‘Guitar Hero Encore’ fails to measure up

Associated Press

Musical games have long had their niche in the video-game industry. Fans of “Dance Dance Revolution” or “Pump It Up” like to show off their footwork; “SingStar” and “Karaoke Revolution” attract “American Idol” wannabes. Such games can be fun at parties and they’ve always had a devoted audience, but they never really attracted the masses.

That changed with the 2005 release of RedOctane’s “Guitar Hero.” Suddenly, every gamer had a fake Gibson connected to his PlayStation, and plenty of music lovers who don’t usually play games got hooked as well.

The creators of “Guitar Hero” are now developing “Rock Band” – which adds drums and vocals to the formula – for Electronic Arts and MTV Games. Activision is preparing “Guitar Hero III” for the holidays. And plenty of other studios have music games in the works. Fans of the genre are no longer a cult; today, it seems, every gamer wants to be a pop star.

During the 1980s dozens of excellent guitar bands, from the Minutemen and the Meat Puppets to Van Halen and R.E.M., roamed the earth. And yet, “Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s” inflicts Asia’s “Heat of the Moment” and .38 Special’s “Hold On Loosely” on us.

The latest edition of the “Guitar Hero” series has the worst set of tunes by far. Instead of endearingly silly nonsense like Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” (from the original game), it offers unlistenable sludge like Dio’s “Holy Diver.” It has a few new wave and pop metal gems (the Vapors’ “Turning Japanese,” Billy Squier’s “Lonely Is the Night”) that are fun to play, but most of the tracks are things you probably never wanted to hear again.

More disappointing: “Encore” includes only 30 tunes – less than half the content of “Guitar Hero II,” and it’s just as pricey. The core gameplay remains solid and enjoyable, even with lousy songs, so I can’t be too harsh.