Impressions: Power Gig: Rise of the Sixstring

Can the music genre be revitalized? Can gaming newcomer Seven45 Studios -- a combined publisher, developer and hardware manufacturer -- sway current fans of Guitar Hero and Rock Band to try yet another music game, and one that focuses only on guitar? The odds are undoubtedly against them.

At the very least, Seven45's Power Gig: Rise of the Sixstring isn't destined to become another Rock Revolution. It's true that Power Gig isn't fundamentally different from the other band games out there, offering four-player support with guitars, drum and vocals; however, Seven45's twist is the guitar: a fully-functioning electric guitar with real strings and the ability to create real music.

At first glance, Seven45's peripheral won't look very different from a standard guitar. In fact, were it not for the colored labels that run along the side of the instrument, and the Xbox jewel embedded on the face of the guitar, it'd be hard to tell it apart from a proper instrument. When not connected to a game console, it can be strummed with a standard pick (or your hand), and it will even connect to standard guitar amps.
The device changes with the release of a dampening trigger. A plastic mold clicks out of the guitar, and keeps the strings locked in place. In this mode, the guitar functions like a standard Guitar Hero and Rock Band-compatible guitar. To use the controller, you simply place your finger over the appropriate color and strum; it doesn't matter which string(s) you use.

Initially, Power Gig won't seem all too different from previous guitar games. By default, the game operates in the same way as the other titles, with beat matching the focal method of gameplay. It will take some time to get used to the controller, though. The default controller is still larger than most standard Guitar Hero/Rock Band controllers, and the spacing between the colored "buttons" is much wider than you might be accustomed to. If you're a Guitar Hero expert, you might find yourself floundering, now that you're getting your hands around a real guitar.

Power Gig presents its note stream differently than the other games, by turning it into a literal stream. Instead of notes being represented exclusively by icons, a stream connects the flow of notes, providing better indication of where to place your finger. It may look different, but should prove to be a minor change for most guitar gamers.

Of course, we think there's little reason to play the default mode of Power Gig. The gimmick of Power Gig is the addition of chords, and we'd find little reason to abandon our extensive Guitar Hero and Rock Band collections to play what would otherwise be a clone. In the menu, players will be able to turn on the chording feature, which not only indicates what color must be pressed, but a specific string as well. In harder difficulties, the game will demand power chords, and the press release promises that gamers will come away with "an understanding of some real-life guitar fundamentals."

Identifying numbers as they scroll down the screen is likely to be no small task. Thankfully, there is a learning curve, and players will be able to find songs that aren't fully comprised of chords. In fact, in the song I demoed, an on-screen prompt advised me when specific fingering would be necessary.

In spite of the added complexity of the Power Gig guitar, Seven45 wouldn't admit that the game could be construed as a learning tool for real guitar. It is one step closer to bridging the gap between being a guitar hero and an actual guitarist: you'll learn what it feels like to hold a real guitar, and will better understand the dexterity necessary of rapidly creating chords. But, Power Gig won't teach you how to read music, nor will it be able to teach you the nuances of playing a real instrument. According to Seven45, Power Gig isn't meant to do that, nor will it ever.

It's much too early to tell if Power Gig will turn into a real competitor in an already competitive, not to mention saturated, genre. There's no doubt that the controller is very cool and should appeal to gamers interested in investing in a real guitar. Of course, hardware is only half of the appeal of these kinds of games, and Seven45's experience in building instruments can only take them so far. Can the upstart publisher build a library as comprehensive as their competitors? How will it be able to go toe-to-toe with Harmonix's ambitious plans with the Rock Band Network? Seven45 is confident, saying there are artists more interested in Power Gig because of its better approximation of guitar playing.

We can't help but wonder, even with big names on board, will it be enough? With gamers either allied with a specific brand, or apathetic about music games altogether, it's clear that Seven45 has an uphill battle ahead of it.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.