Gitaroo-Man
Game Info
Platform(s)
Playstation 2
Publisher
Koei
Developer
Koei/Inis
Genre
Rhythm
Official Website
ESRB Rating
Mild Language
 
Grade
The Good

• Amazing gameplay
• Excellent selection of songs
• Eccentric story and characters
• Very good “music videos” and graphics

The Bad

• Slightly on the short side
• Requires more skill than the average gamer is ready to try for

 
Grade
A-

Rhythm based games have always been high on the quirk factor, and for a very quirky genre they’ve done quite well. Well enough to spawn sequels like rabbits and merit localization like in Parappa the Rapper and Um Jammer Lammy. That’s all well and good, but stagnation has crept in to this genre. The gameplay has been standardized to an incredible extent, with the exception of games like Frequency. Every rhythm game seems like every other, and the sequels don’t help this case one bit. But innovation is inevitable. You can not stop the creative from coming forward. And they have come forward, KOEI has tried it’s hand at the music games genre and their dev team, 326, has delivered an extremely memorable experience of innovative musical ecstasy.

Graphics – Gitaroo-Man features a pseudo-cartoony part anime feel. The characters and backgrounds feature a decent amount of detail. Although the facial animations are not up to par, mostly due to the dev’s own decision, the characters don’t look out of place or card-boardish. All the battles are highly animated. The camera is rarely static and keeps focusing on different parts of the level, moving from Gitaroo-Man to the enemy to background animations. The visual effects are above average and make the battles fun to observe. The animations and effects are so good that they actually serve as too much of a distraction and might actually cause you to miss a riff or two. Some of the battles are too fun to look at because of the funky characters and animations. Gitaroo-Man and the opponent animate extremely well as they play, dodge and attack each other, with Gitaroo-Man being highly responsive to your controls. He will play the guitar as you make him and he’ll duck and dodge enemy attacks when you make him do so. The game runs at a solid 60 FPS, as it should.

Presentation – As said before GM features a part cartoon part anime feel. This works quite well and the FMVs and cutscenes push forth this quality quite well. Characters are presented in a stereotypical manner, which actually doesn’t feel bad. The in-battle “music videos” really bring GM’s eccentric world to life. The menus are well designed and look great. The OSD, a primary feature in rhythm based games, is very easy to work with. At any and every point in the game you will not lose your concentration unless you’re really distracted.

Sound/Music – What should one expect from a rhythm-based game in this category? The very best of course. COIL, a Japan based group, has produced the music for GM. Every single track on the game lies in the range of Very Good to Awesome, with quite a few lying on the upper end of that band. Although the game features only 12 songs, the sheer quality of these makes up for the somewhat lack of quantity. The game features a wide spectrum of songs ranging from J-Pop to fast-paced jazz to rock. The songs are extremely good and really set the pace for each battle. The Electric/Acoustic Guitar riff that you will be controlling during the game sounds very authentic and the skill with which you play the riff really shows. The songs feature various types of instruments and never feel repetitive. The game also features surprisingly good voice acting which retains the game’s quirky style.

Story – Gitaroo-Man has quite a good storyline, even though that’s not really necessary in a game like this. In Gitaroo-Man the story really sets up the battles and “music video” along with the mood of the songs. It’s a simple story that succeeds in what it has been set to do. The game tells the story of U-1, who is exactly the opposite of what his name suggests him to be. He is at the bottom of the social pyramid. He is picked on by his peers and ignored by the girls, even though he tries his very best to impress them. He also has a pet dog, named Puma, who can talk and it is Puma who starts the chain of events that sends U-1 into an adventure of a lifetime. U-1 is told of his true origin and position in the world as the last Gitaroo-Man. With the help of Puma, who actually holds the last Gitaroo within him and can transform into his alter ego AC30 to unleash the Gitaroo, he learns to wield the power of the Gitaroo to save the world from the evil Gravillians. Along the way he will meet a beautiful girl named Kirah, whom he will successfully serenade and win the trust of thereof, an evil ruler who plans to use all the Gitaroos in the Universe for domination and a few other quirky characters and opponents. In the end U-1 will realize his true potential as Gitaroo-Man to defeat evil once and for all.

Gameplay – Most rhythm games rely on reflex, with very little skill as a requisite, because they require simple button pushes in rhythm with the songs. Gitaroo-Man takes this gameplay to the next level. It does incorporate this part of the gameplay, but not as the focus of the game. Gitaroo-Man plays out in one-on-one battles. In these battles players must inflict damage on the opponent and this defeat them by reducing their HP gauge to zero in fighting game fashion. Each battle is separated into three phases, Charge, Battle and Final. During the Charge phase the player must play along with the song to charge their HP gauge. The charge phase is often available to the player more than once. In the Battle phase Gitaroo-Man can inflict damage on the opponent by skillfully wielding his Gitaroo and he can also lose his own health if he misses riffs, and he can and must also dodge the opponent’s attacks. This phase too appears more than once during each battle. When the opponent has been sufficiently damaged Gitaroo-Man can go for the kill in the Final phase of the song. Gitaroo-Man can also take damage during this phase. This is the basic manner in which a battle takes place. The innovative part is the way in which the player must play the Gitaroo.

To play the Gitaroo players are given riffs which are displayed as thin streams which move in towards the centre of the screen. The goal is to press the O button as soon as this stream hits the centre of the screen and hold the O button till the end of the stream. Sounds relatively simple, doesn’t it? That’s not the whole story, you also have to hold the left analog stick the direction from which the stream is moving towards the centre. Thus, the player must keep the analog stick tilted in the direction of the stream, this opens up a cone on the screen, opening from the centre towards the direction in which the stick is tilted. This allows you to see exactly in which direction you’re pushing the stick. Thus, you must aim the stick in the stream’s direction press and hold O till the end of the stream. This definitely requires some skill as the streams move and meander quite fast in the later levels, along with varying length. During the Battle phase, if you miss a riff you will lose health. Speaking of lost health, Gitaroo-Man will not be the only one wielding a Gitaroo. The opponents too are capable of dealing damage. When the opponent attacks, U-1 must dodge. This is the part of the game that is a stayover from the standard games in this genre. As the villain’s attack phase plays, button press cues will home in on the centre of the screen. As soon as a cue reaches the centre, the player must press the corresponding face button to dodge that specific attack. The combination of these two gameplays make for very intense battles.

Difficulty – Gitaroo-Man is an easy game to pick up and yet is difficult to master. Later levels in the game have long and winding guitar riffs and swift dodge portions. The game requires you to give it your complete and unbroken attention. The slightest distraction can cause major amounts of damage. As you will reach the end of the game, you will be met with long high-tempo songs which test your reflexes, skill and endurance. The unlockable Master difficulty can be extremely daunting.

Replay Value – This is a double edged sword for GM. Although the game somewhat lacks songs, it does have many unlockables like bios and a few other features. The songs can be replayed to gain a higher grade to unlock these features. GM also features a quite addictive two-player mode in which you can go against your buddy as you would against one of the Gravillians.

Overall – Gitaroo-Man is a refreshing sip of musical ambrosia. It brings many new things to a stagnating genre. It’s overly quirky outlook makes it stand out even more in an ocean of sequels and uninspired rhythm based games. The songs are top class along with the innovative gameplay, and the whole package is topped off with an over the top story filled with funky characters. I recommend Gitaroo-Man to each and every fan of the genre and I also recommend it to everyone for at least a lookthrough. I guarantee you, you will not be disappointed.

- - Rise of the Phoenix

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