Why is it on this list?
Single Player Video Games have grown to be stories based on achieving one goal: get to the end and save the princess, get to the end and save the world, get to the end and beat the bad guy, get to the end and find out your penguin girlfriend has gotten fat, etc. The moment to moment of the levels and experience are not emphasized, but what is important is reaching that finale, that all-encompassing goal of “beating the game”. Obviously, this has not always been the case. The concept of the “high score” was practically invented with video games (sorry, grandpa, your cone with a ball on a string high score is not a real thing), and, though the score counter has gone the way of Master Higgins, gamers are continually bringing the concept back for competition and skill reasons. Mega Man X has absolutely no concept of a scoring system in game, but feel free to watch speed runs and low item runs and that one amazing guy that can play the entire game without getting hit or dashing. Point is, games may have abandoned scores long ago, but the concept is constantly being revived by the people actually playing the games. See also: achievements/trophies.
I wanted at least one game on this list to exemplify the “score” concept in a straightforward, clearly showcased manner. Gitaroo Man was chosen as a fine representative of “easy to learn, difficult to master, and here’s where you rank.”
Well Why Not Every Other Rhythm Game in the Universe?
Gitaroo Man has a few advantages over other rhythm games. For one, it is very straightforward with its controls. It’s a simple, stupid thing, but the fact that the X prompts come from cardinal south and Triangle prompts come from cardinal north go a long way to reminding a player unfamiliar with the Playstation 2 (or PSP) control layout what direction their thumb should be chasing. Additionally, every level/song begins with an “intro”, which, please take note every rhythm game that has missed this lesson, is absolutely essential if you want the player to start in anything other than a failing state. Hey, call me crazy, but it kinda helps when you know the BPM of a song when you’re expected to “play” it. Also, all of the songs involved here are original. I have a hard time playing the “games are art” card when a game simply rehashes something that is already considered artistic. Sharp Dressed Man is a national treasure, does tacking a “game” onto it make it better?
And, oh yeah, there’s mariachi skeletons.
Gitaroo Man is basically a parody of typical shonen and western stories: U-1 is a put upon loser of a teenager who only wants to impress the cute girl and prove to the bully that he’s not an “infinite loser”. U-1 discovers, with the help of his mentor/dog, that he is a special boy with a special heritage and is the mystical Gitaroo Man. U-1, Gitaroo Man, must use his magical weapon, the Gitaroo, to collect the seven legendary gitaroos, and power-up to the True Gitaroo Man and defeat the nefarious intergalactic despot, Zowie, and maybe win the heart of a young maiden along the way.
While the plot of Gitaroo Man is pretty standard, its details are a little on the… different side. Each legendary gitaroo is a different enchanted musical instrument, like a bass “axe” that is a for real axe… and is wielded by a flying demon baby clad in a diaper and riding a choo choo. And that’s the first level. Things steadily escalate through a UFO with a synthesizer and “Dance Till Your Death” rays, an Elvis impersonator with a trumpet and an inexplicable bee costume, and a space shark that transforms into a giant sized DJ Sumo robot. Finally, after a brief romantic interlude, U-1, in one of the most difficult battles in the game, faces a trio of mariachi skeletons in the only drum solo that has ever been worth a listen. Were I a horrible person, I would imbed a MIDI of that song into everything I have ever published. Be glad if I never change my mind. Yes, there is more to the game after the Sanbone Trio, but who cares, learning to trust in your own skills and vanquishing dancing skeletons is the only climax I will ever need.
So scoring and “whacky” is all it takes to make a game essential?
No, not in the least, but this is a game that will make you want to play it again and again. I swear I’m not bitter about Guitar Hero and Rock Band killing the “story rhythm game” genre in favor of all licensed songs all the time (yes I am). Gitaroo Man is a game that can be completed in an hour, but has years worth of details crammed into every scene. And this is important! If you’re going for the “high score”, if you’re trying to achieve the best Gitaroo Man rank possible, if you want to be the True Gitaroo Man, you’re going to be playing these same songs over and over and over again. It’s natural, no one is born a perfect guitar player, and no one is born just knowing how to conquer Bee Jam Blues. So, if you’re going to play a level over and over again, it’s only polite of the developers to make a game that is overflowing with details and, dare I say it, affection if you’re going to see it all continually. Hell, I must have played one of my favorite songs in this game, Flyin’ to Your Heart, about a million times before a friend pointed out the “very Japanese slot machine building” in the background. It’s a silly detail, and, from a gameplay or story perspective, adds absolutely nothing to the game, but it’s a fun thing to notice between bouts of swearing at missed notes.
Gitaroo Man might not be the best game in the universe. It never redefined the video game paradigm like some of its peers. Hell, I’m pretty sure it sold like seventeen copies in its first run. But, to me, it’s a perfect game to “teach” someone the concept of scoring in a game. You either hit the right note or you don’t, and, in the end, there’s no surprise when you score low because you didn’t see a single “Great” on the screen. A newbie might take a long time to attain every perfect, but Gitaroo Man hits all the right notes, and scores S rank every time.
The Gaming 5 #3 Gitaroo Man
- System: Playstation 2 and PSP. Horribly, the PSP version is not available on Vita.
- Number of Players: 2. Oh yeah, there’s a two player competitive mode. It’s quite fun if you can find someone on the same skill level as yourself… But you’ll S-rank Tainted Lovers well before that happens.
- Port ‘o Call: The PSP version, Gitaroo Man Lives!, has two new songs available in a new two player co-op mode. Downside? Even when this game was new, I didn’t know a single other human being in my immediate area with a PSP. Way to go, Koei.
- Favorite Song? Much like the Josie and the Pussycats (movie) soundtrack, I’ve been listening to the entirety of this OST for the last fifteen years. As a result, a number of Gitaroo Man songs are practically a part of my soul. And I can barely recall the name of any given hit from my high school years! I’m weird. What was the original question? Oh yeah, let’s see here… hm… Yes, I think I will have to acknowledge the skeletons’ Born to Be Bone as my absolute favorite Gitaroo Man song. I petitioned the local courts to allow me to drive any speed when this song comes on in my car, but they didn’t go for the idea.
- Did You Know? U-1, the mighty Gitaroo Man who saves an entire planet from tyranny and gets the girl in the process… is voiced by a girl. Specifically Lenne Hardt, who has also voiced Tekken’s Anna Williams and Transformers’ Arcee (in video games, to be clear). That poor kid just can’t catch a break.
- Would I play again: Hells yes. This is basically my go-to Playstation 2 game, and it’s ideal for a quick pick up and play to see if I can finally defeat Master mode. Here’s a tip: I can’t. Added bonus: I don’t even have to find wherever my memory cards are hiding to enjoy it!
What’s next? Earth is in peril, and only a karate man, a floating giant head, and a chivalrous knight can save it. Please look forward to it!