Hands-On With Christian 'Guitar Hero' Spin-Off 'Guitar Praise'

I recently got a copy of Fremont, California-based Digital Praise's "Guitar Praise" and unboxed it for all the world to see.

Made for the PC/Mac, the game is a Christian-oriented version of Activision's "Guitar Hero" that aims to combine the gameplay of the popular music franchise with Christian values.

I got a chance to play the game to see how it compares to its secular predecessors. A Christian message may be behind it, but does the gameplay and guitar peripheral hold up?

The music selection -- The game promises over 50 tracks from Christian rock and pop artists. Though Flyleaf and dc Talk rang a bell, I hadn't heard of most of the musicians. Players can choose the song they want to play from a setlist of five initial songs, including a "Guitar Praise" warm-up song which appears for each difficulty. More songs are unlocked as players progress through the game; three songs must be successfully completed to unlock the next set of five songs. When I moused over "Song Pack" in the Set list section, a voice told me "if you add expansion packs they will appear as new playlists," making it clear that there are planned expansions for the game.

The gameplay -- The gameplay doesn't stray far from the other music games. You can play using a user profile, with scores able to be uploaded to online leaderboards, or you can just simply jump in for quick play. Players will see a note highway -- though with a much farther perspective than any other game I've seen -- where notes of various colors will scroll by. The notes are colored the same as other games; from left to right, it's green, red, yellow, blue and orange. Miss a note, and a rather spine-jarring and seemingly random guitar noise will squawk where the note should've been.

You earn "talent points" which can be used to buy a few different guitars with vaguely religious names like "Resounding Glory" and "Enduring Dynasty."

Unlike "Guitar Hero," there's no tutorial. However, to start, players can try the "Guitar Praise" warm-up song which appears for each difficulty. The game includes the four standard difficulties we've seen in other games -- Easy, Medium, Hard and Expert -- where Easy utilizes the first three frets, while Medium uses four, and Hard and Expert use varying degrees of the fifth fret. In Easy mode only, the words "Perfect," "Great," "Good" and "Missed" float above each note. I tried the same song -- Jessie Daniels' "What I Hear" -- in all four difficulties. I got 99% on Easy, 98% on Medium, 85% on Hard and 77% on Expert. These scores are typical of what I'd get in the other games, so the difficulties seemed to be spread pretty evenly. (It should be noted that the game also supports duel modes that I wasn't about to try because I didn't have a second controller.)

After you play each song, you earn "talent points" -- versus money in the other titles -- which can be used to buy a few different guitars with vaguely religious names like "Resounding Glory" and "Enduring Dynasty."

The interface -- The background is changeable via the options menu (called "Backstage"). The various choices included a photo of a crowd, each song's CD cover, and graphics that look like Windows 95 backgrounds with names like "Golden Moonrise," "Slime Scene" and "Tranquil Stream." There were no religious-themed backgrounds.

Once in a song, the note highway is on the left side of the screen, while lyrics to the song appear on the right (the lyrics can be turned off as well). The notes are shaped like triangles, and instead of "Star Power" like in "Guitar Hero" or an "Energy Meter" like in "Rock Band," there's a "Spinner Bonus." Like the other games, when a succession of spinning notes are hit, a colored meter at the bottom of the screen will slowly fill up. Then one can tilt the guitar to activate the bonus points for each note played. Once activated, the notes give off a bright blue glow, and the score multiplier increases the score by double. The highest I ever got without the bonus was a x9 multiplier.

Instead of "Star Power" like in "Guitar Hero" or an "Energy Meter" like in "Rock Band," there's a "Spinner Bonus."

The HUD also keeps track of how many notes you hit in a row, and at the top of the screen is a marquee graphic that names the song, the score and the difficulty. Around the marquee are a string of red lights. Perform well and the more lights you fill; do poorly and the lights will slowly turn off. When you've reached the end of the marquee and blown out the last bulb, you've failed out. "Anyone that finishes with a fully lit marquee is ready to move onto harder songs," the game's announcer states. Unlike the other titles, no one boos, applauds or sings along as you play.

There's also an option to toggle the "Marquee Lights Out Ends Song" on or off. It's essentially like "Rock Band 2"'s "No Fail" mode, where players can get through the entire song no matter how poorly they do. And when this option is turned off, you don't credit for completing the songs or unlock new sets.

The controller -- The controller looks almost identical in color and shape to the original "Rock Band" guitar, but the fret buttons and strummer look and feel similar to the wireless "Guitar Hero III" controller. Holding the "Guitar Praise" guitar, it feels pretty comfortable and solid, but when you hit the fret buttons, the "clacking" sound from hitting them is noticeably louder than the other versions; the strummer also feels a little looser than others I've played. And there are two silver buttons on the guitar that adjust the volume; typically other guitars use them as the "Start" and "Back" buttons.

Verdict -- "Guitar Praise" is no doubt a slick and surprisingly competent "Guitar Hero" knock-off aimed at the game-playing Christian market; Digital Praise seems to embrace that fact instead of trying to re-invent the music game genre. And aside from the specifically Christian-themed music, there was no overt religious imagery or tones within the game that I noticed.

For those of you interested in "rockin' with the best while praising the Lord," you can pick up "Guitar Praise" for the PC/Mac starting next week for $99.95.

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