Review: Guitar Hero: Metallica (Nintendo Wii)

Guitar Hero: Metallica
Genre: Rhythm
Developer: Budcat Creations
Publisher: Activision
Release Date: 03/29/2009

Are we starting to see too many Guitar Hero game? Yes, it could be argued that the franchise is actually seeing too many releases and that the whole thing is being run into the ground, but frankly as long as the games continue to sell, who can blame them? After all, in the case of Guitar Hero, every band-specific game comes with a built-in audience, be it for Aerosmith or the freshly-announced Van Halen. I will start to question their strategy when they start releasing Guitar Hero: Simple Plan and Guitar Hero: Poison, and even then, I can think of three or four people I know who would be all over these titles. Still, as long as the series sticks to big time rock bands, financial success is almost guaranteed. Have you ever seen how rabid some of these fans are?

All of this brings us to Guitar Hero: Metallica. Over the years, I have found that few fans are as rabid as Metallica fans. On the obsession scale, they are up there with the fan base of Iron Maiden. For these people, the game is an automatic buy, and reading this review is a waste of their time. Still, how fun is the game for a casual Metallica fan? How much playtime do you get for the price? Does it compare favourably to other entries in the Guitar Hero franchise? How does the Wii version compare to the same game on other systems?

All of these questions – and much more! – will be answered in this review.

Everything you would expect to see in a Guitar Hero game is available here. We have quickplay and career, both playable solo or as a band. We then have a practice mode, which is basically quickplay without the possibility to fail, and a track creator, just like in its big brother game, Guitar Hero: World Tour. This track creator is once again too shallow to be anything more than a distraction. It’s fun for a couple of minutes, but once you realize that nothing you will create will actually sound like a real song, you will probably think that the end result is not worth the amount of time necessary to make a single track.

All of these modes are more or less the same as in previous versions of the game, with one exception: the career mode has been changed so that you don’t have to finish every song in a tier before moving to the next. Instead, you have to meet a star requirement, which is met rather quickly if you play at the right difficulty. This means that you if some songs bore you, or if you bought this simply for the Metallica tracks and you don’t care for the guest artists, then you will be able to jump over most of the songs you find uninteresting. I’ll admit that I jumped a lot of tracks just to get to “One” as fast as possible before backtracking to the first tier and playing every song as I felt my reviewer duty required. It’s a subtle change, but it’s a fun one.

The main menu offers another option that isn’t a mode in itself, but more of a collection of extras. When you select “backstage” from the menu, it offers a rock star creator, exclusive videos of Metallica, lyrics and “Metallifacts”. These Metallifacts are actually simply a performance of the selected song by the in-game characters, which plays while information about the track pops up at the bottom of the screen. This is pretty neat if you simply want to listen to the tracks, kinda like the Jukebox Mode that was promised for Rock Band 2 but never made it to retail version. However, the “Metallifacts” themselves are nothing new, and you will know most of it if you ever read the Wikipedia entry for any of the songs. It should also be noted that the mode is not available for every song in the game.

Let’s not forget to mention that anything you have downloaded for Guitar Hero: World Tour is incompatible with this game, which is a shame. Sure, it’s a Metallica-based game, but anything that reduces disk-swapping is a plus with me.

Story/Modes Rating: Good

The game goes for the same vibe as in previous instalments, which means that the characters look somewhat cartoonish, with some of the having freakish body measurements. This translates very well into Metallica’s universe, as every band member has a physical trait that fits this caricature style, such as James’ menacing mug, Kirk’s curls or Robert’s swinging braids of doom. The band members’ models are detailed and they all move like you would expect their real-life counterparts to act. This means that James is leaning forward to sing and always looks angry, while Lars stands up from time to time and Robert acts like a maniac and does everything from jumping to spinning with his arms out. Even guest musicians such as Lemmy are exactly what you would expect. The motion capture work is truly superb and helps make this game feel like its own beast instead of a mere Guitar Hero rehash.

The different areas all possess a unique feel and atmosphere, and the multiple pyros and effects that accompany a Metallica show are nicely represented. You will probably be too busy hammering your guitar’s frets like a madman to notice any of this, though. Still, it’s very pleasant to the eye for anybody who couldn’t call dibs on an instrument and is stuck watching everybody else have all the fun.

In a more general manner, I have noticed some jagged edge on the characters, and the whole game looks noticeably more blurry than its Xbox 360 counterpart. The frame rate also seems to suffer during some of the most graphically intense moments, such as when many things explode at once in the background, or when too many notes come on screen at once. It doesn’t slow down to the point where the game becomes unplayable, but the hiccups are still apparent and annoying, especially in the middle of a solo.

Graphics Rating: Above Average

In this case, the sound department might be the most important aspect of the whole game, and thankfully, the music is crisp and clean. Some of the bass parts seem to be louder than I remember, but it just makes sense if you want your bassist to be able to find his beat in the middle of the cacophony. As for the track selection itself, it all depends on your appreciation Metallica, as they represent more than half of the soundtrack. The rest of the featured bands are not enough to warrant a buy on their own, as they are nearly all in the same subgenre as the main featured act. From a technical standpoint, the audio is stellar, but this has been the standard for the series for quite a while, except for the mono sound controversy from the Wii version of Guitar Hero 3.

Sound Rating: Unparalleled

At this point, so long after the release of the original game, I doubt that there’s anyone reading this review who doesn’t know how the controls work. The only thing you need to know regarding this is that the control scheme is an exact copy of Guitar Hero: World Tour, which means that everything that has been introduced previously once again appears here. This includes slide bar notes, purple open bass notes and drum rolls. The controls are as responsive as ever, so anyone who has ever played a music game in the past will be able to get started right away. Even newcomers will be able to have a good time as the game features a beginner mode where failing is nearly impossible unless voluntary.

My only problem with the game is one that is unfortunately unique to the Wii version. Guitar Hero: Metallica is fully compatible with every peripheral from Rock Band, on the condition that you are using the Xbox 360 or PS3 version. When it comes to the Wii, the game is backward compatible with the Guitar Hero 3 controller, but not with the Rock Band drums or guitars. Why? Considering that Harmonix was able to render their game compatible with any instrument that was produced for the Activision franchise, I find it hard to believe that the opposite was impossible. It’s an even bigger slap in the face when you know that the game is indeed compatible with Rock Band peripherals on every other system. This reeks of laziness. I don’t know if the developer or the publisher is at fault here, and I know that the developer of the Wii version is not the same as for the PS3 or 360 versions, but this is seriously insulting to gamers who own nothing but Nintendo’s console. For that reason alone, I cannot recommend the game to anybody who owns more than just a Wii.

With that said, let’s finish this section on a positive note by saying that when played with Guitar Hero compatible controllers, the new drum difficulty called “expert +” is an absolute blast to play. The dual kick pedal action is furious and truly exhausting when it comes to harder songs. Of course, it is probably off-limit for the majority of players, and even a long-time player like me as failed more than a couple of songs on that setting (to my credit, I did pass a couple of them too). In the end, it’s an excellent addition that will make you respect real drummers. If plastic drums can be that difficult, I can’t even begin to imagine what Lars Ulrich must feel, or smell like, after a show. The guy must have gigantic calves.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Great

The game ships with 49 songs, which is obviously a lot less than Guitar Hero: World Tour or Rock Band 2. There is also zero downloadable content for the Wii version of the game, which means that the entire “Death Magnetic” album, which is available for other systems, is nowhere to be found here. Instead, Activision seems to have realized that this looks a lot like a big “screw you” to Wii owners, so they included three tracks from the album as bonus songs. Without anything to add once you are finished with the main tracks, this means that replayability is limited to how much fun you can have playing the songs over and over again. Thankfully, the answer in this case is a positive one, as playing “One” and “Seek and Destroy” as an entire band is ranks at the top of my experiences with this genre of games. Mastering the many solos contained in this game will take you a lot of time, even if you are a long time player.

The other modes are unfortunately non-factors in this department. The track creator is not really worth your time as the options, while deep, never seem to give satisfactory results unless you are willing to spend days on the same song. At this rate, you would be better off buying yourself a real song-creating software.

Finally, the online versus mode does lengthen the game quite a bit, but with a selection that is quite shorter than that of World Tour, be prepared to play the same songs over and over again. I hope you like playing “Enter Sandman” because my online opponents sure did. Non-stop. Over and over.

Replayability Rating: Above Average

I had some troubles with previous games in the series, as the jump from Hard to Expert seemed to be quite harsh. This time, I feel like the note charts are more accurate, especially at advanced difficulties. Past games, especially once Harmonix stopped developing the series, were often guilty of showcasing crazy note charts just for the sake of showing off. I’m glad to announce that this is no longer the case, with the exception of the drums’ Expert + mode. Even then, I suspect that they may actually be closer to the real thing, and more importantly, the songs remain fun to play. Anyway, it’s not like Metallica songs needed to have their difficulty level artificially enhanced.

Balance Rating: Great

No matter how much Metallica imagery they added to the game, the fact remains that this is still a Guitar Hero title which uses exactly the same mechanics as the last instalment in the series. The only truly innovative stuff is the addition of support for a second kick pedal, as well as minor things like Metallifacts. Otherwise, this is the same game you have been playing for three years or so now, but with songs specific to one band and genre.

Originality Rating: Bad

As usual with this type of game, it is extremely hard to let go until you have played every single song in the set-list. This can become quite a challenge when you are stuck on crazy songs like “War Ensemble”, but somehow, the game manages to make you crave another go at it. I don’t know if it’s because a lot of people secretly dream of being famous rock stars, or because it is just so damn fun to jump around and act like a maniac while hammering a plastic guitar. Whatever the reason is, this is a game that will get a lot of spin for months to come, until everybody I know has played it at least once. I swear, I didn’t remember having this many friends.

Addictiveness Rating: Classic

The whole rhythm game genre has become a phenomenon over the last few years, and nowadays, as soon as one of these games gets released, the odds are high that you will hear about it on TV, be it from news report talking about it or from Ellen playing it live for her audience. When you combine that with Metallica’s built-in fan base, I have no troubles believing that this will be the best selling spin-off of the series. Speaking from experience, there are much more Metallica fans than Aerosmith fans who like to play this type of games. I can’t see many people not wanting to at least try it, unless you really hate the band.

Appeal Factor Rating: Classic

I feel like Metallica was perfect match for the Guitar Hero franchise. Most of their songs feature long solos and frantic drums tracks. It is certainly one of the most fun instalments in the series in terms of pure fingers workout.

The online multiplayer option is good and the opponent finder is quick and painless. The friend codes are of course back, but not necessary if you only want a quick match against a human player, just to see where your skills now rank after a bit of practice.

Finally, I must say that paying full price for a game which features about half the number of playable tracks from its predecessor feels a bit like a rip-off, but I guess this is offset by the insane length of some of the songs included here. Still, I cannot comprehend the complete lack of downloadable content, especially when it was made available for other games. The same goes for the lack of compatibility with Rock Band instruments.

Miscellaneous Rating: Above Average

Story/Modes: Good
Graphics: Above Average
Sound: Unparalleled
Control/Gameplay: Great
Replayability: Above Average
Balance: Great
Originality: Bad
Addictiveness: Classic
Appeal: Classic
Miscellaneous: Above Average

Final Score: Good Game!

Short Attention Span Summary
This is an easy recommendation for anybody who has even a casual interest in Metallica. The songs themselves are fun enough to warrant the price of admission, despite their limited number. The new “Expert +” difficulty level is a real challenge, but the feeling you get when you pass your first song is very rewarding. The game’s biggest flaws are its lack of originality, lack of downloadable content and lack of compatibility with the competition’s instruments. If you own an entire Guitar Hero band kit, this game comes highly recommended. If you went with the Rock Band drum set, then you might want to reconsider before putting down your money.



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2 responses to “Review: Guitar Hero: Metallica (Nintendo Wii)”

  1. Robin Avatar

    Q: We own a wii and nothing musical yet. We’re buying the Guitar Hero Metallica game for our son (~$40). What else do we need to buy to use this game best? An entire Guitar Hero band kit? Or are there cheaper guitars and/or drums we could buy that are compatible? Thank you!

  2. Guy Desmarais Avatar
    Guy Desmarais

    I would recommend getting a Guitar Hero bundle to get all of the instrument (A guitar, a drum and a microphone). However, you don’t have to go with the newest Guitar Hero version, if the Metallica version is your focus. Guitar Hero 5 and Band Hero are just out, which means that most stores will cut the price on Guitar Hero: World Tour bundles. The drums will be from the previous generations, with, I believe, smaller cymbals. However, from experience, I can tell you that the drum is still very competent and sturdy, so you shouldn’t worry about that.

    There are of course 3rd party alternatives for guitars, such as Mad Catz, but these are usually cheaper in terms of quality.

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