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Guitar Hero: Smash Hits
Graphics: 7
Gameplay: 9.5
Sound: 9.5
Control: 9.2
Replay Value: 9
Rating: 9.2

You guys should know that I'm a sucker for compilations. While I'm not that guy who buys all of those compilation discs off of those terrible infomercials, I do enjoy videogame compilations such as this one. Guitar Hero: Smash Hits is the very best of the series ranging from Guitar Hero I, II, III, Encore: Rocks the 80s, and even a track from Aerosmith! There is a total of 48 tracks, most of which are widely accepted to be fan favorites. But you may say to yourself, "well if I have all of those games, what point is there to get this compilation?" And that's an easy question to answer.

You see, all of the songs in Smash Hits were originally designed to be only played with using the guitar controller. So if you've ever wanted to pound away on your Guitar Hero/Rock Band drums to Dave Grohl's incredible performance on "No One Knows" by Queens of the Stone Age, this is your chance. Likewise, you can also attempt your best Josh Homme and sing the song. More importantly, at least to me, is that all of the tracks in Smash Hits are the actual licensed songs, and not covers recorded by a band, which many of the tracks in GHI and GHII were. So you not only have the full-band experience of GH: World Tour and Metallica, but you also have the proper tunes to go along with it, and that's awesome.

By now you may, or may not have, experienced the Guitar Hero instruments, such as the drumset. If you have experienced them, you can skip down to the gameplay talk. If you haven't, then here's what you need to know. If you've followed both Rock Band's and Guitar Hero's offerings, you'll know that Guitar Hero offers the more realistic drum-set, complete with two mounted rubber hats - something I asked to see out of Rock Band 2. Below the rubbery hats are three pads, which are notably larger and quieter than the Rock Band set. The bass-pedal, unfortunately, while easier to operate, doesn't attach anywhere and grips the floor using the rubber pads beneath it, so those with carpets may find themselves annoyed.

But allow me to discuss the biggest concern with the Guitar Hero drums: the material and design of the cymbals. Why Red Octane designed to use a rubber compound for the entire cymbal is beyond me - they should've just used it only for the top, and left the base plastic. Why? Because when you're drumming, the drum sticks would often get caught on the cymbal, throwing your rhythm completely off. Wood sticks to rubber, so instead of just sliding off, the sticks get stuck to the material - it's frustrating, to say the least. You can adjust the height of the cymbal, but not nearly high enough to avoid these problems.

My solution was simple, I plugged in my Rock Band 2 drum set and even though I was missing a pad, it was still extremely fun. But for those not fortunate enough to have both, some clever craftsmanship should fix the problem. And by clever craftsmanship, I mean scotch taping some paper to the bottom of the cymbals. It may not be the prettiest thing, but it works, it helps retain the fun of the game, and you get to use the better of the two rum sets.

As far as the guitar, Red Octane has outdone Rock Band's peripheral, boasting an assortment of new features. For starters, the current Guitar Hero guitar is a bit larger, with a longer whammy bar, quieter strum, and a redesigned Select button that now mimics the bridge of a guitar. But the coolest feature are the touch pad sensors that sit further down the neck, allowing you to use either the standard buttons, or the sensors pads. Additionally, the touch-pad sensors can be used for sustain, staccato notes, and easier finger tapping.

Gameplay consists of the Career as the core mode. Obviously, this is where your campaign runs and how you can legitimately unlock the songs of the game. Your band will play behind you, and you can make your way through the campaign with any of the instruments or as a singer. It's fairly straightforward stuff, complete with the requisite boss fights. The story arc for Smash Hits is also pretty funny, with The God of Rock sending your band a challenge to, basically, tour the world and melt people's faces off. This tour takes you through virtual recreations of the numerous Wonders of the World, such as the Grand Canyon, The Sphinx, The Great Wall of China, The Amazon Rain Forest, Polar Ice Caps, Atlantis, and the London Sewerage System. Not all of those are officially recognized Wonders, but since it's just a videogame, I don't think there's any point in nitpicking.

Besides the standard gameplay modes is also the Music Studio mode, where you can record a three-minute song of your own using the game's instruments. A variety of options will allow the gamer to configure the sound of their drums and guitars, allowing for a diverse range of effects. Uploading your created songs to the Guitar Hero Tunes service has limitations, as users cannot upload copyrighted material (covers), or upload more than five songs. And as far as multiplayer goes, yes, eight-player Battle of the Bands is here. Basically, everything you got in World Tour is given to you in Smash Hits, but unfortunately there is no GHTunes, and that means no DLC. But, you are given Expert+ from GH: Metallica, so you can double bass here too.

The visuals here in World Tour are about what you've come to expect. For Smash Hits, polygonal versions of famous musicians have been removed, and instead the game reverts back to the original designs of pre-World Tour GH games. You still have the light show, on top of the motion captured animation, as well. Image clarity is great, so I doubt you'll have much to complain about. But at this point in the generation and the franchise's life, I'd personally like to see a slightly more flashy look from both Rock Band and Guitar Hero; the quirky cartoon-like presentation has worked well until now, but it's not next-generation quality and could use a facelift.

What I loved about World Tour, and I still love in Smash Hits is the mixer that allows me to adjust the volume of each individual instrument. To my surprise, Guitar Hero: World Tour actually had this very feature, giving the gameplay a slight boost above that of Rock Band 2. With this feature, I can now turn down the vocals and guitars in order to hear the drums or bass better. Having control over the audio like this is a wish come true. So not only does Guitar Hero continue to feature superb audio clarity, but mixing sounds puts this one on top.

As is the case with music games, it's the playlist that ultimately determines your choice. I tend to prefer Guitar Hero games for their louder soundtracks, and Smash Hits is no exception. Foo Fighters, Motley Crue, Judas Priest, Ozzy, Pantera, Slayer, Queen, Rage Against the Machine, Iron Maiden, Queens of the Stone Age, The Police, Lamb of God, Nirvana, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Boston, Incubus, Ratt, Alice in Chains, Deep Purple, Wolfmother, Stone Temple Pilots, and Rush...I simply cannot resist. And as a little tidbit, I discovered that Sony's SingStar mics work with the game, as well (and possibly with Metallica and World Tour too). Now if you excuse me, I'm off to drum and then sing RATT's "Round and Round" and then perhaps Judas Priest's "Electric Eye."

6/19/2009   Arnold Katayev