I have a sad confession to make. I never bought the original Gitaroo-Man. However, the gaming gods have been kind enough to forgive such a sin, and they've ported the game to the PSP in the energetically-titled Gitaroo-Man Lives! I became interested iNiS's games ever since Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! landed in my DS, and I have to say that this handheld offering is just as good and stylish. There's a reason why the original PS2 game was nominated for an "Original Funk" award from SCEA.
You play U-1, a "beautiful loser" that transforms into the magical Gitaroo Man, thanks to the help of his talking dog friend, Puma. It's his destiny to save the planet of Gitaroo from the evil Gravillian family. He'll have to use music as his weapon as he fights strange creatures, aliens, and evil-doers, all while on a quest to find true love. Crazy? Yes. This over-the-top story is carried brilliantly through a fun art style, surprisingly decent voice acting, and hilariously mistimed dubbing. The story integrates brilliantly into the gameplay, making it incredibly satisfying. The ending moments of the story becoming strangely compelling, as it leads to a truly awesome duet.
Of course, no matter how lovable the characters and story is, it doesn't mean a thing without solid gameplay. Gitaroo-Man delivers in spades. The premise is pretty simple, and explained brilliantly in the tutorial. You follow a line with your analog stick and press a button at the right time to play a note. This is a surprisingly effective way of emulating the feel of playing a guitar, especially in harder levels, when riffs become far more intense. Like most great games, the premise is easy to understand, but requires a great deal of practice to master.
And you will be practicing quite a bit. Gamers that are less experienced with the music genre will find themselves having difficulty getting through the game on its Normal difficulty. It may become frustrating to less skilled gamers how difficult the game is. However, gamers confident in their skills will find that the Normal difficulty offers a nice challenge. As one becomes more acquainted with the music, players will want to return to each level and try to earn a higher score. At the end of the campaign, players may be surprised to find another difficulty level is unlocked: Master mode, which will terrify even the most god-like of gamers. It's challenging, but incredibly rewarding to beat a level after a number of attempts.
The game's soundtrack is absolutely fantastic, and surprisingly varied. There's a bit off jazz, a bit of j-pop, a bit of classic rock. It's clear that the developers love music, and it shows in the game's enthusiastic presentation. The levels are varied, and work very well with the music. The button presses actively affect the music, which is crucial for any music game. However, with only 11 levels in the game, one can't help but feel like this game ends much sooner than it should. There's a great deal of replay value in trying to get higher scores, and playing on different difficulty levels, but once you finish the quest, you can't help but feel like you want more.
Thankfully, there are a few neat extras, like the ability to listen to the soundtrack, or watch the cinematics. With music this good, you'll want to just groove to the soundtrack once in a while.
Is Gitaroo-Man the greatest game ever? Maybe not. But while you're playing, you'll find yourself thinking that over and over, unable to resist its unique charm. Everything, from the absurd storyline, to the great music, and fantastic gameplay, work together to create an experience unlike anything you've ever played before ... unless you already played the original PS2 version. For the majority of players that missed the original version of this game, the PSP re-release is a perfect opportunity to see why Gitaroo-Man has such a strong cult following. Anyone that has ever smiled in their lives will want to pick up this brilliant game, which is easily my favorite game of the year.
PSP Fanboy Score: 9.0
Tip: The game's default difficulty is Normal, which may be too difficult for some players. Make sure you change the "Mode" in the main menu to Easy, if you're having trouble with the game.