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Power Gig: Rise of the SixString

(Seven45 Studios; US: 19 Oct 2010)

Power Gig: Rise of the SixString is a difficult product to review.  I know how I respond to it personally, which is relevant to evaluation, but far less so when dealing with what is most clearly a product that is so very niche, since I don’t belong to that niche, but you might.


Unlike most of the current crop of rhythm games that are so clearly gauged to reach the broadest audience possible through ease of use (the pick up and play quality of Rock Band and Guitar Hero peripherals) and through track lists that include a wide variety of hits from a lot of musical genres, Power Gig has eschewed casual play for an effort to crank the difficulty of the music peripheral-driven game.


While the addition of more complex peripherals like drum kits and keyboard upped the ante on difficulty for games like the aforementioned Rock Band and Guitar Hero, Harmonix and Neversoft wisely allowed themselves time to establish a more casual style of play in their first games before adding more challenging ways of interfacing with what are ostensibly games intended for party play.


Sure, the drums are hard and someone in the room wants a challenge, but most everyone else in the room who just wants to participate can take a turn on the mic or play that much easier bassline.  Not that such experiences aren’t available to the Power Gig player (which supports the more difficult drums and more casual friendly vocals), but the central interest of the game is a new peripheral and one that is less than easy to just pick up and feel like a rock star.


Power Gig‘s six string peripheral is a pretty amazing device.  It is heavy, features actual guitar strings (that can break), and requires a pick to play.  It is also pretty difficult to learn. 


It isn’t so much that the experience resembles playing an actual six string instrument though.  Picking notes in time to the music is loosely governed.  When picking at notes that are not chords, the game doesn’t require that you pick the correct strings. For instance, it is okay to stick to the top string for simple one note playing. 
The most difficult thing about the interface, though, is that note capsules that you have to match on screen are far less intuitive to follow than in Harmonix or Neversoft titles.  Numbers of strings do matter when playing chords as well as the color codes familiar to rhythm game players. Representations of what you are supposed to play don’t necessarily add up immediately, as the combination of string numbers with single colored capsules on screen represent holding down strings in multiple positions on the frets.  In other words, a single capsule capsule that appears as a “5 green” refers not to a single fret position, the “green” refers to one fret and the “5” to another.  You’ll need to remember the other color that you will need to hold from what is learned in the training mode as well as the other number for proper positioning as well.  If this sounds confusing, it isn’t merely because I am having trouble describing this process.  The process is difficult to describe because it is confusing to figure out in the short span of time required by a rhythm game to process information.


None of this is impossible to learn, it simply makes for a game that you not are going to bust out this Thanksgiving and everyone is going to hop in and play a few songs.  A Power Gig guitar player is going to require some time to develop through tutorials and practice. 


Similarly off putting to the casual play model is the track list itself, which contains fewer universally familiar tunes than other rhythm games.  MuteMath, Snow Patrol, and Surfer Blood are not going to be bands that are immediately recognizable to everyone.  Yes, Eric Clapton, Dave Matthew, and Ozzy are here, but aren’t the most contemporary hit makers, and even the popular bands that are here frequently feature non-charting songs.


I don’t have a problem with being exposed to a lot of new material, but the “there’s probably half a dozen to a dozen songs that each person in the room can appreciate” design of Rock Band and Guitar Hero track lists is not present here at all.  The track list seems much narrower in terms of representing genres and making sure there is enough from a few different eras and coming from a few different musical tastes that everyone is going to find something for themselves.


When reviewing Power Gig, I hot seated the guitar with at least three different players, my wife, my daughter, and a friend of my daughter’s.  Of the four of us, only my daughter’s friend seemed especially interested in hanging in with the difficult peripheral and less eclectic track list.  Which is fine.  As I said earlier, this is a niche title and is designed as such (whether intentionally or not) that is going to appeal to a gamer looking for a challenge and with interests in more particular forms of music.  As such, it is hard to assign a clear score.  Casual players should very likely stay away.  Those with a desire to really be challenged by a rhythm game may find this refreshingly “hard core.”  However, this is a challenge unrelated to music lessons themselves.  A Power Gig player isn’t learning to play the six string; they are learning to play a hardcore rhythm title.

G. Christopher Williams is a Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. He posts his weekly contribution to the Moving Pixels blog at PopMatters every Wednesday. Besides also serving as Multimedia Editor at PopMatters and writing at his own blog, 8-bit confessional, he has also published essays in journals like Film Criticism, PostScript, and the Popular Culture Review. You won't find him on Twitter, but you can drop him a line with that old fashioned thing called e-mail at williams@popmatters.com.


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