The Xbox has played host to some odd fusions of genres in the past. Whether it be the rhythm action/RPG blend of Infinite Guitars, or the mix of Metroidvania with Lovecraftian horror in The Last Case of Benedict Fox, there are many genre fusing games out there.
Well, now, there is yet another in the shape of God of Rock, from Modus Studios. This time, it is the fusion of rhythm action with a beat ‘em up that is under the microscope, and while it may be argued that all fighting games do incorporate elements of rhythm, especially in the pulling off of something like Tekken’s 10 hit combo strings, this has taken an entirely different path. The question though is whether this is a path that we should want to take, or does it lead only into the wilderness? Well, there’s only one way to find out, right?
The story is pretty feeble, to be honest, as you would expect from a fighting game. The titular God of Rock has apparently awakened the souls of the greatest musicians throughout history, clothed them in new bodies, handed them new powers and then decided to see who would win a fight. I mean, is it any more ridiculous than the story behind a Dead or Alive game, say? Why wouldn’t you want people to fight for your amusement if you were the God of Rock? Don’t look too closely at the story is very much the advice here.
Let’s look at the presentation instead, as this will bear more scrutiny, however God of Rock is an odd duck, that is for damn sure. A blend of a beat ‘em up and Guitar Hero, the screen is divided roughly in half, with the top section depicting the moves our characters and their foes are using, and the bottom half being the traditional side scrolling note parade we have come to know and love. And honestly, once a battle starts, the top half of the screen is completely surplus to requirements, as the songs require your attention to be nailed to the bottom half of the screen.
The characters we can choose from are quite well designed, and while their voice work is pretty, well, shoddy, the music that we battle over is pretty good. There is nothing to give James Hetfield nightmares, but it fits the style of the game, so a pass from me.
Onto the actual game itself and we have a grand total of twelve characters to choose from, all with different movesets and looks as you might expect. None of them stand out, yet a bit of effort has been made, so credit where credit is due. There are apparently over 40 songs to have a crack at, should you stick with the game that long, so again, a good mix of options.
God of Rock itself is split into three main parts: Story Mode sees you pick your character and then follow their journey as they attempt to become the most powerful musician in the world; Training is where you can practice the moves that you need to win, and there is also a multiplayer mode where you can go online and challenge the rest of the world, complete with cross platform support. There is also a track editing option, where you can take any of the songs and remix them to your taste, adding in notes to make the music your own if you fancy a bespoke challenge.
The online section of God of Rock does actually function pretty well, and while the online world isn’t what you would call well populated, with cross platform support in place it doesn’t usually take more than a few minutes to find a match; whether the PC players have an advantage I’m not sure, but I have yet to win a single online match. This may be down to my ageing fingers and general lack of skill, however.
But, what about the action on offer, how does God of Rock, whether online or off, play out? Well, if you have ever played a Guitar Hero game, or even Infinite Guitars from not long ago, it is pretty much the same as that. The fight begins, the screen is drawn, and then all your attention has to be fixed on the bottom half of the screen. Notes come from the edge of the screen towards the centre, and as they reach the middle of the screen, you have to press the corresponding button to go with the line the note has come in on. Clear? Well, if not, look at the screenshots, it should explain matters. The face buttons are used for this phase of the gameplay, and with combos and lightning reflexes needed, it soon gets very hectic indeed. The longer the fight goes on, the more complicated the tunes become, and there is no theoretical limit to how complicated the tunes can become.
Of course, staying in the fight long enough for that to happen is another story. Landing notes is the equivalent of a boring punch in this game, and then once you have landed enough, a meter is filled and then special moves can be used. These are the traditional “directional input plus button press” pattern, and trying to work them in while not missing any notes is pretty tricky. Of course, each hero has different moves, so learning which character suits your playstyle is all part of the fun.
Does God of Rock work well? That is a tough one. It certainly doesn’t work as a visual spectacle, as you cannot look at anything apart from the stream of notes once a match starts. It doesn’t really work as a fighting game either, as you have no way of telling who is winning until one of you falls over, either online or in story mode, so that’s a pretty big no too. As a rhythm action game, it is passable, but there are much better examples out there of this genre.
It’s possible that we have finally found the edge, the genre fusion too far, and God of Rock is it. The basic premise of the game is misguided, and when the graphics are so incidental to the gameplay, it strikes as a bit of a mess. If you want to fight, play a fighting game – if you want a rhythm action, choose one of them. This is a mash-up too far.