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Genre: Arcade
Min OS X: 10.4    CPU: Intel    RAM: 256 MB

Frets on Fire
July 2, 2007 | Michael Wuerthele

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Guitar Hero by Harmonix started quietly- the first time I heard about it was on penny-arcade.com, I think. Just based on Tychoís description of the game, I had to have it. Rapidly, it became a staple at family parties, and was broken out even just when I had to kill a half an hour. About six months ago, a few Guitar Hero clones started popping up, hoping to popularize themselves similar to what Stepmania did versus Dance Dance Revolution. Frets on Fire won the first prize in the 2006 Assembly Demo Party Game Development competition in Finland. The first stable Macintosh Binary was delivered to Frets fans on the 22nd of December 2006. At the moment, Frets on Fire is the only Guitar Hero clone available for the Macintosh, but should you stick with your console versions of Guitar Hero, or will Frets on Fire rock the house?

Play is simple, and will be extraordinarily easy for Guitar Hero players of any skill to pick up. Hit a F-key (F1 through F5) for the note as shown on the screen, and hit the enter key to strum the note. Very similar indeed to guitar hero, and thereís even a special way to hold the keyboard, if you havenít adapted a PS2 Guitar SG controller for the game, but more on that later. Guitar Hero veterans will bemoan the lack of the whammy barís functionality, but itís not a dealbreaker.

When you get the Frets on Fire download, donít skip the tutorial, itís one of the most enjoyable Iíve ever seen! Iím not going to ruin it for you in the review, but itís very well done, and entertaining as it teaches you the basics. Other than the tutorial, it comes with scant few songs to play, but thatís by design, and not an omission per se. To fill out your song library, the game package includes a utility to transfer Guitar Hero 1 and 2 songs to your Frets install. Be advised, this takes a VERY LONG TIME. Iím not kidding. The Mac Pro I use daily took about 8 hours per game to suck the files out of each PS2 disk. I wouldnít even try this on the Mac Mini hooked to the television I played this on. If you own both Guitar Hero games for the PS2, this will give you well over 120 songs to play, which should keep you busy for a while. Further bolstering the songs available to you is the internet community. While the enthusiasm is amazing there, the fan community is the best and the worst thing for the game simultaneously. There are some truly astounding songs there (for use with your legally acquired music, naturally), but thereís a lot of chaff to pick through to find them. No matter the quality of the effort, I commend everyone there, but sync issues between the music and the notes to play abound, and some scales in songs just donít feel right to play. Fortunately, the included editor for Frets on Fire is able to change pre-packaged songs, so if you donít like a sync effort on a particular track, you can easily change it. If you do hit a song that youíve downloaded and you donít like it, donít let it turn you off from the game. Odds are, thereís other versions available that you can pick from.

As it stands with the keyboard, Frets on Fire doesnít do much for me. I just donít like playing on the keyboard, even holding it in the special way they advise for the game. Frets on Fire really shines with a pair of inexpensive additions (assuming you already have a PS2 Guitar SG controller). I went through a few cheap USB to PS2 adapters in the course of the review, but most of them didnít work well. Of all the adapters to work well, the Model 2600729 Radio Shack PS2 controller to USB adapter for $11.99 worked the best. Couple this with USB Overdrive for $20, set the F1 through F5 buttons to the fret buttons on the guitar, tweak the sensitivity to your liking and rock and roll! While USB Overdrive isnít the point of the review, any retro or open source gamer really should pick this up. Donít limit yourself to Macintosh only controllers! Anyhow, this combination allows Frets on Fire to be played the way it was meant to be played- on the guitar controller. The Xbox 360 USB guitar for Guitar Hero works fine with no adapter with the tattiebogie.net. It's important to keep in mind that when using song files made for Frets on Fire, keyboard response times are the gold standard for developers- I found it took me a bit longer to find and strum the note on the guitar controller, not due to any hardware issues, but rather my slower fingers wrapped around the guitar controller neck, so a song you may be able to ace on expert with the keyboard may not be possible with the controller, but thatís fine.


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