When I volunteered to review the new PopStar Guitar game for the Nintendo Wii (from XS Games), I was intrigued to see how it would compare to Guitar Hero and Rock Band, two games I’ve enjoyed quite a bit. Moreover, with the music of Miley Cyrus, the Jonas Brothers, Rihanna, and Carrie Underwood licensed for the game, I was also interested to see how my children, avid listeners of Radio Disney, would respond to it. As fate would have it, I had just received Rock Band for my birthday when PopStar Guitar arrived for me to review. I’d be able to review the games side by side, for better or worse.
I have now spent the better part of a month playing PopStar Guitar and getting feedback from my kids and their cousins, who own a copy of Guitar Hero. Right from the start, you’ll notice that this Wii game doesn’t have a guitar controller like Guitar Hero or Rock Band. Instead, the game comes with two AirG peripherals that snap over the Wii controller. With the nunchuk attached to the controller, the controller provides the colored keypads used for “fingering” the guitar notes, while the nunchuk lever acts as the strumming mechanism. This loose, free-form feel is supposed to simulate an “air guitar” experience as you play the game.
It takes some getting used to, and if you’ve ever played the other two rock ‘n’ roll games, it takes a lot of getting used to. For me, playing the guitar requires a rigid positioning of my arms as I play the chords and strum the strings. In Guitar Hero and Rock Band, having your arms locked in place helps with the concentration needed to play the right notes; with the AirG peripherals of PopStar Guitar, your arms are loose to move all over the place. Not only is it easy to get distracted, but it doesn’t feel like you’re playing a guitar, which I thought was the whole point. Obviously, players of Guitar Hero and Rock Band know they aren’t real musicians when they’re standing in front of their TV, but part of the fun is imagining you’re Slash, Tony Iommi, or Pete Townshend as you shred the multicolor notes streaming in front of you.
PopStar Guitar includes the number of notes required to play. With only four colored buttons instead of the five the other games use, PopStar Guitar is easier for younger players to learn and gradually master. In fact, it seems geared toward younger players, especially with the song selections. My kids (7 and 9) and their cousins (5, 8, and 10) were thrilled to see some of their favorite acts’ songs available to play along with. But they quickly grew bored and set the game aside in favor of the classic-rock staples found on Rock Band. After about a week they forgot about PopStar Guitar entirely and wanted to go back to the Ramones and Mountain, leaving the Jonas Brothers behind. Eventually I found myself the only one even attempting the game, and when carpal tunnel syndrome in my strumming hand acted up because I overused my thumb on the nunchuk, I gave up.
The graphics and the features of PopStar Guitar come off as rather cheap, especially after you’ve experienced what Rock Band or Guitar Hero has to offer. If you do happen to play PopStar Guitar, you’ll probably go right for the songs and disregard everything else altogether. I feel like it has a huge hurdle to overcome if it wants to remain a player in the rock-game universe. Unless PSG’s makers change their mind and adapt to using the other games’ controllers, I can’t imagine it’ll be around for long.