With the recent release of the 2014 edition of Rocksmith, I have decided to reflect on one of the key players in the music-video game genre. We live in a world where there are franchises that pump out new games on a yearly schedule, and while certain prominent series such as Assassin's Creed and Call of Duty continue to cash-in on their annually released efforts, we all know from both experience and the laws of gravity that what goes up must, eventually, come down. No matter how hard the fall. The best example of this from recent memory is easily the once greatly beloved Guitar Hero franchise.

  Remember those games?

  Exposition: In the particularly cold November of 2005, just before the launch of Microsoft's new, much anticipated seventh-gen gaming console, the Xbox 360, a seemingly small PlayStation 2 exclusive title was released by developer Harmonix and published by RedOctane called "Guitar Hero". The gameplay consisted of matching colored buttons with a virtual, on-screen fret-board using a plastic controller in the model of a tiny Gibson SG guitar to play well-known and critically acclaimed songs from multiple artists. Simple enough. Yet the whole world seemed to explode overnight due to this one single game.

  Part of the reason may be because, whether people truly realize it or not, Guitar Hero helped open the door (or keep the doors open, in some cases) for several markets almost completely untapped by the gaming industry, including the mainstream sales of music/rhythm based games (sorry Dance Dance Revolution), popularizing controller peripherals, and - while the series did not ever quite fully take advantage of it - the mass production of low priced DLC. It also successfully merged two forms of media that were seemingly made for each other: video-games and the music industry. 

  2006-2007: The original game ended up being so successful, however, that its sequel, dubbed "Guitar Hero II" and released in the following year of 2006, was released on multiple platforms and sold over 2 MILLION copies by year's end. That is far from bad for a franchise that started barely twelve months beforehand. It was by 2007 that owning the series'  signature plastic guitar-controller was almost the gamer's equivalent of purchasing the new iPod, or owning the entire "Alien" trilogy on HD DVD and Blu-ray (we are not counting you as an actual film, Resurrection, you were simply a bad dream). It was also in the year of 2007 alone that two new GH games would be released: a spin-off title (and notably that last one developed by Harmonix) entitled "Guitar Hero Encore: Rock the 80's" on the PS2, and the third core-entry in the series, helmed by new dev's Neversoft, called "Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock." Legends of Rock introduced improved multiplayer modes and a new look for the game, helping sustain its longevity.

  However, let it be noted that that very same year also saw the birth of what would go on to be one of Guitar Hero's biggest competitors: the Rock Band franchise, being developed by none other than the former GH dev crew at Harmonix, now backed by MTV Games. There had been GH mods and imitators before (Guitar Zero, anyone?), but this new line of games allowed for players to perform as a four piece band, complete with vocals, drums, bass and - of course - electric guitar. We will come back to Rock Band at a later date, but right now, this is a time to reflect on the original "guitar game" series.

  2008: The follow-up year, 2008, was when the overproduction of Guitar Hero games truly started. Alongside multiple mobile and hand-held releases ("Backstage Pass", "Guitar Hero: On Tour", as well as "On Tour: Decades"), the band-specific "Guitar Hero: Aerosmith" was released to a somewhat lukewarm response, being cited as little more than an overpriced GH3 expansion pack. Meanwhile, the fourth core entry ditched numerals for the title of "Guitar Hero: World Tour", and would include a full-band mode similar to that of Rock Band, albeit a slightly less successful version as it drew much negative comparison to its better-iterated counterpart. It did include a mode where players could write their own songs, but many found it to be clunky, time-consuming, and hard to use. Myself included.

  2009:  In a plausibly relentless attempt to stay alive and relative, numerous Guitar Hero games were released in the busy year of 2009, including two band-specific titles (GH: Metallica and Van Halen), a "Greatest Hits" compilation game (GH: Smash Hits), two spin-off series (hip-hop "DJ Hero" and the surprisingly family-friendly "Band Hero"), all topped off with the release of the fifth core game, Guitar Hero 5. (The return to numbers genuinely confused me - why even bother at this point?)

  Fatigue was finally settling in for the once groundbreaking series as the development team(s) failed to find new ways to keep the gameplay fresh. Many of the previously mentioned 2009 releases were hardly embraced by fans and critics alike, and with good reason. How many gaming franchises get six, fully-priced console releases in less than two years? Not many from this point on...
  2010: Other than the underwhelming release of DJ Hero 2, 2010 finally saw a quiet streak in the Guitar Hero brand. The only game released in the year was the sixth - and final - core entry in the series, christened "Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock." Featuring an over-the-top storyline about destroying the legendary Beast, awakening the Rock Gods and all of that fun stuff, as well as the most focused set-list since '07's Legends of Rock (including a boss-fight finale by world-famous thrash metal giants Megadeth, constructed solely for the game), in my honest opinion, if there was ever one way for the series to go, Warriors of Rock was it. And it was.

  Activision finally pulled the plug on the series in the following year of 2011, with no news from it since. To be frank, it was simply time for it to go. Overproduction and annual releases, added onto by a lack of innovative new gameplay features, essentially did Rock Band's job for it and killed Guitar Hero off for good. The irony is that it only took five short years for the games to go from annually celebrated to universally ignored, and this all makes me wonder where the video-game industry is headed with franchises that have yearly release schedules, and if we will learn from the mistakes of the past or simply continue to devour each passing fad until it is not fun anymore, and then move to the next. Rinse and repeat. Guitar Hero is somewhat of a monument that haunts the industry for showing us this cycle so blatantly, even if it is the type of monument that people tend to frequent as a "pit-stop" more than anything else.

  Yes, myself, and many others had a lot of fun playing these games while they were around and still popular, and my friends and I will occasionally still hop on them for some late-night grudge matches once in a while, but not much else. They are almost like a nostalgic time-capsule for a dazed and confused point in history, when gamers were obsessed with plastic guitars and hitting 100% of the notes on Expert. But everyone seems to enjoy the fantasy of being a rockstar, right?

  -  state_of_shock

Photos from:

- prosportstickers.com
- menshadowh.blogspot.com
- hightech-edge.com
- argentinawarez.com
- totalvideogames.com
- dgtalnws.com