In a grand twist of irony, the people who are likely most excited about the release of Gitaroo Man Lives! on the PSP stand to get the least out of this rhythm game. It's effectively the same game that Koei released on the PlayStation 2 nearly five years ago as simply Gitaroo Man, so if you're one of the very, very few people who bought the original, Gitaroo Man Lives! doesn't offer much except a couple of new songs and some nostalgic value. But if you haven't already experienced this eccentric tale of a timid young boy's destiny and space guitars, you are in for a treat. Even after all these years, Gitaroo Man Lives! proves to be a unique rhythm game with solid gameplay, catchy tunes, and a striking art style. Rhythm games of any quality are in short supply on the PSP, and Gitaroo Man Lives! is a good one.
You're introduced at the start of the story to a put-upon young boy named U-1. He's got no friends, he can't work up the nerve to talk to the girl he likes, and he lets himself get pushed around by the local bully. So when his talking dog, Puma, hands him a strange guitar-shaped instrument that turns him into the legendary Gitaroo Man, he doesn't want the job. Still, with much prodding from Puma, planet Gitaroo's elder, and a pretty young girl named Kirah, U-1 takes on the diabolical Gravillians, an alien race determined to use stolen Gitaroo technology to take over the universe. The "reluctant hero" formula is pretty predictable, but the execution is totally bizarre. Each stage pits you against a different Gravillian warrior, and you'll find yourself in musical showdowns with a Louis Armstrong-inspired trumpet player wearing a bee suit; a giant, mechanical space shark that blares drum-and-bass and dub music; a trio of calypso-loving skeletons; an effete, organ-playing goth rocker; and more. Despite its inherent weirdness, the game treats everything with a certain Japanese sincerity, which can be corny, but it pays off during a particularly touching ballad, as well as in the game's final, genuinely climactic confrontation.
All of the music in Gitaroo Man Lives! was produced by the Japanese group COIL, and it covers a pretty incredible range. It all benefits from the game's context, though some of it is good enough that you might want to listen to it on its own. The game's visuals are also quite striking, and the game more than makes up for its technical simplicity with a strong sense of style. The character designs are bizarre and often kind of boxy, but the game has a uniquely cartoonish quality because it uses brightly colored textures instead of polygons to fill in the details. The game looks roughly as good as it did on the PlayStation 2, though there are some inconsistencies in the texture clarity.
The gameplay remains basically the same throughout and consists of two distinctly different parts. When you're playing your gitaroo, you'll use the PSP's analog stick to move a cone in the center of the screen to follow a line around the screen, and you'll need to tap and hold the circle button in time with commands on the line. When you're dodging the musical attacks of your enemies, button commands will fly toward the center of the screen, and you'll have to hit the corresponding button right as the command reaches the middle. The individual parts can get pretty tough, and things get especially tricky when the game starts alternating between offense and defense in quick succession. Still, with three different difficulty levels, Gitaroo Man Lives! can be as hard or as easy as you need it to be.
If there's any fault to find in Gitaroo Man Lives!, it's the game's length. The single-player game consists of only seven different levels, and you can burn through it in just a few hours, even on your first time through. It would be even shorter, were it not for the nearly minute-long load times that you have to endure between levels. The gameplay is interesting enough, and the catchy songs and some of the unlockables inspire multiple play-throughs, but there's no denying the game's brevity. There are some two-player options for competitive and cooperative play, and the co-op mode features a couple original songs. It's a good thing you can play the co-op mode alongside a computer-controlled companion in lieu of a real player two, though, since Gitaroo Man Lives! features only local multiplayer support, with no game sharing.
This is a pretty out-of-the-blue release for Koei, which has done nothing with the Gitaroo Man name since the first game's original release. Hopefully this is a prelude to a full-fledged sequel. Gitaroo Man Lives! is still a solid rhythm game for newcomers, but its brevity will ensure that almost everyone, first-timers and longtime fans alike, will be left waiting for the encore.