Amplitude (Playstation 2) Review

I’ll never fully understand how Guitar Hero and Rock Band have built up such massive followings. I mean, it’s a fun novelty to use a guitar controller, but rather than making me “feel like a rock star,” it’s always made me feel like an industrial strength douche playing with a toy from the 99 Cent Store. Furthermore, if I wanted to use my pinkies to play a game… well, the fact that I can’t even think of a hypothetical situation for this should say it all.  Then there’s the fact that the games don’t involve any real interactivity. If you perform flawlessly, you get to hear a song you’ve undoubtedly heard a thousand times; fail, and you get to hear a really shitty version of it.  You have more control over an FMV game, and less risk of developing carpel tunnel syndrome.

But years before this phenomenon began, future Guitar Hero developer Harmonix was just a couple of MIT nerds experimenting with ways to allow talentless hacks to perform music.  Eventually, inspired by Japanese rhythm games like Beatmania and DDR, they created Frequency, a brilliant game which broke songs into their individual components (drums, bass, vocals), and inserted them into a Tempest-like tube.  Players would pick an instrument track and perform a sequence of Guitar Hero-like button presses.  If done correctly, that instrument would then play automatically for a while and you would be free to work on activating other tracks.  The result sounded much like any standard techno song, as layers of instruments would start playing one by one at regular intervals.  It was a fantastic idea, and it allowed you to “build” the songs however you saw fit.  You could start with the vocals, then the synthesizer, then drop the bassline in, or any other order.

Frequency spawned a sequel in the form of Amplitude.  The Tempest tube was scrapped, and various other features were added or removed, producing a much more polished game overall.  The soundtrack was thoroughly mainstreamified, replacing relatively unknown techno artists and rappers with MTV fluff like Blink 182, Slipknot and P.O.D.

Not everything is obnoxious though, and there are some definite highlights; Herbie Hancock’s classic Rockit, superimposed by some scratchwork from Mix Master Mike is definitely a winner, and the etherial female vocal track on Chris Child’s Shades of Blue is just about the prettiest thing I’ve ever heard in a video game.  Old school Run DMC is certainly welcome, as is a past-his-prime David Bowie.  I even found myself enjoying the contributions of Garbage and Papa Roach, despite my better judgment.  And due to the nature of the game, you can always just opt not to activate those Pink vocals, if you’d rather not hear faux feminist lyrics about the virtues of being a cocktease.

Thoroughly pigeonholed by the phenomenon they unwittingly started, I doubt we’ll be seeing Harmonix return to the Frequency/Amplitude series anytime soon.  And Neversoft can be counted on, like an old friend, to milk the Guitar Hero franchise until it dies an undignified death.  This is a crying shame for anyone who cut their teeth on Harmonix’ original series, and I can only hope that the ideas introduced by these great games won’t be completely squandered.  How about a Producer Hero?  Multitrack Band?  Anybody?


~ by Krooze L-Roy on January 24, 2009.

6 Responses to “Amplitude (Playstation 2) Review”

  1. The Game Jew likes Guitar Hero (pronounced GIH-tar Hero in the south), forcing me to dislike the franchise.

  2. I’m glad I’m not the only one that enjoys this game for being Harmonix’s best offering to date. As a Bemani nerd and a student of the genre part of me knows it’s a sort of watered down take on Beatmania, but the other part of me is glad that it at least made it over to the US. And their most diverse tracklist, something I always approve of with music games; The Crystal Method, Garbage, Papa Roach, and Run DMC within shouting distance of each other is a beautiful thing. Really a well-done game that I still have occasion to play.

  3. I really need to try Beatmania out. It’s always intimidated me, what with the complicated-looking interface and videos of people playing at impossible speeds, but I’m tired of living in fear.

    I think I’ll start ebaying around…

  4. There’s always the US version which can be had relatively cheaply. As import titles go I’ve been fond of 9th style for some reason. I never got very good at it, 4s and 5s were about my upper limit but it was still fun and rewarding when you did well.

    Hit me up on AIM sometime (BluesoulGL) and we can shoot the shit about pinball, Bemani, and telling each other that it’s okay to like the Garbage song in Amplitude.

  5. Right on, man. I actually ordered that US version the other night. I’ll hit you up once I’ve tried it out.

  6. With regards to “I doubt we’ll be seeing Harmonix return to the Frequency/Amplitude series any time soon”, you may want to look at this:

    It’s a step in that direction.

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