Guitar heroes return to rock once again

Sure, you can snake dance while rocking out to “Sweet Child of Mine” on expert, but are you heroic enough to take on Slash in a head-to-head shred-off? “Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock” will give you a chance to prove if you’re gamer enough.

“GH3,” released on Oct. 28 in the United States, takes digital shredding to a whole new level by throwing players into boss battles against rock legends like Slash. Instead of star power, players collect battle points that allow them to attack their opponent by forcing them to miss notes and potentially fail the song.

The new boss battles are one of many changes game developer RedOctane has made since it released “GH2,” as well as ditching its former partner Harmonix for Neversoft, of “Tony Hawk” fame.

Longtime fans of the series have little to fear. The addicting game many have come to love is still more or less the same. Players who could handle expert-level songs in any of the preceding games can likely pick up “GH3” and launch right into an expert-level rendition of Pearl Jam’s “Evenflow” or The Scorpion’s “Rock You Like a Hurricane.”

That’s not to say the game is easy. Songs that are labeled expert in “GH3” earn that moniker.

Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Pride and Joy” appears in the game as an encore song at the sixth venue you’ll play in career mode. This is fine except that there are eight venues total. Needless to say, the encore songs for venues seven and eight are monsters. Living Colour’s “Cult of Personality,” the seventh venue encore song, features a solo at roughly the halfway mark that easily rivals “Freebird.”

Even easy mode is no joke this time around. Players just learning the controls will have to grapple with strange rhythms and even a few chords.

Medium and hard levels are comparable to “GH1” and 2. The infamously impossible transition from medium to hard will likely still plague players trying to advance to the next difficulty.

The only remedy this time around may be the infectious nature of many of the tracks. Even while missing long chords and quick note changes, it’s hard to resist playing tracks like “Monsters” by Matchbook Romance, “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys and “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns N’ Roses over and over again.

If there is one glaring disappointment in the musical selection this time around it’s that we have – once again – been denied “Stairway To Heaven.”

Owners of the Playstation 3, Wii or Xbox 360 will be able to go online and challenge other players. That’s right, you don’t have to play against only your roommate anymore.

Online play comes with one important catch – the console you’re on. When playing on the Wii, I attempted to check out online play at 6 p.m. on a weekday and there was absolutely no one online. PS3 and Xbox 360 owners may have better luck with online play simply because older gamers tend to own those systems.

While online play may be somewhat disappointing, the improved graphics and increased customization options are not. The singer actually sings the song you’re playing this time around, though he is a bit frightening looking. Moreover, the cut scenes in career mode, venue backgrounds and clothing options are much more detailed and intricate.

In terms of characters, there are many that players of the earlier games will remember. Judy Nails, Axel Steel and the Grim Ripper all return to rock. Thrown in are some new characters, many specific to the system you’re playing on, including the curiously named Midori, a schoolgirl clad head-to-toe in purple, and legendary rocker Slash.

Some may not recognize the older characters, particularly the females. Judy Nails and Casey Lynch show a lot more cleavage. Casey is sporting a very visible thong and Judy Nails is laughably “punk” with a purple bra poking out of what I guess should be considered a shirt, but is actually just a torn rag.

My quibbles aside, this game is undoubtedly impressive. You have a wider selection of clothing for characters and a host of new modes, including a co-op career mode that earns you new songs. Game play is more or less the same, though it is a lot easier to accidentally trigger star power. But in terms of star power, the screen no longer jerks when it’s activated – a tremendously helpful improvement. However, the yellow section of the rock meter is now dark orange, which makes it so hard to distinguish from red that it’s easy to fail while you’ve still got all your star power waiting to be used.

Overall, any criticisms of this game are minor. If you liked the previous incarnations of “Guitar Hero,” do yourself a favor and buy “GH3.” You won’t buy yourself a stairway to heaven, but you will buy yourself a damn good game.