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If you aren't a self-masochist, you'll be disappointed. If you are, there's a lot here to entertain you.

Guitar Hero II has a simple, yet great, premise. Spend US$90 for a Gibson X-plorer controller and a game, then use said controller to hit buttons in timing with icons on the screen. It may be this "simple" gameplay that drove the developers to Guitar Hero II's early demise. To go a bit more in-depth, the controller consists of five buttons, of which only four can be used at once (try using five fingers while holding a guitar). This departs a bit from true guitarism, as a true guitarist would rarely use his or her pinky finger, but we'll come back to that. The actual game involves watching icons (notes) of different colors and locations scroll downwards until they are generally near to your, lacking another term, anti-icon circles, at which time you then press the corresponding button on the guitar controller and strum with the strum bar. Occasionally (or very, very often at later difficulties), you'll be handed a chord, in which you press down two notes at once. Sometimes you must hold a note, giving you further yet rather useless options; using the "whammy bar," you can distort the sound of that note. If you nail a combo of starred notes, you gain star power, another useless option gone wrong (which we'll also come back to). While you play, a guitarist generally in tune with what you're riffing rocks out on a stage in stylized, cartoony goodness. Unfortunately, there are many flaws to what should have been a simple concept. Some of the characters are overly stylized; big hands and torsos on small legs look awkward. There are literally no facial animations; beady, black eyes stare ever onward, taking all life out of your character. There are no guitar straps, yet your weapon hangs from your character's neck when he or she is not rocking. Somehow, they can still play while spinning, throwing, and doing all manner of strange tricks during star power. At least your band members are interesting; the singer's sunglasses give some life to him, and he tends to act realistically and is not hampered by lack of guitar strap. The bassist has shaggy hair in true bassist style, eyes also concealed.

To continue with the game's flaws, I'll point out the totally uselessness of star power. Sure, it doubles your multiplier, but that one positive does not make up for the negatives. You must lift your guitar controller upwards to activate it, often causing you to miss a note while you do so. Once activated, the colors on the notes on-screen disappear, replaced with a light blue, so you lose that advantage and often miss a note due to it. If star power had activated slow-motion, it might have actually been useful in the harder songs, but the developers had not the insight to include that necessary feature. Also, there are problems with having to use your pinky finger; most people aren't skilled pinky users, though I suppose having to use the pinky finger was unavoidable.

There are four difficulties; easy, medium, hard, and expert. In the latter three, you can gain money from your gigs to buy new stuff at the store, including songs, guitars, characters, and more. The easy difficulty is perfect; it is difficult enough to allow for serious rocking but is very enjoyable to play; it gives the feeling you're a real rockstar without too much stress. After that, things change drastically. Medium is playable, but becomes very, very hard towards the end. Hard is the equivalent of insane, or legendary. Notes come so fast you have to hit multiple notes while strumming multiple times, thus crashing the universe like a copy of Vista. It. Is. Near. Impossible. Now, expert . . . Do a youtube search for "Carry Me Home" and watch "Carry Me Home on Expert." Humans can't do that. This extremely retards what could have been a great game; casual players are limited to the first difficulty. I consider myself a hardcore gamer, but I'm not a self-masochist; thus, I cannot contend on the higher two difficulties. And, due to the game's mechanics, to unlock all the stuff in the store, you must beat the top two - obviously frustrating.

Now, finally on to the good of Guitar Hero II. There is an impressive line-up
of great songs; both young and old will enjoy them, and young may learn to respect the old stuff. Sadly, there is no Led Zeppelin, but a heretical splash screen declaring "Remember, NO STAIRWAY!", an idiotic insult to new guitarists wishing to play the epic of Page. There is YYZ, but the publisher spelled Geddy Lee as Getty Lee in the manual; another foul heresy against the rock gods. Other than those two travesties, the song list is great. Voice work is generally good, except on "Woman;" I can hardly stand that skill-less squeal.

What, you say? No more to add to the good? This game is a frustrating foul-up by the first time you lay a chord on the hard difficulty. But, for the first few days, it is incredible fun. Veterans of the series will love it. Casual players will hate it. The list of songs if fantastic, and the promise of downloadable content will attract PS2 GHII owners. As a bottom line: Don't waste your money if you're not into unbearable frustration and/or hours of practice to get on to the next level of unbearable frustratation. Broken guitars not excluded.

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