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Best of the Decade: Guitar Hero

As 2010 draws to a close, I figure it’s a convenient excuse to look over the rather stunning number of awsome games I have been fortunate enough to play over the last decade and choose my favorites. This isn’t definitive and it isn’t comprehensive. It’s simply the games that mean the most to me when looking back over the last decade of my personal gaming experience, presented one a day for all of December with commentary and personal anecdotes and in no particular order. It’s been a great decade for gaming. Please chime in with your own thoughts in the comments. 

Guitar Hero 

Platform: Playstation 2

Release Date: November 8, 2005

Publisher: RedOctane; MTV Games

Developer: Harmonix Music Systems

It’s easy to forget while you read recent news stories such as “Viacom Planning to Sell Harmonix” and “Warriors of Rock Sales Disappoint” that the plastic instrument genre was once a new and magical thing. 

In fact, the whole idea spawned just five years ago, which is pretty incredible when you think about it. It sure feels like they’ve been around longer than that.

After DDR’s explosive popularity wore off as the publisher drove it into the ground (and one could say this was prophetic of what Activision would manage to do once they acquired the Guitar Hero brand), nothing seemed to follow. Harmonix tried a couple of stabs at music games with Frequency and Amplitude but they didn’t hit their homerun until Guitar Hero.

But man, what a hit it turned out to be.

I was initially skeptical of the whole ordeal. I liked music and I liked video games, but the idea of shelling out $100 for a plastic guitar so I could play along with tunes on my TV seemed weird. Being a sucker for plastic peripherals, I put it on my Christmas list anyway. The second I plugged it into my PS2 after finding it under our tree I fell in love.

It’s also easy to forget how far this genre has come since then. Remember the days when all of the songs on the disc were crappy cover versions? Remember the days when you were stuck with the songs on the disc because the idea of DLC hadn’t come along yet? Now I’ve got well over 300 songs in my Rock Band library spanning years of downloading and disc-buying.

My parents were lucky to find a bundle to purchase for me that first Christmas. This game struck a chord with gamers from the very beginning and became a massive phenomenon that caught on strong with the general populace. There’s something magical about following along with your favorite music on plastic buttons and pretending to be a rock star. It’s a perfect blend of imagination and reality, with enough accessibility so anyone can try while retaining just enough of the spirit of actual musicianship to feel right. 

Which makes it all the more sad that these games seem to be on the way out. Sure the formula hasn’t changed in five years, but at least as far as I’m concerned it doesn’t need to. This genre does exactly what it needs to do for me and brings together my passions of listening to music and playing games  into an experience that still puts a smile on my face every time I fire up an Ozzy song and jam on the plastic fret buttons. 

Since asking for the original game and playing it pretty much nonstop that Christmas day, and for many hours afterward, I have sunk countless hours into rhythm games of various sorts and spent a truly frightening amount of money on games, instruments, and DLC. 

You know what? I don’t regret any of it. 

And for that, Guitar Hero is one of my games of the decade. Here’s hoping everything works out for Harmonix. It would be a damn shame if they went under after providing me with the opportunity to virtually rock out for so many blissful hours.

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