Video games have the wish fulfillment of wannabe wizards, super-soldiers, and Jedi covered. Guitar Hero II simulates the rock 'n' roll fantasy. The game launches players on the trajectory of a musician destined for guitar-god greatness. From lowly beginnings in dive bars and high-school gyms, you hone your skills playing covers of Mötley Crüe's "Shout At The Devil" and Cheap Trick's "Surrender." The way of the axe eventually leads to monster venues where six-string ninjas perform fiendishly difficult face-melters to adoring crowds. Conquering Guitar Hero II's final, deliciously ironic encore provides a rush rarely felt in gaming. The satisfaction of nailing the marathon solo, paired with the roar of the crowd, makes you feel cool. Consider it a minor miracle that noodling on a plastic guitar plugged into your PlayStation 2 can manage such a feat.
Part of the magic is in the song selection. Before last year's Guitar Hero, the music in music games was almost uniformly awful. Guitar Hero II's track list out-shreds the original with a mix that ricochets through metal, rockabilly, punk, and surf. Of course, mileage may vary for those with little tolerance or affection for crunchy riffs. But the game's sense of fun and palpable affection for rock music and the rock lifestyle should even make fans of those poor souls who don't possess a drawer full of faded concert Ts.
Beyond the game: Konami's arcade rocker Guitar Freaks predates this game by nearly a decade, but the controller only had three fret buttons. Guitar Hero's button count goes up to five. That's two more. Worth playing for: Competition is cool, but some of us just want to jam. Duets with separate bass, rhythm, and lead parts allow two players to make beautiful noise together. Frustration sets in when: The flesh is weak. Prolonged play can cause serious finger fatigue.
Final judgment: Guitar Hero II is Nevermind to Guitar Hero's Bleach.