Guitar Hero gets greatest hits treatment for first time

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Greatest hits albums have long been a staple of the recording industry, and it seems only fitting that one of the most popular music-based video games ever created is getting the same treatment.

"Guitar Hero: Smash Hits" is the latest installment of the highly popular "Guitar Hero" series of games. True to its title, "Smash Hits" does an admirable job culling memorable songs from previous releases, particularly the first two titles in the series. The songs have been remastered, using original versions instead of covers and adding vocal and drum tracks so a full band can play.

While most of the songs rock and game play is as fun as ever, price continues to be an issue for the "Guitar Hero" franchise. This game would have been a stellar collection at a discount, but "Smash Hits" carries the same price tag as other new releases. It may be hard for fans of the series to justify paying full price for something they've already seen before, and rightfully so.

The game play in "Smash Hits" is the same as other titles in the series that allow a full band to play. Using guitar-shaped controllers, a drum kit and a microphone, one to four people play along to the songs by strumming the guitars, hitting the drums or singing following on-screen prompts.

"Smash Hits" allows a full band to play the most popular songs from previous installments for the first time. The songs on offer include some of the most challenging and enjoyable tracks, focusing largely on hard rock and heavy metal selections. Blister-inducing favorites like Pantera's "Cowboys From Hell" and Ozzy Osbourne's "Bark at the Moon" and endurance tests like Lynyrd Skynyrd's nine-minute opus "Free Bird" will challenge even the most accomplished shredder.

However, apart from its rocking track list, "Smash Hits" doesn't add anything to a genre that's becoming somewhat bloated. The "Guitar Hero" series in particular has been somewhat diminished by a steady stream of full-price releases that serve as little more than expansion packs. While publisher Activision is still capable of putting out excellent titles like "Guitar Hero: Metallica," it has also coughed up the lacklustre "Rocks the 80s" and "Aerosmith" entries.

"Smash Hits" is more like the latter in that there is nothing worthwhile here that couldn't have been offered as downloadable content. The game has a flimsy attempt at a story arc and some unlockable costumes, but these are not nearly enough to justify a full price tag, no matter how good the songs on offer might be.

The concept behind "Guitar Hero: Smash Hits" is a good one. The set list reads as a bona-fide compilation of the best songs from the series' early days, and re-releasing them with the master recordings and with full band support is laudable. If not for the inflated price tag, this would have been an easy recommendation.

"Guitar Hero: Smash Hits" is available for the Nintendo Wii, PlayStation 2 and 3, and Xbox 360.


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