Gitaroo Man Lives!
Reviewed by Didi Cardoso
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2006-12-02 PSP Music/Rhythm E (Everyone) Koei / INIS Corporation

My first impression of Gitaroo Man Lives! was pretty much along the lines of "what the hell?" followed by a series of giggles and laughs. In typical Japanese game fashion, in the first few minutes I was presented with strange yet loveable characters, a crazy plot that made little to no sense, wacky cartoony visuals and great music. From there on, it was really hard for me to put the PSP down.

Gitaroo Man Lives! (originally a rhythm game released for the PS2 in 2002) tells the story of U-1, an average boy who gets picked on by other kids and secretly has a crush on a pretty girl. This boy happens to be the descendant of the great Gitaroo Man, something he wasn't aware of until his dog Puma tells him about his past and his destiny: to save Planet Gitaroo from the evil Gravillian family.

The game begins with a tutorial, as Puma explains how a battle is done. Each battle (song) is divided in three parts: Charge, Battle and Final. The gameplay for each part of the song is a little different.

In the middle of the screen there is a blue dot, which is your attack point. When you move the analog, the attack point changes to show its range in a V shape. A trace line will then move in containing phase bars. Each bar starts with a circle, representing when you press the button. You have to move the analog to follow the trace line and press Circle when the bars pass by. The length of the bar determines how long you keep the button pressed for. It's easier looked at than written about...

During the Charge phase, you fill up the power gauge by hitting the right notes. The more notes you hit, the more the power gauge fills. But if you miss, you take damage and the gauge goes down.

In the Battle phase, you Guard and Attack. How well you do determines how much damage you and your opponent take. The Battle phase will show a series of buttons that you have to press in the right order as they reach the attack point. You will have to hit Triangle, Circle, X and Square in the sequence they come in from the four sides of the screen. You will take damage if you miss a note.

The Final phase is divided in two, Harmony and End. During the Harmony part, you basically keep on playing to defeat your opponent, but you can still take damage if you miss the notes. If you reach the End part of the song, that means you've already won and you don't have to worry too much about hitting the notes there.

Some stages are just a series of Guard moves, and they're quite complicated with the fast series of button presses and switching to trace line and phase bars in between. It sure keeps you on your toes!

I really enjoyed the different music styles. There's something for everyone here: rock, reggae, latin rhythms, heavy metal and even a very nice balad played in acoustic guitar.

My favorite scene in the entire game was seeing U-1 playing a balad to a girl he meets. It was adorable the way she kept scooting over and then by the end of the song, she leans her head on his shoulder. It was very cute, and greatly added to the chaotic pace of the whole "save the planet" story.

Aside from the Story mode, there is a Duet and Vs. Mode. In Vs. Mode, you go one-on-one against the computer or another player and the battle ends when someone's power gauge is empty. In Duet Mode, U-1 and Kirah pair up to battle a single enemy, with each player controlling a character. Since I didn't find anyone to play with, the Duet mode was a bit redundant, but Vs. was a pretty interesting practice to get the hang of certain songs and improve my scores.

There is also a Collection feature where character profiles will be unlocked, a Theatre where you can view all the cutscenes, and a Jukebox where you can listen to all the songs. This, of course, provided you have encountered them all in the Story Mode.

Don't be fooled by the cute and colorful anime-style characters and gorgeous cutscenes... Gitaroo Man Lives! is far from being a kiddie game. Some of its levels are extremely complicated, and they require quite a bit of finger dexterity and great hand/eye coordination. I was stuck on stage 4 for a long time, and then the last stage was just insane. And yes, this was on Easy difficulty. Maybe it's because I'm somewhat rhythm-impaired, but I found that just by going from the tutorial stage to the next, the difficulty hike was quite steep. Granted, frustration settled it at some point (say, after trying the same stage six times in a row), but that's what made succeeding at each stage so great.

For the music and rhythm games fan, Gitaroo Man Lives! has it all: a good variety of non-licensed tracks that will stick to your subliminal library in a matter of seconds, easy mechanics, challenges ranging from easy to stupidly hard - and all this on the palm of your hand.

Special thanks to Jarik Sikat and Koei for providing a copy of this title.