Out back of the Hardcore Gamer office you’ll find our Graveyard, where countless long-dead classics lie. We come here to pay our respects, to reminisce, and to wonder aloud what a passing mad doctor might be able do with all these corpses and some high-definition lightning.
I’ve dabbled in quite a few music and rhythm games in my time, from classics such as Dance Dance Revolution to more obscure titles like Ontamarama. Most recently I’ve been obsessed with Gitaroo Man Lives!, a port of the PS2 rhythm title Gitaroo Man. Having thoroughly enjoyed the original iteration of the game, I was excited to be able to take it on the go without dragging along a portable generator. Looking back, I’ve missed this goofy little game quite badly.
Gitaroo Man Lives! stars U-1 – your average, every-day adolescent aside from his… interesting name. U-1 has some trouble with bullies, and Pico, the girl of his dreams, barely knows he’s alive. If they’re not picking on him, the rest of the world wants nothing to do with him. One day, he happens upon a mysterious dog named Puma, who miraculously knows both how to play the guitar and speak. Puma gives U-1 a few guitar lessons before making a startling revelation: he is the last great hero of the Planet Gitaroo, Gitaroo Man! In short order he must use his powers to fend off an endless string of villains looking to steal his magical weapon, the Last Gitaroo, away.
Gitaroo Man Lives! is separated into a number of stages that you, as U-1/Gitaroo Man must complete in order to progress. Each stage consists of phases that allow U-1 to transform into Gitaroo man and fight. In the charge phase you must match the rhythm flawlessly in order to charge up Gitaroo Man’s health bar, which will keep in alive in the battle to come. This is done by aiming the analog nub in the direction of an oncoming green line, pressing and holding the circle button in time with Morse-Code-like blips and dashes on the line. Often, the line will twist in a serpentine motion, forcing you to spin the analog nub quickly and accurately. If for some reason you stray from the undulating line, then the note is not counted, and you’ll enter battle with less health.
Following that it’s time to fend off enemy attacks in the appropriately titled Guard phase. These attacks are represented by DDR-style button prompts, and you must press the corresponding face button quickly to deflect them. This is where the bulk of the game’s challenge lies. It’s also a bit of an issue as Gitaroo man has only one difficulty setting: balls hard. The speed of some of the buttons nearing the center is absurd, and everything past the 4th level is a real gauntlet. This is of no importance for seasoned rhythm gamers, but newcomers might want to cut their teeth on something more accessible.
The graphics on display here are crisp and detailed, packed with color and quirkiness that they really make the game. It’s a definite improvement over the PS2 version, and the visuals are well-suited to a smaller screen. Costume designs are rather strange and interesting, especially Gitaroo Man’s outfit. Boss monsters and the final head honcho, Zowie, aren’t your standard run-of-the-mill baddies. They really pop due to great character design. Usage of rounded edges and clean backgrounds rather than angular design really adds to the quirky mood of the game.
Though it doesn’t add anything new to the PS2 cult classic, Gitaroo Man Lives! is a fantastic rhythm game that boasts rich and colorful graphics along with some of the most memorable music this side of Katamari Damacy. The learning curve can be quite steep, but for rhythm veterans it only adds to the appeal. Like its heroic protagonist, this innovative game should be revered by music-lovers everywhere.