You knew this day would come, the day when Guitar Hero went the way of other popular rhythm game franchises, releasing pseudo-sequels and expansions that are really just batches of new songs with little to nothing in the way of gameplay or feature upgrades. Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s is the first for the series, an expansion of sorts to Guitar Hero II that offers up 30 new tracks with a decidedly 1980s bent. Everything else is basically how you remember it from GHII, including most of the same characters, venues, and modes, but now everything's been tinted neon to indicate that, yes, this is very much the '80s. In theory, such an expansion could be an extremely welcome addition to any Guitar Hero fan's library, but Rocks the 80s doesn't quite deliver on its promise. There's a good chunk of significant '80s hits on here, as well as a few inspired, lesser-known choices, but at a price tag of $50, 30 mostly solid songs doesn't sound like such a great deal.
Getting right into the soundtrack, Rocks the 80s deserves credit for not just going the easy route and churning out nothing but cheesy hair metal tracks. Certainly there's plenty of that on there, with big-time hits like Ratt's "Round and Round," Poison's "Nothin' But a Good Time," Winger's "Seventeen," and Twisted Sister's "I Wanna Rock" all on hand. But then you also get lighter rock tracks, like Asia's "Heat of the Moment", pop rock tunes like The Romantics' "What I Like About You," and new wave classics like The Vapors' "Turning Japanese" and Flock of Seagulls' "I Ran." You'll even get some neat choices from the underbelly of '80s rockitude that might not be immediately familiar but are a lot of fun to play, like Oingo Boingo's "Only a Lad," The Police's "Synchronicity II," and .38 Special's "Hold On Loosely."
Of course, it's not all good stuff. Roughly two-thirds of the tracklist could be considered fun either because it's a cool song to play, or just because it's a big hit with a memorable riff. The rest scrapes the bottom of the '80s barrel like a fourth run of I Love the '80s. Does anyone besides those who spent the entirety of the decade inside seedy metal bars even remember who Faster Pussycat is, let alone the song "Bathroom Wall"? "Radar Love" is a heck of a song, but seriously, the White Lion version of it? Not the one you really want to be playing. And while the inclusion of a faux-80s song from joke-band Limozeen is mildly amusing, it's the sort of thing that would have just been a throwaway bonus song in another Guitar Hero game.
At least most of the covers are quite good, and there are even several original master tracks, including "Round and Round" and "I Ran." "I Wanna Rock" is also a master, though it's from a much later Twisted Sister release. It sounds a little like Dee Snyder at the front of a Twisted Sister cover band, and it sticks out like a sore thumb.
Those flaws aside, the tracklist is ultimately pretty solid. It's as eclectic a mix of songs as you'll find in any of the Guitar Hero games. The real trouble is that there's just a lot less to it. Thirty songs for what basically amounts to an expansion sounds about right, but $50 for those 30 songs is pretty much a rip-off, especially when you consider that both the original Guitar Hero and Guitar Hero II (sans included guitar) had way more songs, and cost just as much. It doesn't help that there's no new supplementary content in this version, and in fact, some of the content from Guitar Hero II has been out-and-out removed. There are fewer characters to choose from, the Stonehenge stage has been cut, and there are no bonus songs of any kind to unlock past the core 30 tracks. On the plus side, you do still get all the same multiplayer modes for the new songs, as well as the excellent practice mode.
Presentation has been altered a bit as well. The characters and venues, as well as all the menu systems, are holdovers from Guitar Hero II, but everything's been tinted with neon and pastel colors, and the playable characters (the other guys on stage are completely unaltered) have been dressed up to look definitively '80s. But no amount of Flava Flav clocks, sweatbands, and pink tank tops can change the fact that this stuff all belongs to Guitar Hero II, and is just being recycled here.
Ultimately, Rocks the 80s is for Guitar Hero diehards only. There are some excellent songs in here, to be sure, and the gameplay is as fun as ever. But with such a decisive lack of content compared with other GH releases, not to mention the slightly insane price tag, Rocks the 80s feels like a quick-and-dirty cash-in. It's one you'll probably still have a good time with, but it's dirty all the same.