Guitar Hero: Smash Hits Review

By Abbie Heppe - Posted Jun 29, 2009

It's not hard to call Guitar Hero a gaming phenomenon. Since its inception in 2005, sequels and spin-offs have flowed in tight succession. Yet, each game has offered a reason that keeps the concept chugging along. However, as the games roll out, in record numbers this year, it's again time to ask: are you in the market for another Guitar Hero game? The answer should be, "Hell yeah, but not this one."

The Pros
  • A solid collection of songs
  • Nice integration of GH's newer features
  • Full band on classic songs
The Cons
  • Mediocre recharting of songs
  • Unable to access DLC or add to content
  • Poor online matchmaking

Guitar Hero Smash HitsIt’s not hard to call Guitar Hero a gaming phenomenon. Since its inception in 2005, sequels and spin-offs have flowed in tight succession and millions of gamers have made extra space in the living room for plastic peripherals. Yet, each game has offered a reason that keeps the concept chugging along (well, not you, Rock Revolution). However, as the games roll out, in record numbers this year, it’s again time to ask: are you in the market for another Guitar Hero game? The answer should be, “Hell yeah, but not this one.”
Smash Hits pulls tracks from Guitar Hero, GH II, GH III, Rocks the 80’s and Aerosmith, but this time, the game features master tracks (several live). It also includes all of the World Tour features like open bass notes, touchpad soloing and of course, the full band experience for both single and multiplayer. The interface is similar to GH: Metallica, where you earn stars to progress (and you have to beat every song this time), unlock more difficult tiers and you know, rock the world…literally.

We hear Quebec is very nice, though.

Guitar Hero: Smash HitsYour mission in Smash Hits, if you choose to accept it, is to take on the form of the “God of Rock” and play venues modeled after wonders of the world.  Thankfully, no annoying celebrities appear to challenge you to frustrating battles. Also, the line-up is back to the tried and true staple characters playing in places like Grand Canyon, the Amazon rainforest and Quebec. Wait, what? The in-game factoids (only several of which actually talk about the locales) tell me that Quebec has a thriving metal scene. Now, I realize developer Beenox is located there, but let me go over this again: the Grand Canyon, the polar ice caps, the rainforest, Atlantis…and Quebec. No vintage Guitar Hero venues for you, fanboys, but there’s nothing better than some poutine after a rock show. How did french fries with gravy just sound so dirty?!

This is an advertisement - This story continues below

All those songs you like, again

The good news is that there are plenty of great tracks in Smash Hits, Ozzy’s “Bark at the Moon,” Iron Maiden’s “The Trooper,” Helmet’s “Unsung,” and “Back in the Saddle” (which is the perfect Aerosmith choice); however, there are a few too many songs that you can already download in Rock Band. No Matthew Sweet? No “Possum Kingdom,” “Search and Destroy,” or “Tattooed Love Boys”? And now the game focuses on a band experience, no vocal-less masterpieces like “Misirlou”?  It would have been nice to see more tracks pulled off the games that never appeared on a current gen console (less than half the tracks are pulled from the first GH and 80’s). I will concede that musical taste is completely subjective and you can probably write off some of the more obvious omissions to the nightmare that is music licensing. Despite those concessions, the question must be asked, “Why isn’t this whole game DLC?”

There’s nothing particularly compelling about Smash Hits past offering new songs, and unlike World Tour, you can’t access the Guitar Hero store to download more content, which renders the game completely stand-alone. You still have the option to create and share music, but that’s not really the same as being able to get long-term bang for your buck by downloading new songs. Here’s hoping that Guitar Hero 5 will provide a way to load in tracks from World Tour and Smash Hits.

Everything right is wrong again

Guitar Hero Smash HitsNow, if you’ve played the previous Guitar Hero games, forget what you know. It would be comforting to see old tracks with new frills; however, with the master track upgrade, all of the songs have been recharted. This works with varying degrees of success.  Bass is more interesting, and some of the most challenging guitar solos have become more manageable. However, fingers long accustomed to the structure of notes in Guitar Hero, GH II and even GH III will find themselves at a loss.

One example is “Pyschobilly Freakout.” A seventh-tier song in GH II (on both PS2 and 360, even though the 360 version restructured the difficulty tiers), you’ll find “Freakout” even more of a beast as it’s been shifted to the last tier in Smash Hits. It’s extremely frustrating to be able to beat a song in one game, and not another. In fact, if you can beat Smash Hits on Expert you’re nothing short of a prodigy. The final song to beat is “Through the Fire and Flames” by DragonForce which was featured as a bonus unlock in GH III, probably due to the inhuman skill it takes to conquer it.  On top of the spastic degrees of difficulty, some of the songs sound poorly mixed, possibly due to tweaking them for a full band.

It’s tough to speak to the difficulty level of a game when the average player will never even get that far, but while other Guitar Hero games are almost in need of a guitar Expert + level, Smash Hits is almost an insurmountable challenge. The first two GH games were beatable, especially if you paid attention to the charting and by studying how star power was delivered in each song. There was a clear strategy to them that meant the average Expert player, not just the prodigy, could eventually beat them (remember how people used to talk about paths when GH was first released?). 

When the star power charting was changed for GH III, it presented a new problem: now, players must hit a much longer series of notes to build up the charge, lowering the odds that anyone will actually hit it.

Guitar Hero Smash HitsThink that’s nitpicking? Just wait. In Smash Hits, one of the places you collect star power in “Raining Blood” on Hard difficulty is on the last chord of the song, rendering it pointless. That was a change implemented solely on Smash Hits and “Raining Blood” appears sans star power in Guitar Hero III. It’s things like this that make you think Beenox doesn’t understand certain fundamentals of the gameplay. See? That’s nitpicking. However, nitpicking aside, I don’t think you can ignore that Smash Hits flips familiar charting on its head and, in turn, ends up being more frustrating than fun for dedicated GH fans.

And while we’re on the subject, the multiplayer won’t give you much of a reason to stick around either. The haphazard system of throwing players of all difficulties together works well enough in band mode because band members tend to play on different levels, but if you’re playing online alone, there’s no guarantee you’ll be matched with a player that’s playing on the same difficulty you are. It’s not remotely fun to be playing Expert while someone chugs away on Medium, and vice versa. Not to mention the songs aren’t balanced for dual difficulty one-on-one competition. Easy solution: Matchmaking should set you up with someone playing on the same difficulty level.

Play Guitar Hero Off, Keyboard Cat

Many people expected the demise of Guitar Hero’s good name when it was no longer in the hands of Harmonix, but Neversoft has been consistently stepping up to the plate with fun innovations, solid charting and a firm grasp on what makes a worthwhile addition to the franchise.

Guitar Hero Smash HitsPlayers should be able to expect consistent quality from the Guitar Hero name. For experienced players and for fans of the series, this iteration will resonate as profoundly mediocre. However, based on what the average player will experience, it earns a begrudging recommendation and a warning about what farming this series out to developers unfamiliar with the intricacies of the game will do the quality of the brand in the future.