Review: Guitar Hero: Smash Hits (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Guitar Hero: Smash Hits
Developer: Beenox
Publisher: Activision
Genre: Rhythm
Release Date: 06/16/09


While Dictionary.com explains the verb “milking” in a variety of ways such as “to extract; draw out,” oddly enough, I didn’t see Guitar Hero mentioned anywhere on the page. However, if gamers receive more entries such as Guitar Hero: Smash Hits, the likelihood of that scenario may come true. While the gameplay is as sound as ever in Smash Hits, players simply receive Guitar Hero: World Tour, splashed with a little Guitar Hero: Metallica and a score of notable, yet, been-there, done-that master tracks. Add in a few questionable development choices by Beenox and marketing choices by Activision and it’s clear to see the cash-filled udder of the Guitar Hero cow is getting a little raw.

There’s honestly not much to say about Smash Hits other than it is a version of Guitar Hero: World Tour with songs plucked from Guitar Hero’s past, but when this update asks for $60 of your money, of course, our readers will want much more information in order to weigh in on a purchasing decision. The game’s navigation and scenarios are identical to Metallica’s wherein players can tackle career, quickplay, creation and online modes, with gameplay mechanics remaining unchanged since Guitar Hero: World Tour. While there is nothing original to be found here, there is still a lot of variety in the modes, especially if you can catch players in the game’s online modes, and while some of creation tools’ menus are little awkward at first, there is still a span of tools available to players. Smash Hits does, however, carry on with a new story in its line of career modes, this time pitting the game’s central storyline characters, fresh off their success from previous games, in a brand new legendary tour that has players performing at all of the wonders of the Earth such as the Amazon, Great Wall of China and more. While it doesn’t add much to the game and can be rather hokey, the story does add an extra dimension and identity to the game that is missing from other music game titles.

Moving on to the game’s presentation, I’m not sure what happened with Smash Hits, but the title seems to be lacking in this department when compared to other titles. It doesn’t help that, yet again, all of the game’s models and animation are 100 percent recycled from Guitar Hero: World Tour, but even then, the graphics seem to have less pop than in the series’ other entries. Following Metallica’s choreographed animations for specific songs, the animation doesn’t measure up in Smash Hits. Also, a lot of the venues in World Tour and Metallica feature more animation and flair than the ones found in Smash Hits, however, there are still a few impressive ones such as the Antarctic with its penguin and polar bear figures spewing ice and the characters’ visible breath vapors. The game’s menu is pound-for-pound the same as the previous two GH games and still doesn’t give players a lot to look at other than text and character models. Sure, everything does its job and is passable, but it comes across as slightly weaker than previous games and when you boil it down, most gamers that pay $60 for an update would probably want to see more effort put into changing up the presentation.

Audibly, while the game does the master tracks justice, there are a few weird balancing issues that fluctuate between the various songs, most notably where a few of the songs feature higher bass guitar volumes than the other instruments. Furthermore, while this aspect is purely subjective, a few fans of bands featured in the game may be disappointed to see live versions of a couple of the songs as opposed to an original recording. On that note, though, Smash Hits really does come across as a “Best Hits” game for the series, with very notable recordings that have proven to be fan favorites in the series. While the songs may not be everyone’s cup of tea and some players may debate why song x is in the game while song y is not, again, that delves into subjective territory – but then again, Smash Hits depends on the appeal of the song list in order to entice old players to play previously introduced songs once again and is perhaps the sole factor in whether players want to pick up the game, since hardly anything else has changed since the tweaks given to Metallica. Personal tastes aside, though, the music is still placed front and center in Smash Hits and most players will be too into the gameplay to notice balancing issues and other minor audio qualms.

While the gameplay hasn’t changed one iota, players are still given a healthy roster of songs along with the added benefit of being able to play the drums and vocalize to songs from previous entries where the features weren’t implemented. Even though the game still comes across as a fun multiplayer experience, there are a few balance issues that plague the various modes in a variety of different ways. With the guitar, while most people won’t complain, experts may be turned off to know that by implementing the series’ slide bar functionality, a lot of the songs have become much easier to perform, lowering the “Through the Fire and Flames” expert pedestal just a bit (it’s okay, you still have Guitar Hero III to unleash your inner Danny “Phenom” Johnson). This actually makes the game more accessible to players and Smash Hits does offer a satisfying difficulty progression and scale in its song choice, but when you’ve been in the music game genre for as long as I have, you know even the slightest adjustment, including those made to just merely update the note chart positioning, will set off long-time, expert players.

The bass guitar parts largely remain unchanged from World Tour or Metallica standards, but I seemed to have problems pulling-off with some of the open notes. The drums get the added benefit of expert+ difficulties for players to get their double-bass on and the vocals are as straight-forward as ever. Unfortunately for some of these instruments, though, when you consider songs pre-World Tour were chosen for their guitar parts, this leaves some of the other instruments on occasion with uninspired parts as compared to the guitar. Honestly, though, anyone who enjoys Guitar Hero will largely be able to look past these small qualms (if they notice them at all), but there is a fair stack of these minor setbacks that might tick at experienced players.

Outside of the main game play structure, though, I felt Smash Hits takes a step back with its linear, bare bones career mode. While Metallica made strides in simplifying the mode and giving players more freedom in which songs they can perform, Smash Hits ignores the improvement and reverts back to a structure that more reflects the original titles from which the song list stems from. On the surface, the mode seems identical to Metallica’s (although progression requires more stars) and players can skip past unwanted songs or songs too difficult for them, but the façade ends once the band reaches a certain point and you are required to go back and pass every single song in order to unlock the final two stages. It’s an odd event of counter-production that most players will deal with, but, again, the career mode is pretty much just the game’s playlist and nothing else, offering very little replayability in the mode and making it pale in comparison to Rock Band. On the other hand, though, the quickplay and online modes still work just as great and provide much more gaming mileage, assuming you can round up other members for your band.

Guitar Hero: Smash Hits may have absolutely no originality to it, but that’s not to say it is without merits and it can still appeal to any gamer willing to pick up an instrument or mic. The most obvious target for this game will be the gamers who somehow missed out the first time around on the five title represented on the disc, but longtime fans who have been there, done that, may be a little more hesitant to pick up the disc. Ideally, the best way to decide if Smash Hits is fit for your collection is to answer two quick questions: Do I like Guitar Hero games? Do I like the Guitar Hero: Smash Hits song list? If you answered yes to both questions, then the game just might be for you.

That being said, however, I do have to question the decision to pump this out as a full-priced retail release. This collection of songs could have easily been handled as downloadable content and the fact that Smash Hits, much like Metallica (aside from the band’s songs), does not support World Tour’s DLC is shameful. GHTunes does return in Smash Hits, but chances are you’ve already downloaded the top songs on the service for your other Guitar Hero games. Perhaps the only real blessing attributed to being a standalone retail release is in the title’s offering of a fresh, new 1,000 achievement points. Thankfully, these achievements have received a bit more of an overhaul, with some real dandies included to challenge expert players who may be initially put off by the slightly lower guitar difficulties. The achievements do span the range of the instruments, however, and they still really encourage players to buddy up and play with others.



The Scores
Story/Modes: ABOVE AVERAGE
Graphics: GOOD
Sound: VERY GOOD
Control/Gameplay: GREAT
Replayability: ENJOYABLE
Balance: ENJOYABLE
Originality: WORTHLESS
Addictiveness: MEDIOCRE
Appeal Factor: GOOD
Miscellaneous: VERY BAD
Final Score: DECENT GAME



Short Attention Span Summary
With Activision now seemingly pumping out a new Guitar Hero game every month, Smash Hits provides a another full-priced disc featuring nothing but the same old song and dance we’ve seen since World Tour. The player’s personal taste in music will really be the ultimate judge for this game, which merely takes songs from previous Guitar Hero entries and tosses them into the World Tour engine. There’s nothing new to be seen here and the presentation and some mechanics actually fall below the standards set by the previous two games in the series, but Guitar Hero buffs should still get some mileage out of the new instrument parts and new chart choreography. Smash Hits achieves what it sets out to do, but, unfortunately, it does nothing more, making it one of the weakest console Guitar Hero releases in the lineup.

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