Gitaroo Man Lives

Developer(s): Koei, iNiS

Platform: PSP

Release Date: Nov 2006

Some games seem to just go right out of their way to alienate their audience with their presentation. Gitaroo Man Lives, more or less a direct port of Gitaroo Man on PS2, is one such game.

It’s OTT anime style gives the impression that it’s more complicated than it actually is. All of the songs you play are original compositions, so you won’t recognize any of them. And at a time when Guitar Hero and Rock Band were at it’s peak, it seemed a little dated to be playing a rhythm action game that relies on regular controls.
It’s a shame that it’s these aspects that people pick up on because Gitaroo Man Lives is a surprisingly addictive little game in itself.

The Set Up:
The premise is as simple as it is outrageously ridiculous. U-1 (yes, that’s his actual name), is an unpopular dweeb who can’t seem to do anything with his life. One day, his talking dog, Puma, informs him that he is in fact the legendary Gitaroo Man, and that he must use the Gitaroo to fight evil forces, save the universe and get a girlfriend.
The Gitaroo, as many may have guessed, is a guitar, but with magical powers. Essentially, you will face off against a number of opponents, each one looking like a cos play reject, in music battles that span across ten stages. Seems simple enough…

…and it is! The learning curve for GML is perfectly refined, with early stages being very basic in order to let you get to grips with the controls. Imagine level 1 as being Deep Purples ‘Smoke on Water’ and you’ll have the general idea of its difficulty. In these stages, you will face off against your opponent, and attempt to deplete their health before they finish off yours. This is done by following a guitar track (a line that appears on-screen) with the analogue stick and hitting the corresponding notes as they appear, keeping in time with the music. This will allow you to strike your opponent, as well as defend yourself from their attacks.

Each level is divided into five different stages: Charge, Attack, Defend, Harmony and End. Charge is essentially a way of building up your own health bar, via guitar riffs. Attack is identical but instead of building health, you reduce your enemies health bar. Defend is your defensive strategy, the guitar track doesn’t appear for this. Instead, you simply hit the various notes as they appear in the centre of the screen in order to block attacks. Harmony and End are both basically epic guitar solos used to stylishly finish off your enemy. Once their health is fully depleted, you fall into End mode and your own health won’t drop if you miss a note.

As you progress, the stages get steadily more difficult. It is commendable how smooth the game manages to transition from simple to utterly insane in ten short stages. Unlike many modern games (or even puberty), the difficulty doesn’t suddenly just spike at level 4. You adjust quickly with each progressing level and will be amazed how well you can navigate the later levels. Here, rather than holding one note for about five seconds, you will have to play five notes quicky in one second, all the while rotating the analogue stick to follow an epileptic guitar track.

Once you finish one or two stages, you’ll notice that it takes a few tries to progress to the next level. Luckily, GML manages that rare feat where a Game Over screen feels less like a letdown and more like an excuse to pick it up and try again. And again. And dear me, I’m late for work? One more go…The gameplay is just simple, unadulterated fun. Short at only ten levels, but with three difficulty settings, and a range of figurines to unlock, there’s plenty of reasons to keep playing.

This is aided, of course, by the music. The soundtrack ranges from samba to metal to rock to classical. Each track is well suited to the levels they are integrated into, and the acoustic version of The Legendary Theme is ridiculously catchy (Play here while you read the rest of the review!). The games style is also particularly endearing. Impossible to take seriously, yet curiously heart warming. And this from a game where you are attacked by robot space sharks…

Despite the extra difficulty levels, the original game is a bit short. The PSP version offers new Multiplayer and Duet modes in an attempt to prolong the life of the game, while adding two new songs which can only be played in these modes. However, because the game itself is so obscure, you’ll probably find it tricky to find anyone else who owns the game to actually play with! (On that note, does anyone wants  game of GML…?!) And two new songs? Ideally, we’d like at least ten new songs, if GML has any chance of competing with most modern music games.

Gitaroo Man Lives is a very special game, in that it has very few flaws. Any negative attributes are due mainly to how compact the package itself is. However, any attempts to expand on the game may run the risk of making it seem repetitive. As such, it is somewhat trapped in gamers limbo, stuck with the reputation of being just ‘a nice little game’. It is an experience to play, visually and audibly impressive and a lot of fun while it lasts. A second-hand copy is probably less than ten euros now, making it well worth the purchase.

Rating: 8/10

“Oh this, yeah, somehow I seem to be OK with this thing…” – U-1

Shamelessly Awful Facts:

  • Lenne Hart, the woman who does the voice of U-1, also does the voice of Irish fighter Anna in the Tekken games. I’m surprised you’ve never heard of her.

This game is kind of like:

  • The insane intro to an anime that rarely portrays what the anime is actually like/about.


  • Parappa The Rapper for people who prefer rock music

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  1. […] to the simple button presses, as well as buckets of style, along came Gitaroo Man (reviewed here). It could only have come out of Japan, a game whose style is so akin to anime. It features your […]

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