight Gitaroos. That old chestnut, huh? I’m sure in Japan the plot is as well-worn as the age-old recue-the-princess plot. Maybe.

No matter what the motive, you have to beat the 10 stages using analogue stick skills and frenzied button combinations in order to progress, and its surprising how quickly it becomes difficult to keep up with the tracks. Rhythm-action games live and die by their soundtracks, but Gitaroo Man’s songs are amazing – watch out for the smoky jazz number played by Mojo King Bee on his trumpet gitaroo, the frenzied epic rock track that vain-glory Gregorio Siegfried Wilhelm III challenges you with, and the sumptious acoustic ballad that you must play to win the heart of Kirah on Planet Gitaroo (check it out here) – one of the most utterly charming ten minutes of videogaming I’ve ever experienced, and a track reprised in jaw-dropping fashion in the latter stages of the game.

Gitaroo Man is also proof that a game doesn’t have to be a huge sprawling epic in order to be ‘challenging’ – I failed many times on the way to victory and despite several foul-mouthed torrents of frustration, I always came back for more each time. And I can see myself revisiting the charming story time and again too.

This is a surprisingly epic, emotionally-charged, sonic masterpiece of a game which is dripping with character and charm. It’s a shame so many people missed it first time round (me included) but the PSP port will hopefully turn a few more gamers into Gitaroo Men instead of Guitar Heroes.

Ebay price: £7.99 (+£2.00 P&P)

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