God of Rock has one of the best elevator pitches I’ve ever heard – what if Tekken and Guitar Hero had a baby? Unfortunately, the answer is far less interesting than the question, because it turns out that Axel Steel is merely parading around in a flimsy Tekken costume with a Heihachi Mishima wig. It is unashamedly a rhythm game first and foremost, with a splash of fighting game paint for good measure. It plays less like Tekken and more like a one-on-one Guitar Hero face-off, skewing so far into the rhythm genre that the original pitch fades away into nothing.
Still, God of Rock is an incredibly novel idea that brings back classic rhythm games in style, but too many of the fighting elements are surface-level or don’t fit right. The real hook is that you can play a Guitar Hero-like rhythm battle against your friends online, seeing who has the fastest trigger finger and rhythmic reflexes. It’s not me. I’m terrible. A flurry of notes explode from the screen and I’m suddenly trying to button mash like it’s a fully-fledged fighter. It doesn’t work here because it’s a rhythm game.
As you’d expect from the genre, notes are represented by controller button prompts, and speed toward a cut-off point where you then have to tap the right input before they disappear. Miss too many and you’ll spiral so bad you can’t pick up the pace again, hence my button-mashing panic.
If you do hit those prompts, you hurt your opponent, so whoever plays best kills the other fastest. This is essentially a stand-in for the score system, swapping the usual end-of-match point count for a rush to the finish line. It sounds interesting in theory, but it means that songs end abruptly. You’re no longer playing to finish a track, but to knock the other player out. That’s a shame given that one of God of Rock’s other major selling points is a soundtrack of over 40 unique songs. I’d love to hear each and every one of them through to the end, but by mixing in fighting game elements, the music takes a backseat.
Fighting games are already rhythmic, as you carefully master each character’s abilities to string together attacks and ensnare other players in unending combos. Every character is unique too, something God of Rock tries to capture with its special abilities, but the button prompts remain identical. That means the actual fighting of opponents by stringing together what is essentially a musical combo is the exact same across the (fret) board, losing the fighting genre’s hook of having diverse combat styles. Mixing two different genres was always going to leave core mechanics feeling half-baked, as balancing fighting's distinct characters with rhythms unique tracks is impossible – characters in a fighter should stand out from one another, but rhythm tracks need to stay the same so you can master them.
The biggest advantage God of Rock has over the rhythm games of the ‘00s is that I can play it with a regular controller. I spent a couple of months in 2022 trying to find the right Guitar Hero guitars on eBay for their specific games, often getting ones with corroded battery ports or missing dongles, and each one has a unique, specific dongle, tied to a unique, specific game and a unique, specific console. Guitar Hero was a headache to get working and has only gotten worse as more games launched that later went out of production. God of Rock cuts through the noise, and it even works on the Steam Deck. That ease of access while capturing Guitar Hero’s essence alone makes it worth trying for genre purists.
I’m most excited by God of Rock’s potential. A huge selling point of Guitar Hero was getting to play your favourite rock songs from Eye of the Tiger to Heart-Shaped Box, which is something I expect modders to bring into God of Rock. I’ve no idea how its community will look when it does come out, but God of Rock is already the perfect sandbox.
God of Rock is a unique experiment that tries to mix two genres together that really shouldn’t work. Unfortunately, for the most part, they don’t. I love that someone had the heart to follow through on the question of what a fighting rhythm game would look like, but maybe it was something best left alone. A modern, competitive Guitar Hero without the hassle of sourcing unique parts is more than enough, but God of Rock piles on another genre and muddied what would have made it stand out from the crowd.
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