You have to applaud the audacity. It takes some gall for a game to recycle a climactic boss, more still for it to pick the word Ďlegendaryí to describe that encounter. But in Gitaroo Man, which doesnít so much break gaming traditions as calmly disregard them, thatís exactly what you get. A unique take on rhythm-action, halfway between the button-press abstraction of DDR and the more lyrical, representative play of Guitar Hero, Gitaroo Manís biggest boss is the girl of your dreams. Playing as the thoroughly unlikable U-1 (in itself a cruel pun of a name to give such a loser), your ugly face, propensity to blush and stammer, general clumsiness and whiny attitude make it unlikely that youíll win her affections. But, transformed by the power of the guitar in your hand, youíre twice given the chance to change her mind by picking your way through The Legendary Song Ė once as a romantic lullaby, once as a stadium-busting anthem.
Itís typical of Inis, Gitaroo Manís creator, which went on to cement its whimsical cult hero status with Ouendan, to be more comfortable following the theatrical structures than those of a traditional videogame. The reprises of songs, the echoing of characters (U-1 finds his dream girl and bullying nemesis transformed when heís pulled into his alternate Gitaroo reality, just as Dorothy finds that some of the faces in Oz remind her of home) Ė these elements all reveal a simple, surprising truth. Gitaroo Man isnít a game; itís a musical. For years, the game world has agonised over when and how it might be able to create interactive movies, but hereís one thatís already cracked it. What Gitaroo Man understands is that what connects film and theatre and games is not the stories they tell, but the fact that they all hinge on performances. What Inis showed is that the way to take a gamer into an interactive narrative is not as a character, but as an actor. And so, as U-1, you perform, just as surely as a nervous soprano does on a West End stage.
And those nerves are often justified. One of Gitaroo Manís great charms is how good a spectator experience it is. Itís common to find that you gather a small audience of friends, family or housemates as you play, drawn in by the music and eager to see your victory. The simple fable of U-1 finding his feet and getting the girl is an irresistible tale, and the simple interface means that non-gamers can instantly grasp the difficulty of the tasks being set, and how well youíre managing to perform them. But where Guitar Hero draws a crowd whose only intention is the rip the controller out of your hands as quickly as possible, Gitaroo Man pulls together an audience that is happy just to watch. Or, ultimately, to collaborate, as the gameís multiplayer mode allows multiple players to play a part, dividing up the looping charge-and-attack patterns of the main game between different players.

But while it is appropriate to think of Gitaroo Man as a musical, or at least a new kind of hybrid experience, thatís not to say it doesnít function well as a game. It exhibits that hallmark of all good game experiences, so that those whoíve played it find themselves trading reminiscences and comparing tactics like war veterans or champion fishermen. Mention Ben-K, the drumíníbass space shark, and most players will suck their teeth and shake their heads, before moving on to offer their tried and tested formula for making it through the tough opening bars of the Sanbone Trioís track Ė a set of skeleton triplets who have the unique distinction of having pelvises shaped like DualShock controllers. High scores are fiercely fought, and success at the Master level of difficulty is one of those claims to fame that earns you instant, unquestioned respect from your gaming peers.
Rhythm-action, as a genre, is stuck between two tricky poles. At one extreme are games like Guitar Hero or Daigasso! Band Brothers, which turn your console into an instrument of sorts, and raise the tricky question of whether or not you wouldnít be better ploughing all of those painstaking practice hours into actually learning to play something real. At the other are the Simon Says reaction-tests of the extended DDR family, which prize obedience and speed over anything actually musical. What makes Gitaroo Man unique, and so valuable, is that it finds the worthwhile middle ground. It gives you a sense that youíre creating and influencing the music, without losing sight of the fact that it needs to be a satisfying game. And that means you get to be a star and winner, all at once. You have to applaud the audacity.
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