Review: Gitaroo Man Lives!

One of the most striking aspects of my profile as a gamer is that I have dabbled in quite the few music and rhythm games in my time. From classics such as Dance Dance Revolution to the more obscure titles like Ontamarama and more recently, Gitaroo Man Lives!, a port of the PS2 rhythm title, Gitaroo Man. Having thoroughly enjoyed the original iteration of the game, I was extremely excited to try one out that I could take with me rather than dragging along my PS2 each time I decide to leave the house.

Gitaroo Man Lives! features the young protagonist U-1 (I know, what an interesting name), who’s your average, every-day adolescent.U-1 has some trouble with bullies, and he can’t catch the eye of the girl of his dreams, Pico. He’s gotten rejected so many times that he’s feeling quite lowly. No one wants to be with him, and he keeps getting treated poorly by basically all of his acquaintances. One day, he happens upon a mysterious dog named Puma, who miraculously knows both how to play the guitar and speak. Puma gives U-1 a few guitar lessons, and passes on to him that he is in fact one of the last remaining Gitaroo saviors of the galaxy! Of course, with great power comes great responsibility, in the form of tons of enemies on U-1’s tail so they can steal his magical Gitaroo away.

Gitaroo Man Lives! is separated into a number of stages that you, as U-1/Gitaroo Man must complete in order to progress in the story. Like any music/rhythm game, each stage features a song from a different genre than the previous one. Each stage consists of phases that U-1 must utilize as Gitaroo Man in order to charge the Gitaroo, block enemy attacks, and inflict damage upon his opponent.

The first phase of each battle is generally the Charge stage, where Gitaroo Man must play flawlessly in order to charge up his health bar in order to stay afloat during the battle. In order to do this, players must aim the analog nub in the direction of an oncoming green line, pressing and holding the circle button in time accordingly. In an almost Morse Code-like fashion, there are long and short holds of the circle button. Often, they will twist in a serpentine motion, forcing you to aim the analog nub in a 360-degree direction in a split-second. If for some reason you stray from the undulating green line, then the note is not counted, and will detract from the health bar.

Right after Gitaroo Man charges the gauge using the aiming and pressing the circle button tactic, it’s time to guard from enemy attacks, appropriately titled the Guard phase. Enemies will “attack” by sending one of the four face buttons Gitaroo Man’s way. They will appear on a gridline and rapidly near the center if you do not press the corresponding buttons in time. For instance, a series of Xs, squares, and circles will become a barrage of attacks on U-1 if you’re not careful or press the buttons with a quickness. For me, this is where most of the challenge lies. It’s also a bit of an issue with the game. For there to be no difficulty selection, you can’t change how hard each level is. In this, a rubber-band effect is created. The speed of some of the buttons nearing the center is absurd, and makes for an achingly difficult fourth level and beyond. It’s as if the default difficulty is set to hard mode. This is of no importance for seasoned rhythm gamers, but I can see where it might frustrate first-timers who have never even tried staples such as Dance Dance Revolution before.

The PSP’s small face buttons are also just a bit awkward to press the buttons with as much speed and finesse as is required of you, so if you are having issues simply decoding which buttons are coming in what order, it will be even tougher to actually hit said buttons. Though I thoroughly enjoyed Gitaroo Man Lives!’ gameplay, this struck me as a bit annoying, but one of the only faults I found with the game.

After you have performed successfully in the Charge and Guard stages you will move on to the Attack and Final phases, wherein you will attack via the Gitaroo the same way you participated in the Charge stage. After the Final phase, the song is over, and you receive a ranking from A-D. Seasoned rhythm gamers can achieve at least a B rating on each level, unless you try really hard not to hit certain notes. Other than that, it will prove a bit difficult for those who are not familiar with hitting corresponding buttons as music plays, or following a line path.

Even though a good portion of the songs are instrumental, they are quite memorable. Genres range from J-Pop (“Flyin’ To Your Heart” is my favorite song on the entire game), to acid jazz, to even speed metal. Japanese lyrics have been changed to English lyrics for American gamers, but the changes are definitely for the better. Songs seem to flow better in English than their previous Japanese counterparts.

Though some rhythm games are infamous for their horrid voice acting, this is one title that actually has entertaining dialogue and voice actors, featuring the same actor who performed Naota’s voice from FLCL as U-1/Gitaroo Man. Audio is sufficiently loud and extremely entertaining, prompting me to go on a week-long search to procure the physical CD so I could enjoy the songs at my leisure rather than playing through the songs over and over just to hear my favorites.

This iteration is much-improved in the graphics department over its PlayStation 2 debut, especially since the game is playing on a much smaller screen. However, they’re not the most impressive 3D graphics one could fine, but they’re so crisp and detailed, packed with color and quirkiness that they really make the game. The art style is that of which you would find in anime or a bubblegum fantasy dream. Costume designs are rather strange and interesting, especially Gitaroo Man’s outfit. Boss monsters and the final head honcho, Zowie, aren’t your standard run-of-the-mill baddies. They really pop due to great character design. Usage of rounded edges and clean backgrounds rather than angular design really add to the quirky mood of the game, and I quite enjoy it.

Even though there is no new content to add to this PSP reincarnation of the PS2 cult classic, Gitaroo Man Lives! is a fantastic rhythm game that boasts rich and colorful graphics along with some of the most memorable music since Katamari Damacy. The learning curve can be quite steep for new rhythm gamers, but for veterans it only adds to the appeal. Innovative level designs contribute to what should be known as one of the most revered rhythm games to ever hit a handheld. New to Gitaroo Man? Pick this hot little reissue up!

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