For everyone who's ever played air guitar along with Aerosmith's Joe Perry or strummed along with Slash from Guns n' Roses, Guitar Hero II is your game. Sure, a guitar sim sounds like the type of goofy game that would only fly in Japanese arcades, but there’s something special inside that plastic mini-guitar that deserves a place in every gamer's library. This first one rocked; this sequel improves upon the original in every possible way.
The beauty of Guitar Hero - both last year's original and now the sequel - is its simplicity. Anyone can pick up the guitar-shaped controller (now in red-and-black, the classic Gibson SG colors, for you guitar geeks out there) and have fun in a matter of moments. Pick up the controller - it's got 5 fret buttons, a two-way strummer, and a whammy bar - then press the color-coded fret buttons and strum as the notes move down the screen toward you. It's that simple.
It starts easy; at the lowest difficulty setting you only use three of the fret buttons and the notes are infrequent and move slowly. By the time you unlock half of the 60+ song setlist, your fingers will be flying up and down all five frets and you'll strum with wild abandon. If you think you'll blow through 60 songs in a few hours, remember that each song features four increasingly challenging difficulty levels, ranging from newbie, "which way is up?" cake to Eddie Van Halen-couldn't-pull-this-off insanity. The higher the level, the more fret buttons you'll use - often hitting chords, or using advanced, real-world guitar techniques like hammer-ons and pull-offs - and the faster the notes come.
Regardless of your difficulty setting, the game is crazy fun, and there's not much that’s more satisfying than nailing that tricky solo in "Sweet Child O' Mine" or finally getting the surf rhythm right on Dick Dale's "Misirlou". As you progress in career mode, you'll unlock new sets of songs, as well as earn cash to spend on new characters, songs, and guitars. Miss too many notes and you'll lose the crowd and be booed from the stage.
At heart, Guitar Hero II is a party game - if you've never plugged in a second guitar to do battle with your buddies, then you've missed half of the game. In addition to the classic Face Off mode, where you and your opponent play alternating sections of the song, GH2 introduces Pro Face Off and Co-op modes. In Pro Face Off, both players play exactly the same part, thus eliminating complaints about who got the "easy" track.