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MIA - Gitaroo Man

You can do it, U-1! Believe in yourself!

With all my love for RPGs, fighting games, and big dumb action titles, it would probably come as a surprise that I have a large part of my heart reserved for music games. I’ve spent countless hours honing my skills on PaRappa the Rapper, Bust a Groove, and of course Guitar Hero. I even owned Britney’s Dance Beat because it was the closest thing Americans could get to a Bust a Groove 3, having been developed by the same team. However, one music game stands above them all in my eyes, and it’s the one that criminally never got a sequel. That game is Gitaroo Man, and I’m spending this edition of MIA to give some much needed love to a true diamond in the rough.

Released in 2002 and developed by iNiS (who went on to make Elite Beat Agents), Gitaroo man was a little-known game that got a modest print run by its publisher, Koei. Although it would go on to gain a bit of a cult following in time, the game came and went with little fanfare or buzz from the gaming press.

Gitaroo Man is a lot like the Matrix: you can’t be told what it is, you have to see it for yourself. The crazy and difficult to follow story centers on U-1, a boy with no self-esteem. U-1 discovers that he has the power of the Gitaroo, a legendary musical weapon bestowed upon him by his dog, Puma. U-1 needs to defeat the evil Gravillians and take their power to add it to his own weapon. Only when the Gitaroo is whole can Gitaroo Man save planet Gitaroo from certain doom. If that makes little sense, don’t worry; the translation of the game is rough to say the least, with the name “Gitaroo Man” pronounced a number of different ways.

Each song—which runs the gamut from J-pop to jazz to rock opera—is broken into sections that use the controller and face buttons in different ways. Usually a Gitaroo battle will start with the Charge phase, in which the player gains hit points based on their performance. There’s a blue indicator in the middle of the screen, and segments of music fly towards it. The player needs to hit the circle button as the music segment meets the indicator and hold it as long as the segment lasts. At the same time, the left analog stick is used to trace the music segment. Failing to hit the circle button in time with the music or not following the segment results in a “miss”. During the Charge phase this keeps U-1 from gaining extra health to last through the battle.

Once he’s charged up, the real Gitaroo battle begins. U-1 goes into the Attack phase; this is just like the Charge phase, but U-1 damages his opponent based on the skill with which he rocks out. Once he makes an attack, it’s time for his enemy to return the favor, which puts U-1 into Guard mode. During this time the four face buttons (triangle, square, x, and circle) fly in from the top, bottom, left, and right sides of the screen. Pressing the correct buttons in time helps U-1 evade damage.

Eventually U-1 will do enough damage to put the song into the Final phase. By this point the match is all but won and this is the time for U-1 to put the Gravillian away for good by rocking its face off. It’s still possible to lose the game at this point if U-1 has taken enough damage and keeps missing, but for the most part the Final phase is the “finishing move” of Gitaroo Man.

What’s genius about Gitaroo Man is the fact that the songs have a multitude of sections that pop in based on player performance and difficulty level. Since it’s a one-on-one battle that only ends when either U-1 fails or the enemy is brought down to critical health, the songs can go longer than their normal run time. Sections will replay with subtle differences, and if the player is doing really well there’s an “upper tier” of each song that kicks in for extra challenge. All of this happens on the fly, and it makes each play through of Gitaroo Man just a little different. Once you’ve finished the game you unlock Master Mode. This is really the way that Gitaroo Man is meant to be played.

Although there was never a sequel released for Gitaroo Man, he got a second lease on life with the 2006 release of Gitaroo Man Lives! for the PlayStation Portable. This was basically the same game, with the addition of Duet Mode and two new songs made exclusively for this new co-op option. It’s a little easier to track down than the PS2 version and will set your wallet back a little less.

Gitaroo Man is without a doubt my favorite music game. The only thing that even comes close is Bust a Groove, which deserves its own MIA feature. This is the part of the article where I usually redesign the game to make it fit for release on current systems, but why fix what isn’t broken? The only real problem Gitaroo Man had was the lack of songs. The original game only had 11 tracks, but one of those is a remix and the tutorial track is something you only need to play once. The soundtrack was done by the Japanese band COIL, and they really showed off some diversity in their music. All I’d want for a new Gitaroo Man is a game with even more music.

Of course, this isn’t a game that would warrant a 60 dollar price tag in the year 2013. It’s a game that would be perfect on touch devices like the iPad, Wii U, and the PS Vita, but it could just as easily exist as a PSN or XBLA game. I could see a world where the base game sells for 10 bucks with additional music available as DLC. That’s a less than optimal option, but if it gets me more Gitaroo Man I’ll gladly take it.

This is a bittersweet MIA for me. As much as I love bringing this classic to your attention, it’s really a game that has no chance of making a comeback. With most of the other MIAs I have hope that one day we’ll see another game, but Gitaroo Man was a niche game in an already niche genre, and that doesn’t bode well on a business end. But part of MIA is to give us all a chance to dream about what could have been, so I think I’ll go fire up my PS2 and get down with some Bee Jam Blues.



Angelo Grant Staff Writer

03/18/2013 at 03:31 PM

"I even owned Britney’s Dance Beat because it was the closest thing Americans could get to a Bust a Groove 3"

You did what!

Honestly though, this game sounds pretty neat. I might want to give it a shot if I can find a copy somewhere.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

03/18/2013 at 03:35 PM

The dance mechanics of Britney's Dance Beat are even better than Bust a Groove 2. Don't hate, hater. 


03/18/2013 at 06:16 PM

I won a copy of Britney's Dance Beat in a Z100 radio contest. I had to play DDR to win it. xD


03/18/2013 at 06:26 PM

I would love a touch version of Gitaroo Man! That game is absolutely epic- but I found it to be difficult. :

His little acousitc solo to Pico was adorable!

Julian Titus Senior Editor

03/18/2013 at 07:08 PM

That's one of my favorite tracks in the game. It's so sweet and intimate.

Cary Woodham

03/18/2013 at 07:11 PM

Gitarroo Man was tough! 

My favorite music games are Taiko Drum Master, Samba de Amigo (DC), Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, Mad Maestro, and Technic Beat.  Have you played any of those?

Julian Titus Senior Editor

03/19/2013 at 10:34 AM

I played Mad Maestro a bit when we got it in stock at my store and really liked it. I don't own a 3DS, but I've put nearly 60 hours into Theatrhythm on iOS. I'd still buy it on 3DS though...

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