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RELEASE DATE (NA): December 16, 2011 GENRE: Rhythm
// review by EscapeRouteBritish

It's like Yngwie Malmsteem roasting on an open fire.

Christmas comes just once a year, myself a considerable amount more. Was that too crass? Whatever. T'is the season! There was a time when it seemed like Guitar Hero came sixty times a year. Rocks the '90s, On Tour, Modern Hits, Modern Shits, Check Out My Gravel Pits... they were even planning "Drum Hero" despite World Tour and all following games already having playable drums in them. Then there were the spin-offs, Band Hero, DJ Hero... Sheesh.

Yes, Guitar Hero spawned countless copycats, but that's true about any cash cow. When the milk tastes like Boom Boom Money Funny Dollar, everyone's after a suckle on that commercial teat. Bekho Team took the traditional Guitar Hero template, slapped in a handful of old Saint Nick, and released it on mobile. Where the game shines best is when played on PC, in HD, via its Desura release. Santa Rockstar HD is a fifteen song extravaganza with keyboard controls and support for Guitar Hero guitars of all kinds should you have the necessary gear.

Santa Rockstar is indeed a bash. Each track is a Christmas rock instrumental recorded by a guitar virtuoso, Charlie Parra. Don't worry, I hadn't heard of him before either, but I'm sure as hell paying attention to the name now. No awkward Pokémon lyrics here, just rockin' guitar and excellent taste. I grabbed the game plus soundtrack, and I give that beast a good play to ring in the festive season.

Like any good rhythm game, multiple play styles exist to suit your skill level. You can tap keyboard keys or buttons to play notes, or you can traditional Guitar Hero up in this joint with hold and strum gameplay. This is my personal favourite way to play, as a quick jaunt over to the options menu will present you with the ability to remap the controls. With ease, you can bind the buttons to any "gamepad buttons", including any connected wired or wireless Xbox 360 Guitar Hero or Rock Band guitars.

With the game all set up how it is best for you, the main choices are Story Mode or Quickplay. The story driven quest sees you on a quest to become the new King of Toys and make some noise. Quickplay is more my style though, especially with all songs already unlocked and playable by default.

I love the hammy nature of all this. There are reindeer on bass, keyboard, and drums. The drummer bashes the percussive instruments with glorious minty candy canes. Well, I'm just assuming they're minty.

I asked for rock music, not rocks in my stocking!

Snow effects and post-processing add extra detail that couldn't originally be achieved on mobile or the browser-based versions. With the game running smooth and slick, at a constant framerate, there's no fear of a dropped frame messing up your rhythm. If playing Santa Rockstar HD in your browser (on a website such as Kongregate), you're still at the mercy of your web browser. The standalone version cuts out that memory-hogging middle man.

The only true negative I can pick upon from this whole experience is the quality of the song charts themselves. They're playable, but they're not enough like the charts in the Guitar Hero games; there is a distinct lack of notes to play, even on harder difficulties and during the solos. When the songs sound this good, I think the charts should better represent them and serve as an assisting element in crafting this true seasonal plastic instrument experience.

With its standalone release being Desura only, this version of Santa Rockstar could really use the sales push a Steam version could bring. If anything were to come from Santa Rockstar rather than endless rereleases of the exact same game on countless browser game websites, I'd love to see Bekho Team try something new in the music game genre.

This festive throw-down suffers only in its gameplay charts, and for a low cost it's one Christmas celebration that won't break the bank. You can also download a demo with three playable songs.

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