I'll be completely honest. There are many video games that I've reviewed for Plugged In that I wouldn't let my kids—or anyone's kids, if I had such power—get within a country mile of. And that's not some spoil-the-kids'-fun, judgmental know-it-all speaking, either. It's a little gut-level reality from a humble gamer with enough sense to know better.
That's why, when I see a rare game like Guitar Praise: Solid Rock come along, I have to take a moment to respond appropriately. So, here goes: "Wahoo!"
Granted, this game does not develop any new concepts. In fact, many secular reviewers have called Guitar Praise a "rip-off," "knock-off" and "copycat" of the original groundbreaking game Guitar Hero. And, in a way, they're right. But what that snarky group seems to be missing—while they smirk at the idea of "Christian rockers with a plastic guitar"—is that the game doesn't have to be radically different from others in this billion-dollar rock guitar genre to be noteworthy. It just needs a little cleanup on aisle nine.
Which is exactly what it gets.
What's This Now?
Just in case you recently returned from a five-year humanitarian jaunt to Addis Abbaba and aren't familiar with how this kind of game works, let me give you a quick primer: After players set up the game on their Windows or Mac home computer (no gaming console renditions are available yet), they grab the supplied wireless guitar controller and attempt to "play" their way through a series of increasingly difficult songs.
The controller has a set of five colored buttons on its neck. As colored blips scroll down a virtual fretboard on the left side of the computer monitor (lyrics or an additional guitar fretboard are on the right), players have to push the corresponding button or combination of buttons and "strum" the guitar in time with the rhythm. Get everything right and the game rewards you with points and a rockin' tune. Miss it and you get a plucked-string squawk in return.
As gamers become more comfortable with the basic mechanics, they can ratchet up the difficulty level and move from only having to cover one or two notes to playing combos of three or more. Up to two controllers can be connected at a time in either a co-op play (bass and lead) or a Power Duel. Racked up points earn new song sets and improved virtual guitars and sounds.
OK, so what's different about this game when compared to the bestselling Guitar Hero or Rock Band franchises? Well, as far as game mechanics and the rigors of hand-eye coordination are concerned, not much. But even those with a slight familiarity with other guitar sim titles will notice Guitar Praise's uniqueness right away:
There are no gyrating rockers on virtual stages, for one thing. Tattooed avatars with skimpy outfits and scowling attitudes have been left back on the tour bus, replaced with still images of the band responsible for the song you're playing or a variety of nondescript multicolored backgrounds. Gone too are the pentagrams, grim reapers, cleavage-baring poster girls, barely bleeped profanities, beer bottle chuckers and all that other typical rock paraphernalia.
And then there's the song list. Parents won't need to fret (a little guitar humor there) over songs laced with risqué, suicidal or outright satanic lyrics. To the contrary, in Guitar Praise, tunes point to the road out of the dark depths. Lyrics praise friendship, hope and spiritual redemption.
Now, a few folks who don't get the appeal of such standout CCM acts as Flyleaf, Skillet, Stellar Kart, tobyMac, Newsboys, Petra, 12 Stones, Spoken and Whitecross may well say that that's not real rock. I mean, how can you have authentic rock 'n' roll without clothes-rending angst, boozy rants and hopeless depression? But I'm here to tell you that these guys and gals rock with the best of 'em without giving in to the worst of 'em.
So, yes, Guitar Praise is indeed a Guitar Hero clone. Only this clone is better than the original. The controller is just as solid and usable, the game is just as much fun, the mechanics and onscreen displays are just as accessible and the songs are ... well, like I said before, wahoo!
After plugging in to this title for a number of hours I walked away with only one minor gripe: Playing this game is going to cost me even more money than I at first thought—now I've got to buy some of these tunes for my iPod.