Activision has pulled the plug on Guitar Hero and for many it’ll be a shame, rather than a surprise. Back in 2005, the launch of the first Guitar Hero took the gaming world by storm, completely reviving the rhythm action genre. Rock music was riding high in the charts and Guitar Hero tapped right into the zeitgeist. The joypad was replaced by a guitar peripheral, which secured the success of the series and spawned a new generation of music games.
It’s just over five years since it burst onto the scene and Guitar Hero has played its last solo. So what happened?
Some may say that Rock Band happened, and while that did have a part to play in the demise of Guitar Hero, it’s not the whole story. Rock Band hit in 2007 adding a bass guitar, drums and the all important microphone to the mix. The addition of the new Rock Band game and peripherals did steal some of Guitar Hero’s thunder, but for many with budget constraints, Guitar Hero still more than filled their needs.
By 2009 however, the cracks were beginning to show with Activision admitting that sales were taking a tumble. Critics and gamers alike were accusing the publisher of milking the brand for all it was worth. Activision raided the back catalogue of rock giants, brining out standalone Guitar Hero titles for Aerosmith, Metallica and Van Halen. And with no less than 12 sequels under its belt, sales of the Guitar Hero series began to flag.
A combination of market saturation and the limitations of the gameplay took its toll. Once the guitar looked as life-like as possible and every wailing guitar solo known to man had been plundered, there was really nowhere for the game to go. Ultimately, the gameplay had barely changed from the original Guitar Hero five years ago. We were still tapping along to colored notes on the ever-scrolling fret board. It became a case of, play GH I or II or III and you’ve played them all.
For some reason, music games seem to think they can just add new songs and new instruments and we’ll be entertained indefinitely. That worked for a while, but as with most genres, sooner or later players will want something new. Even the most beloved FPS series can’t get away with 12 sequels and no innovation.
And we have to remember that we’re playing in a very different world to the one we were air guitaring in during 2005. The mid-2000s were all about rock music and even the movies gave us School of Rock. Even pop music became rock with the likes of Avril Lavigne scowling at us over her low-slung guitar.
Fast forward to 2009 and we’re in a recession. Then we were given High School Musical and the horror, I mean joyful escapism, that is Glee. The Ramones t-shirts, leather pants and big boots have been replaced with happy, shiny, pretty people. It’s move over The Killers and make room for Katy Perry, and lord help us, Justin Bieber.
The simple fact is, rock is going back underground and Guitar Hero is going the way of the Titanic. That’s not to say that one day someone won’t try to raise that ship, cut out the rot, plug it into the amp and turn it back up to 11.
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Most wanted: Child of Eden