‘Guitar Hero II’

“Guitar Hero II” is in no way a guitar simulator. There are only five fret buttons to play different notes. The neck and headstock of the guitar controller that comes with the game is made of plastic. “The Trooper” by Iron Maiden is easier to play in the game than on an actual guitar – even on the expert difficulty level.

But it sure is fun.

Hot on the heels of the successful “Guitar Hero” and “Guitar Hero II” for the PS2, the upgraded Xbox 360 version aims to bring the series to the next generation of home consoles. The slight upgrades from the PS2 version include online scoreboards, new tracks (“Possum Kingdom” by Toadies is amazing) and a new guitar design modeled after the Gibson Explorer. The controller still tethers the player to the console; thankfully, it has been announced that “Guitar Hero III” will ship with a wireless controller.

Gameplay remains almost unchanged from the original “Guitar Hero,” but hammer-on and pull-off detection has been cleaned up significantly, making the more difficult tracks play smoothly.

“Guitar Hero II” does display in high definition – not that it was a graphically intensive game to begin with. The 360 version, despite supporting leaderboards on Xbox Live, has no online play, presumably because of the logistical nightmare of playing a music game through an Internet connection. Any lag would break the game because it’s time-sensitive. Co-op and head-to-head play is still immensely entertaining, and it makes a great party game. The easier levels of difficulty are accessible enough for even non-gamers to pick up.

The track list runs the gamut from Nirvana to classics from Rush and Cheap Trick, and the culmination of the 70-plus track list is marked by the quintessential encore “Free Bird.” The tracks become increasingly harder as each of the four difficulty levels progresses.

Few games, even those with pack-in accessories, are actually worth $90. But with a pick in hand and the volume turned up to 11, even the most musically-challenged gamer can feel like a rock god with “Guitar Hero II.”