Without question, some of rock's most memorable and fun guitar riffs were born from the 80s. Songs like Twisted Sister's "I Wanna Rock" and Accept's "Balls to the Wall" are the kind of songs that make you want to smash a beer can against your head, throw up your rock fist, and uncontrollably pee on your friend's couch. And it was only fitting that Guitar Hero, a videogame that warrants a similar reaction, would one day collide with the hard-partying, brain-melting rock of that particular era.
Guitar Hero has always been about the unique dynamic between the music and the gameplay. Even your least favorite band's worst song can begin to sound like a time worn classic, provided the game makes you feel like you're the driving force behind the music. Rocks the 80s has a handful of these moments, and when they work, it's the classic Guitar Hero bliss you're familiar with. On the other hand, the game's track listing is so cluttered with boring, unrecognizable nonsense that just working through the career mode quickly starts to feel like a miserable chore.
The track listing is all over the place, with the only real coherent thread holding it together being the fact that all of the songs were recorded between 1980 and 1989. While a song like Flock of Seagulls' "I Ran" might be great at karaoke (and certainly a memorable song from the 80s, one that may even exemplify that era's pop) it's not really known for its rockin' guitar. Not long after, you're asked to play "No One Like You" by the Scorpions and you realize how incredible Rocks the 80s could have been if, well, the game truly attempted to rock the 80s.
There's just not enough solid material here to sustain a full game. Perhaps a conversation needs to be had about how a song that contains one repeating chord progression throughout (The Romantics' "What I Like About You"') is not a good choice for a Guitar Hero game. Still, a song like this makes it into the game's track listing, even being lumped into the career mode's fourth tier, "Return of the Shred." Who will be punished for this drastic error in judgment?
Once you take into account the fact that the game only ships with 30 songs (with zero unlockable songs), you start to ask yourself, "Now why is this $49.99 again?" Because there's no good reason for it, especially considering Rocks the 80s is essentially an expansion pack for Guitar Hero II. It uses the same engine and contains most of the same arenas/menus/characters, with a bit of washed-out looking, cotton candy 80s flair. Putting 3D glasses on the Grim Ripper and throwing a striped tie on Pandora is not excusable "new" content, especially when you're demanding your fans pay full price.
It's easy to rip on Rocks the 80s because while it fronts as an expansion pack, your wallet is asked to think otherwise. What should have been a nice diversion while we wait for the full-fledged follow-up, Guitar Hero III, comes across like a quick cash-in on a popular franchise. Which is too bad, because at its core, Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s is still the same great game we still love, and it's just as much fun to play. Even tracks you'll never want to hear again are fun enough to play at a difficulty level that matches your appropriate skill level. But with such a short and spotty set list, it's insulting that when it comes to price, the game masquerades as a full-featured title.
Talking poorly about a Guitar Hero title hurts my soul -- the words "bad," "guitar," and "hero" should not be in the same sentence. Ever. If this was Harmonix's final attempt to take out the franchise's legs before moving on to Rock Band, then maybe all of this might make sense. I'm still trying to wrap by head around this whole debacle.
In the end, there's simply too few tracks on this disc worth playing; and once it's out of the PlayStation 2 disc tray, it's really not worth the time and effort it would take to put it back in.
Verdict: Rent it!
reviewed by Nick Chester