Chris Sell
28 Sep, 2006

Gitaroo Man Lives! Review

PSP Review | Koei's cult classic finds its way to the PSP.
Given the quick ‘three-minute burst’ style of most music & rhythm games, the genre is ideally suited to today’s handheld consoles. Indeed, the recent Japanese releases of Ouendan, Band Bros., DJ Max Portable, Rhythm Tengoku and Taiko No Tatsujin Portable, to name but a few, have all been met with praise from many of the PALGN guys, so when one actually gets a PAL version of such a game, it’s an extra reason to be happy. Essentially, Gitaroo Man Lives! is a port of Gitaroo Man on the PS2, and it just so happens to be one of the finest music games ever made; it's no surprise that the team behind it went on to create the wonderful Ouendan. But how does it stack up to its PS2 older brother?

As in the original, Gitaroo Man Lives! follows a young boy named U1 who's trying to woo the girl of his dreams, Pico. He’s not the most popular boy in town, and always manages to make a fool out of himself at the wrong time, but all that is about to change when he finds out he's the musically-inclined hero of some faraway planet, currently ravaged by the tyranny of the evil Lord Zoe. With the help of his dog Puma, and music from the legendary Gitaroo (a magical guitar), U1 sets out to return peace to his world and hopefully win the heart of Pico in the process. Sure, the plot is never going to win any awards, but it’s presented in such a typically Japanese-y way that its sheer quirkiness and charm will win you over instantly.

Being a music game, it doesn’t matter how well it plays or how great it looks; after all, it's all for nothing if it doesn’t have a memorable soundtrack. Thankfully, Gitaroo Man Lives! features some of the most charming and unforgettable songs in gaming. There’s a wonderful variety of styles on offer. From soothing Reggae and Jazz to energetic Rock 'n' roll and J-Pop, you’re never sure which musical direction the game will take next, and each level is so different.

Safety first – always wear a helmet.

Safety first – always wear a helmet.
The gameplay itself is simple, comprising of three main parts: the Charge phase (used for building ‘health’), the Battle phase (for defending yourself and doing damage to your opponent), and then the Final phase (a chance to finish off your enemy with a flurry of attacks). The Charge and Battle phases show your guitar line with a string of button commands following it. It’s your task then to first move the analogue stick in the same direction as the line, and then to match your button holds and presses to what is shown on screen. The Battle phase is slightly different, in that you have to tap in many different combinations of buttons to attack and defend. It’s actually more straightforward than it sounds, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy game by any means.

In fact, Gitaroo Man Lives! provides a stiff challenge for anyone. While it’s a tough game on normal, it’s delightfully hard on the unlockable master setting. We suppose that could also prove its biggest flaw, in that it has a strange difficulty curve (the level 4 ‘drum n' bass shark’ stage being one of the hardest levels in the game). But when you’ve got a slow, relaxing acoustic guitar strong straight afterwards, it more than makes up for it.

Versus mode makes a return, allowing for two players or yourself versus the AI to battle it out head-to-head. Unsurprisingly, human opposition is far more enjoyable, but the CPU battles offer something a little different to the main game, as several of the songs are modified somewhat. New to the PSP version is the ‘Duet’ mode. This is exactly what you would expect it to be, a two-player co-op mode. The fact that this mode features two new songs is reason enough for it to be a worthwhile addition.

My, what a big Gitaroo you have!

My, what a big Gitaroo you have!
For the most part, Gitaroo Man Lives! is every bit as good as the PS2 original. However, there are a few changes that do somewhat spoil the game. Firstly, the controls have been adjusted to suit the PSP analogue nub better. While this does make up for the less accurate nub (compared to a DualShock stick), it actually overcompensates and makes things too easy. In the PS2 version, keeping the stick positioned to match the line took practice and precision, but in this PSP interaction you find that you have no trouble at all in missing the line, and in fact it’s actually harder to force it off the line than it is to keep it on.

Another part of the game that suffers due to the PSP hardware are the ‘Battle’ sections. The 16:9 screen ratio means that, as the button commands are travelling into the centre of the screen, it can be deceptive as to which order they need to be pressed in. This is down to the fact that the top and bottom commands appear much more quickly than the left and right ones, due to the screen aspect. It’s not a game ruining problem, but it’s something you have to adjust to, especially if you’re a veteran of the PS2 version. A couple of other minor grumbles are just small things, like having to load your save file manually every time you turn the game on (something we hoped would be changed from the PS2 game), whilst the load times themselves could have been a bit quicker. Neither problem is major, but both are worth mentioning.

In an age where true originality is so hard to come by, Gitaroo Man is a breath of fresh air, providing pure, highly addictive fun from start to finish. It feels like something new, something different. And with a killer soundtrack, unique presentation and a challenging difficulty curve, Gitaroo Man Lives! deserves a place in everyone’s PSP collection.
The Score
It was a classic on the PS2 and it's still a classic here. The minor adjustments to the controls mean the PS2 version is the superior one to get, but if you want Gitaroo Man on the move, this doesn't disappoint. 8
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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7 years ago
After 3 hard hours, I've finished the game.
Really good game but way too short.
7 years ago
Coop gitaroo.
Interesting idea, not sure it would work that well
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