Gitaroo Man Lives! PSP Review

Since its release at the start of 2005, the PlayStation Portable has certainly had its fair share of ported games. The title of the handheld even has port in it (PlayStation Portable.) We all have opinions on how we feel about ported games, but what about one that was released back in 2002 for the PlayStation 2? Summer 2002 brought PlayStation 2 owners a unique gaming experience with the game Gitaroo Man. It didn’t sell all too well and ended up disappearing off the shelves. Later on people were starting to take interest in the game, mostly those attracted to the ever growing craze of all things Japanese. These fans couldn’t find the game anywhere; it had become classed as rare and became somewhat of a cult video game. People had to resort to the overpriced sellers of eBay. Koei have now given all those people who missed it the first time a chance to play it again, on the PSP. When Gitaroo Man Lives! was first announced in Famitsu, fans were hoping for a sequel. It turned out however to be one of those direct PS2 to PSP ports. Disappointment aside, the game has transitioned perfectly across to the platform.

Gitaroo Man shouldn’t be confused with Guitar Hero. There isn’t any crazy peripheral that is used to “simulate” the feel of playing a real life instrument. It’s all strictly pad based, but what Gitaroo Man does is come up with an intuitive control scheme to make the game a whole lot of fun to play and thus making it one of the greats in the rhythm genre.

Unlike most rhythm games, Gitaroo Man features a story. U-1 (Yuuichi is his full name but everyone calls him U-1.) is the hero of the game. He’s a young male who wants people to recognise him – particularly the girl he loves, Pico. The game starts off introducing you to him and his trusty talking pet dog Puma. The story then fully kicks off when Puma teaches U-1 to play the guitar, and thus through the training stage learning the user the playing mechanics of the game. U-1 finds out he isn’t as worthless as he thinks because he has one of the eight legendary Gitaroos, the guitar. He best be on the look out though as Prince Zowie and his henchmen are after all of them so Zowie can have total control of the universe, (cue the crazy demonic laugh now.)

As the player it’s your job to fight off these opponents by having a musical duel. You wouldn’t be too far off calling Gitaroo Man a rhythm based one-on-one fighter because that is somewhat how it comes across. Both the player and the opponent have a bar of life at the top of the screen and the first one to have it depleted is the loser. The duels are split into sections. The first part of the level opens up with the charge phase. In Gitaroo Man the player never starts with full health. The charge section allows you to increase your starting health by playing the instrument. Next is the attack and guard phase, this is the main portion of the battle. In this you take turns with the enemy to kick out a solo to deplete each others health. If you manage to survive till the end you are then met with the final phase, where it’s an all out attack to finish off the enemy. The distinctive mechanics are very different from any other rhythm game available. It’s this that makes Gitaroo Man a very fresh face in the genre.

Charge, Attack and Final are all played out in the same way. The screen displays a line called the “trace line” that moves towards the centre of the screen. To be successful in Gitaroo Man means following the trace line, this is basically done by holding the analogue nib in the same direction as the line is travelling. Also appearing in time with the music is thick red bars with circles in front of them. These are known as attack points and are the parts that need to be played at the right time. When they hit the centre of the screen, where the blue circle is, the player needs to press and hold the button till the end of the note finishes. It may sound uncomplicated but after finishing the game and going onto the “master mode” section… Well let’s just say that the name isn’t joking when it means “master.” It’s time for your arse to get kicked.

The other part of the battle is guard. The player is responsible for pressing the right face buttons that fly into the centre. Hitting it perfectly allows you to dodge the opponent’s attack, evidently missing means getting smacked in the face and losing health. All of the buttons aren’t just random, it’s all synchronises together with the games music. Learning the songs can be really helpful in a game like this. The complete combat ties together flawlessly. Inis, who also made the awesome Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan rhythm game, should be proud of coming up with some intelligent mechanics for the genre.

Music is the heart and soul of any good rhythm game. Gitaroo Man is packed with an assorted amount of different styles of music, all quite catchy in their own right. There’s J-Pop, Jazz, Acoustic, Metal, reggae. All the songs are specially made for the game, there’s no real license tunes here. This also stops people from complaining about how damn poor the cover singers are, you know it always happens. Included in the PSP version is the jukebox mode. This allows you to listen to the songs you’ve already heard in the game, a much welcomed feature just because of how brilliant the soundtrack is. While the dialogue fits in fine with the theme, it isn’t the greatest example of good voice over work. They’re passable but don’t expect award winning standards.

Visually Gitaroo Man is exceptionally colourful and crisp, also not to forget nutty looking. It has this Japanese vibe to it – mainly due to how the characters look both in cut scenes and in the games graphics. The models are detailed, and while the surroundings seem less so on first glance, they are in fact filled up with little minor niceties, such as people doing random minuscule things. It can only be appreciated to the fullest when you aren’t actually the one playing the game. If you put the game side by side to the PlayStation 2 version, the only difference in the looks is that the PSP version seems to suffer from a lot more jaggies.

The other differences in this port are noticeably the loading times. They are slower on the PSP. On average you’ll be waiting around 30 seconds for a level to load, but once it has loaded it won’t have to load again till you change the level. Also the song “Flyin’ to your heart” – originally sung in Japanese on the Playstation 2 version – is now sung in English. This was original on a Playstation 2 demo for Europe but the song was changed back to Japanese in the final retail release. There is something a little extra added; two new songs are included in the duel mode. Koei was nice enough to include the ability to pause the game without having to restart the song. They knew fans would get irritated at having to restart every time someone interrupted them.

So is the resurrection of Gitaroo Man on the PSP worthwhile if you own the PlayStation 2 version? Not really unless you are a really big fan of the game and must own a portable copy. It is damn near identical to the PlayStation 2 game. If you don’t already own its PlayStation 2 counterpart, it is highly recommended. Gitaroo Man is a truly glorious game no matter what format you play it on. It’s a daft package full of personality that will last you a lengthy period as it becomes truly challenging when you enter master mode. At the end of the day it will be easier to find a copy of the PSP version, but whatever system you play it on, it deserves your attention as it’s one of the deepest and most satisfying rhythm games to grace a handheld (and home) system.

Gitaroo Man is a game that everyone must experience. It’s a fun game for any type of gamer. Give into your inner feelings and rock out!

8.6 out of 10

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