In a world where music game is synonymous with Rock Band and Guitar Hero, Vibes chooses to be different. But don't get too excited, because Laughing Jackal's newest PSP game still manages to mimic a popular rhythm game. Forget about star powers and chart highways -- Vibes isn't interested in Guitar Hero. It only has eyes for the quirky charm of Gitaroo Man.
That's right, in many ways Vibes is the spiritual successor to Gitaroo Man. While this new PSP game may not have the over-the-top sense of humor that made Koei's music game a cult hit, Vibes manages to retain the solid (albeit outdated) gameplay.
Vibes is a series of thirteen songs, written by artists as diverse as Fake Elegance, Red Cloud, Acidman, Spit at Stars, Taro Gold, Papo Ross and The Words. These acts range drastically in musical styles, from indie rock to pop, trip hop to J-pop, punk rock to country. Heck, the William Tell Overture makes an appearance mid way through the game. Even if you aren't a fan of every song in the game, there are enough great tracks in the package to make it worth $5.50.
The gameplay is simple, though you might not think so at first. Instead of having a note highway, you control a small circle in the middle of the screen. Actually, to say that you control that circle is a lie. What you do is point at the notes that are getting sucked towards you. Once they get close enough, you push the button associated with that note. But beware, because you'll need to use all four of the PSP's face buttons to hit the notes they throw at you.
From time to time the game will try to throw you off by making you hold notes, often while following the trail it leaves. You'll quickly discover that the challenge is not pushing the right button, but rather the direction you're pointing the analog stick. Because so many notes coming at once, it's easy to get completely turned around and point at the wrong notes. Or worse, the pattern can shift leaving you to point in the wrong direction. There is some skill involved in pointing and pushing buttons; it's definitely harder than it sounds.
It won't take long to play through all of the songs on easy, but the further you get the more stuff you unlock. Put enough time into it and you'll earn your chance to struggle through the higher difficulties and make a name for yourself on the leader boards. Unfortunately that's about all there is to do, because outside of thirteen tracks, you're left with a bare-bones product.
One of the things that made Gitaroo Man so much fun was the crazy things happening in the background. Unfortunately, Vibes levels aren't nearly as exciting. The background is made up of a lot of diverse images and shapes, but contains no real video. Instead the game lets you focus your attention on the bevy of notes coming your way. Aside from the backgrounds, the graphics get the job done, but that's about all they do.
And then there's the issue of the "F" word. Not to completely derail the review, I was more than a little surprised to see a song called "Fag." Don't get me wrong, I have nothing but love for The Words and their newest single, but it's jarring seeing such a divisive word on a game rated E10+. Considering how many words Harmonix has to cut just to keep Rock Band's T-rating, I was genuinely shocked that the ESRB is so lenient on that specific word.
Rating issues aside, Vibes is just deep enough to recommend. The gameplay isn't as addictive as Rock Band, but I do like the solid mix of largely unknown artists. Even with only a handful of songs, there's more than enough content to justify the $5.50. Vibes probably won't replace your copy of Rock Band Unplugged, but it's a fun (and inexpensive) alternative worth downloading.
(Editor's Note: After posting this review I was hit with a bunch of emails regarding the "Fag" controversy. According to The Word (the band responsible for the incident), "The song is called FAG because the major chord structure in the song are guitar chords F, A and G. No other reasoning behind it." Furthermore, Steven Barber, the producer behind the game, explained that they "did have issues with [the] ESRB over this, but once they understood why the song was called this they were ok with it." Hopefully that clears up the confusion.)
With its unique gameplay and solid mix of music, Vibes is a nice alternative to Rock Band Unplugged. But I can't shake the feeling that I'm playing a deadly serious version of Gitaroo Man. There's enough of a challenge here to make Vibes an easy recommendation!
This product was submitted by the publisher for review. As a rule, Defunct Games does not review games we spent money on. However, that does not always apply to classic/retro games. This specific product, however, came straight from a PR guy for the purposes of being reviewed!