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God of Rock (XS)

By Lee Mehr 18th May 2023 | 2,919 views 

From mechanics to personality, Modus Studios' genre-mashup runs into major trouble by the first chords.

Did you ever play Guitar Hero or Rock Band and think to yourself "man… imagine this type of setup mashed with a 1v1 fighting game?"  You’re not alone if you answered no.  Still, it's hard not to respect Modus Studios' freshman effort from its marketing pitch.  But a flashy poster won't do much without a kickass band behind it.  And God of Rock rarely hits the right notes.

The standard Story/Arcade Mode follows the standard formula of fighting through the roster to face The God of Rock at the end.  The majority of characters have some personal impediment in their way and The God of Rock tempts them with solving that if they win it all.  One's a narcissist who gets boundless adulation from people but also wants it from animals, while another is a fallen-out Elvis wanting to be on top again.  If you've played an over-the-top fighting game, you'll get the gist: 12 fighters with their own unique personalities.  Everyone has a succinct comic strip for their slim background info and shares some quick banter before throwing fists.

How throwing fists translates here is diametrically different from anything else.  The top half of the screen will look familiar: two opposed parties facing each other.  The bottom half is a perpetually scrolling note sheet with four separate color-corresponding lines; once a note appears and nears the end of the note sheet, you have to hit the correct button.  Timing this right will translate into whether you landed or missed a hit.  It basically follows Guitar Hero's ruleset, only this sheet wheel scrolls horizontally rather than vertically.

So, it's less about careful footwork, distance, or aerials, and more about rhythm combo chains to land strikes.  You and your opponent share the same notes, but who's more successful in their timing determines who’ll win: Perfect-rated hits will trump Bad-rated ones, resulting in said enemy losing some of their health.  There are also traditional fighting inclusions like different Special, Ultra, EX, and Reversal moves, which results in more notes filling up your enemy's sheet.

Although surprising with just how much stock is put towards those fighting staples, it's not cohesively incorporated.  One key issue is how little screen real estate you're focusing on.  Your eyes are naturally drawn towards – surprise, surprise! – the bottom to prepare for the next set of notes.  There's also something visually uncomfortable in its sideways scrolling versus vertical in Rock Band.  Even though you're able to customize control inputs (i.e. swapping face buttons with triggers, bumpers, and/or D-pad inputs), something is still implicitly off in mentally following button sequences, especially with some of the wild finger dexterity demands for a controller.  Even a visual quibble like being unable to alter the color-coded border around your customized inputs makes a sizable difference in comfort.  It's rather telling to say I enjoyed Tchia's secondary rhythm mechanics more than this core.

This configuration is exasperated by Special and Ultra combos too.  Including a quick combo (like down, right, up, & RT for example) is a nice concept, and it's cool to see a few more notes materialize on your opponent's sheet.  The problem is it confuses complexity for visual chaos.  I can already anticipate the "git gud" arguments from miles away, but it begs the question of diverting attention away from the song's rhythm.  I'm already trying to hyper-fixate on the bottom half of the screen.  Why risk my current tempo that's chipping away the enemy for something that could throw me off balance and force me to re-do it anyways if I screw up?  And since the easier/moderate CPU levels don’t demand insane finger acuity, the juice isn't worth the squeeze.

Eventually, everything starts feeling like an incongruous mash-up, from mechanics to presentation.  While some of the 8 total stages have a fun gimmick, like a volcano or black hole in the background, they're essentially static locales populated with two random caricatures.  In terms of location, character, and song selection, all of the options seem randomly put in a blender, disallowing any sort of personality to stick out.  And in a game literally called "God of Rock," how in the hell does metal get less airtime than electronic, pop, and similar sub-genres?  Where's the death metal guitarist threatening to flay everyone with his vicious chords or… anything close to that attitude?  You make room for Cyberpunk Lizzo and Quirky Artist but leave out a caricatured Lemmy?  Fucking nuts, man.

That randomness epitomizes Rock's personality to a tee.  Which is a shame too because it's not bereft of nice baubles to appreciate.  You don't hear much from any character, but every voice actor captures the so-bad-it's-good cheesiness of the spectacle.  The larger-than-life settings are complimented by the unique & dramatic fighting animations of each fighter; the few times I was free to glimpse the top-half of the screen looked fun and flashy after hitting a perfect note.  Modus also passes the art test of every character's silhouette looking unique, but it's – oddly – also done in the least-inspired way: throwing whatever flair on them while blind-folded.  It's also a shame there are (currently) no extra cosmetic unlocks either. 

There are other ways to make up for the lack of cosmetic customization.  Should you think you can do better, Rock's level editor enables you craft the note sheet for any of its tracks.  Just name the level, plug in your button routine, and voila!  Your custom song is available to play locally or online.  While still serviceable on consoles, the PC version has a leg up with track-sharing on Steam Workshop. The only main knock against it would be the lack of an editing tutorial; even the barebones main tutorial is succinct enough in conveying the broad strokes.

Beyond that, there are also local & online multiplayer options to play with.  Given the CPU's set rigidity across its difficulty settings, a part of me was willing to give it another shot against flesh-and-blood people.  Maybe seeing others handle this task would compel me to re-evaluate its mechanics.  But even after waiting upwards of 10 minutes in Quickplay and Ranked lobbies nary a soul greeted me on the servers.  It'd be too presumptuous to say this signals its deep mechanical issues (especially with a stuffed release schedule), but it's also hard to ignore.  I tried finding a match across several different days and still no luck (as of writing this paragraph).

A ghost town of an online service – despite it appearing to work – doesn't bode well for anyone putting down $30.  Sure, it has a roster of characters, maps, and modes already that could get a drip-feed of supplementary content later on, but the bigger issue stems back to sustained interest.  A choice few could play around with its Track Editor for hours on end, but that creativity will still feel limited by the lackluster core.  Even by middle-market standards, it's a case of checking all of the important boxes to a fighting & rhythm game in paltry amounts, like a thin layer of margarine covering a slice of toast.

In such an age of genre mashups, is a rhythm-fighting hybrid the bridge too far?  Well, it's more that God of Rock makes a poor first case study.  The ways in which both design philosophies conflict leads to something that never finds firm footing; plus, what personality that's here never does enough to leave a lasting impression.  A shame that Modus Studios never finds its groove.

Contractor by trade and writer by hobby, Lee's obnoxious criticisms have found a way to be featured across several gaming sites: N4G, VGChartz, Gaming Nexus, DarkStation, and TechRaptor! He started gaming in the mid-90s and has had the privilege in playing many games across a plethora of platforms. Reader warning: each click given to his articles only helps to inflate his Texas-sized ego. Proceed with caution.

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This review is based on a retail copy of God of Rock for the XS

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