Guitar Hero debut for the PlayStation 2 on November 8th, 2005, what would follow the years after release is something no one would imagine. Before we jump into too much Guitar Hero history, let’s look back at what started it all. Dance Dance Revolution has been a staple arcade machine in Japan ever since it’s initial launch, and still proves to be a major draw for arcades. This machine inspired video game studios to expand on the music rhythm genre and put in a machine similar to DDR called Guitar Freaks.
Guitar Freaks is what inspired RedOctane and Harmonix to dream up of Guitar Hero. They inspired to put this on a console so it could be more accessible to a more broader audience that may not have had an arcade in close proximity or even a Guitar Freaks in their arcade. The idea was to have a plastic guitar controller with a 5 colored buttons that were mapped for different notes and with each increase of difficulty the notes would scroll on the screen faster and more notes would be played. Its launch was highly successful and lead this to bring about sequels/spin-offs on multiple devices and even produce a guitar hero for the Nintendo DS.
The year 2007 would change the music rhythm genre, Harmonix the original maker of Guitar Hero, would soon be acquired from MTV Games to help develop their own game, Rock Band. While Activision took over the production of the 3rd installment of the franchise it would follow the path that made them successful, Rock Band, however, took on a different approach as they included a microphone, drum set, and if you had an extra guitar hero controller around you had the option to have bass as well. This single-handedly changed how this genre would go in the future, as future Guitar Hero and Rock Band each had their own unique way of building a fun party game that would captivate a living room. In 2010, Rock Band 3 was released and this would take this franchise to a whole new way. They added a keyboard and had a pro mode which if you had bought a special guitar would allow you to play these songs on a real guitar instead of pushing 5 colored buttons. This helped usher in a new type of wrinkle in the mix.
Ubisoft announced at E3 2011 a new challenger into the fight, Rocksmith. Their take on this was to help people who wanted to play guitar, play real songs on guitar with any guitar they had lying around that could be hooked up to an amp. Unlike with Rock Band 3’s pro mode that had you go out and buy an almost $300 guitar, this game would allow you to play with whatever guitar you had and was set up to help teach people guitar. This game included video style lessons that would teach how different notes would play whether it be a harmonic, pinch harmonics, tremolo, hammer on and pull-offs. This would be a significant blow to the plastic guitars of yesteryear and sort of killed the vibe of the way Guitar Hero and Rock Band set out to be.
Guitar Hero and Rock Band did, however, try to make a comeback so to speak and released one more game with Guitar Hero Live and Rock Band 4. Had Guitar Hero and Rock Band not have existed I don’t think there would much of a push for something like a Rocksmith which took some elements that made those two games popular with colored notes. All three games are to be praised for the role they have played in making this genre what it is today, yes it may have started out with people dancing on 4 triangles in an up, down and sideways motion, but it has come to people pushing 5 colored buttons on a plastic guitar. Guitar Hero will live on in infamy as the one who pioneered this genre to what it is today.