The last time I previewed a Guitar Hero game, I was drawn to the Wii version because it attracted a less-competitive crowd of music fan. Now I'm drawn to it to kick some arse.
I've heard people criticise Guitar Hero games in the past for being too much of a video game and not enough of a music experience (boss battles? C'mon…). While Roadie Battle definitely is about winning and not about playing music, I'm pretty sure those who love the Wii won't mind a bit. And the competitive types won't even have time to quip "You used to be about the music, man," as they rock their hearts out to crush the competition.
What Is It? Roadie Battle is the first of two Wii-exclusive Guitar Hero 5 modes — the other being Stage Manager. Roadie Battle links two DS consoles to a Wii so up to four players can play. Two Wii players actually play music while the two DS players play as roadies out to sabotage the rival bands' gear backstage to wreck the performance via stylus-based mini-game. When a roadie succeeds in smashing the opponent's speakers or causing his pyrotechnics to malfunction, a status effect impedes the guitar player's progress. It's awfully hard to hit all the notes when everything's on fire.
What We Saw I played two rounds of Roadie Battle and backseat-gamed one other journalist's experience for a match.
How Far Along Is It? Fairly final. Guitar Hero 5 is out September 1.
What Needs Improvement? Maybe More Variety In Mini Games: There are four or so multi-tiered mini-games Roadies can choose to wreck things backstage or (when wrecked by the other roadie) try to repair. Each usually involves scribbling with a stylus (for stuff like snapping guitar strings), blowing into the mic (to put out fires) or mashing a button at the exact right time (to switch out a backward-strung guitar with a good one). These mini-games never vary no matter what band you're with or which song you're playing – so I could imagine gameplay getting a little stale, especially when everyone's memorized the stylus motions to each game.
What Should Stay The Same? The Teamwork Dynamic: Controlling a roadie is about more than just blowing into your DS mic and frantically scribbling on the touch screen. You've got to listen to your guitarist or you won't know when he's caught on fire, or how long she can keep going with her guitar strings reversed. Working together you develop a strategy where you know how long you have to wreck things and how quickly you need to click the "run back" icon to return to your side of the stage and repair sabotaged equipment. This is what developer Vicarious Visions calls a "Guitar Hero ecosystem" and it wasn't actually built for casual gamers most often associated with the Wii and DS. "When we designed Roadie Battle, we were really thinking about core gamers," Developer Karthik Bala said. "But we had this family come in, a mum, dad and their two kids and they've never been able to play guitar hero with their kids at all. But they loved being the roadies. They could play that mode all day long."
I Could Play This Mode All Day Long: I don't think I've had this much fun with a Guitar Hero game before. Sure, the mini-games might get old after a while, but it'll be a long while. Especially if I get a good teammate on guitar and someone with faster fingers to compete against. Roadie Battle might not be a pure music experience, sure. But for roadies, it's isn't about the music – it's about the band, man. Do it for the band!
Final Thoughts I can't wait for a Groupie Battle mode in Guitar Hero 6. Oh and in case you were wondering about Stage Manager — it's not really a game mode. It's just a way for a DS player to change the lighting, special effects and camera angles during the Mii Freestyle mode on the Wii so you can "help" record music videos.