You knew this day would come, the day when Guitar Hero went the way of other popular rhythm game franchises, releasing pseudo-sequels and expansions that are really just batches of new songs with little to nothing in the way of gameplay or feature upgrades. Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s is the first for the series, an expansion of sorts to Guitar Hero II that offers up 30 new tracks with a decidedly 1980s bent. Everything else is basically how you remember it from GHII, including most of the same characters, venues, and modes, but now everything's been tinted neon to indicate that, yes, this is very much the '80s. In theory, such an expansion could be an extremely welcome addition to any Guitar Hero fan's library, but Rocks the 80s doesn't quite deliver on its promise. There's a good chunk of significant '80s hits on here, as well as a few inspired, lesser-known choices, but at a price tag of $50, 30 mostly solid songs doesn't sound like such a great deal.
Like handing your life savings over to Charles Keating, or buying a Betamax player, Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s isn't necessarily the wisest way to invest your money.
Getting right into the soundtrack, Rocks the 80s deserves credit for not just going the easy route and churning out nothing but cheesy hair metal tracks. Certainly there's plenty of that on there, with big-time hits like Ratt's "Round and Round," Poison's "Nothin' But a Good Time," Winger's "Seventeen," and Twisted Sister's "I Wanna Rock" all on hand. But then you also get lighter rock tracks, like Asia's "Heat of the Moment", pop rock tunes like The Romantics' "What I Like About You," and new wave classics like The Vapors' "Turning Japanese" and Flock of Seagulls' "I Ran." You'll even get some neat choices from the underbelly of '80s rockitude that might not be immediately familiar but are a lot of fun to play, like Oingo Boingo's "Only a Lad," The Police's "Synchronicity II," and .38 Special's "Hold On Loosely."
Of course, it's not all good stuff. Roughly two-thirds of the tracklist could be considered fun either because it's a cool song to play, or just because it's a big hit with a memorable riff. The rest scrapes the bottom of the '80s barrel like a fourth run of I Love the '80s. Does anyone besides those who spent the entirety of the decade inside seedy metal bars even remember who Faster Pussycat is, let alone the song "Bathroom Wall"? "Radar Love" is a heck of a song, but seriously, the White Lion version of it? Not the one you really want to be playing. And while the inclusion of a faux-80s song from joke-band Limozeen is mildly amusing, it's the sort of thing that would have just been a throwaway bonus song in another Guitar Hero game.
At least most of the covers are quite good, and there are even several original master tracks, including "Round and Round" and "I Ran." "I Wanna Rock" is also a master, though it's from a much later Twisted Sister release. It sounds a little like Dee Snyder at the front of a Twisted Sister cover band, and it sticks out like a sore thumb.