July 1, 2008

Play Allows Band’s Fans to Dream On

By Nick Chordas, The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio

Jul. 1--Aerosmith has come a long way since singer Steven Tyler and guitarist Joe Perry were dubbed the "Toxic Twins" in the 1970s.

The band cleaned up its act, recorded enough innocuous ballads to become a dentist-office staple and even lent its name to a roller coaster at Disney World.

Now the once-notorious performers have been deemed safe enough to star in their own family-friendly video game: Guitar Hero Aerosmith.

The title is the first in the music-game series to bear the name of a particular band -- a narrow focus that turns out to be both a blessing and a curse.

One of the great strengths of the Guitar Hero games is their diverse soundtracks, ranging from Blue Oyster Cult and Pat Benatar to the Killers. Here, Aerosmith dominates the 41 tracks that can be "played" on the plastic Guitar Hero controller.

On one hand, playing along with Mama Kin, Toys in the Attic and Train Kept a Rollin' in quick succession is a time-tripping, concertlike thrill. On the other hand, not every Aerosmith song is a classic. Livin' on the Edge, for example, becomes awfully repetitive awfully quickly.

Infrequent "guest acts" -- including Ted Nugent, Joan Jett, the Clash and Stone Temple Pilots -- help break up the occasional monotony. For my money, the game's most challenging and fun song isn't an Aerosmith cut but a version of the Black Crowes' Hard To Handle.

The series' signature game play, meanwhile, hasn't changed a lick: The player performs songs on one of four difficulty levels by thumbing the strum bar and pressing button "frets."

The good news: The annoying boss battles introduced in Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock have been cut to a single head-to-head showdown with Perry.

I beat the game in just less than three hours on "medium." Veteran rockers are encouraged to start on "hard" or challenge others via Xbox Live, where even the bland Beyond Beautiful (from Aerosmith's 2001 album, Just Push Play) becomes a white-knuckle contest.

The game includes footage of band members recalling their almost-40-year tenure together a la Behind the Music.

The interviews, though less than compelling, give the game a neat structure.

A discussion of the band's first real gig, for example, leads to players performing at Nipmuc Regional High School in Upton, Mass. From there, it's on to Max's Kansas City in New York and, eventually, the 2001 Super Bowl.

The game's major drawback is the song-to-cost ratio. Like Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s, Aerosmith is considered a spinoff and thus contains fewer playable tracks than a conventional sequel (41 songs compared with more than 70 on Guitar Hero III). Yet the $50-to-$60 price tag remains.

Ultimately, Guitar Hero Aerosmith continues the sturdy tradition built by previous games without introducing any novel elements.

It's the Same Old Song and Dance, as Tyler might croon. Then again, gamers who can't wait to ape the "bad boys from Boston" probably won't care.

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Guitar Hero Aerosmith

--Systems: Nintendo Wii, PlayStation 2 and 3, Xbox 360

--Price: $49.99 to $59.99

--Rating: T for teen


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