OK, so this is an important one for me. This is one of the major games of my life, and one that well and truly blew me away, in a time when games were only just starting to get somewhere. A while ago a friend and I debated about the meaning of 'retro'. He attests that the only way something can be called retro is if it's from a console 2 generations behind. So the original Playstation would be retro, as would the N64, but not the PS2 or Gamecube. Well I say SOD THAT. Gitaroo Man was released here in 2002, and if I can't talk about something 8 years old in Retro Monday, well then there's just no point.
Anyway, onto the greatest rhythm action game of all time, shall we?
I stumbled onto this game by pure chance. My cousin found it on a demo disc sellotaped to a Playstation magazine. He'd said he played this one level about 30 times, and was eagerly awaiting the release date. I had a go, enjoyed it, and put it in my memory banks. Fast forward six months, and I was getting my own Playstation 2. Stood there at my local game store, I already had PES and GTA3 in my hands, with the choice of getting another game at a greatly discounted rate. My mum said she'd treat me, and I could have another one. At this time, I had it all. I already had 2 amazing games, and the thought of another one only cemented this as being one of the greatest birthday presents of all time. I chose Gitaroo Man, which was full price, and remained so all the times I saw it on the shelf of any game retailer I was lucky enough to see it at.
What then followed was an amazing Summer. I'm not talking about the weather, because I haven't a clue about how sunny it was. I was too busy inside playing this futuristic games machine, with 3 of the most engrossing games I've ever played. Gitaroo Man was the first one I completed, and the one that has probably stuck with me the most.
Somewhere inbetween Guitar Hero, Pokemon and Street Fighter sits Gitaroo Man. In essence a rhythm-action beat-em-up with anime and an original soundtrack, no words I say here can make it sound even approachable. The premise is terrible. It's a game that shouldn't work, and the cutscenes inbetween each battle try their hardest to make sure it doesn't work. But, for the few faults it has, this game more than makes up for in one thing: The music.
The crux of any music game. Obviously. But whereas these days Guitar Hero tries to tempt you with a roster of 'cool' artists and 'sweet' cameos by favourite rockstars, Gitaroo Man went it alone, shunning any kind of commercial music, instead writing it's own soundtrack. And this is where Gitaroo Man get it's strength. It's secret weapon. It's where it stops being U-1, and becomes Gitaroo Man.
This is not a dig at Guitar Hero, far from it. I understand the fun in it, and I'm ashamed to say that I do have a plastic drumkit sat at home, albeit buried away these days. No, the point I'm making is that Gitaroo Man did it WITHOUT any gimmicks. Without any peripherals, without any NME tracklistings. Gitaroo Man, first and foremost, is a Music game. The music is designed to help the narrative, to shape the game, to make each level unique, in both musical genre and visual appearance. This music in the game is so intrinsically linked to the game itself, that this isn't a music game, it's just a game, and it's brilliant.
But that's not a dig at the music, as I think it's better than any track in any Guitar Hero game. Every genre in Popular Music is taken onboard and given the Gitaroo Man treatment. From battling a robotic space-Reggae shark, to battling a samba skeleton gang, every single level is different, and themed accordingly. In fact, the bosses are so characteristic, I could base this whole article on Mojo King Bee. One of the best videogame characters of ALL TIME. A trumpet-playing, Saturday Night Fever-strutting humanoid Bee. With an afro. Playing Funk. The level also contains a backing band made of frogs. And it's even better than it sounds.
I've not played anything like this before, or since. The Japanese Kookiness and kitsch goes just far enough without being too much, and the graphics are beautiful. Really nice FMVs, amazingly unique character design, and of course the soundtrack. It's been re-made for the PSP, and is pretty easy to pick up on the PS2 for relatively cheap. If you've ever played Guitar Hero, and longed for more, perhaps this may just tickle your strings.