Shaun Munro reviews God of Rock…
Colliding the rhythm and fighting game genres is such a downright inspired idea that it’s genuinely surprising it hasn’t been done before. It’s also a neat enough hook to earn God of Rock a decent amount of goodwill, no matter that the launch of this intriguing hybrid ultimately feels a little undercooked.
It’s a mercifully simple game to explain; the God of Rock has amassed the universe’s greatest warriors to duke it out in musical combat for his entertainment. You partake in 1v1 battles via the power of rock music, correctly timing your button-presses to the notes on the four-lane note highway ala Guitar Hero, while attempting to hit notes with superior accuracy to your opponent.
In the event that you both hit a note with the same accuracy, neither player will suffer damage. The more hits you land better than your rival, the faster you’ll amass special attacks, which can be deployed at any time to further damage them, add notes to their highway, or de-buff them. Each song only comes to an end when one player is KO’d.
God of Rock is first and foremost a decent pick-up-and-play game. After a brief tutorial, it’s incredibly easy to appreciate the basics of timing notes and landing attacks, and with matches typically only lasting a couple of minutes, this is absolutely a game that can be jumped into when you’ve got a quarter-hour-or-so to spare.
Yet there are undeniable growing pains, even for players skilled in both rhythm and fighting games. There’s a fundamental tension to God of Rock’s design philosophy, that by being forced to focus on the notation, you’re constantly distracted from appreciating the damage being meted out in the top half of the screen, let alone keeping track of health bars. Having the note highway scroll vertically rather than horizontally would’ve been an easy way to remedy this.
And more frustratingly, you need to learn thumbstick-based combos to pull off the aforementioned special moves, which doesn’t gel all that well with gameplay that already requires you to focus on the note highway – not to mention that pausing a rhythm game to check the combo list feels so disruptive. You basically need to divide your brain between two disciplines to execute special moves without losing track of the upcoming notes, and often the damage dealt isn’t worth the risk of screwing up a note streak. In my opinion, streamlining specials to be executed with less buttons – or even a single press in some cases – might make for a more enjoyable loop.
That said, when you get into the flow of play there are modest thrills to be had strumming away to the game’s 48-song tracklist, comprised of entirely original songs, which while low on originality do a solid enough job for a rhythm game on a budget. The bulk of your time will likely be taken up in the Arcade mode, where you can fight your way through a gauntlet of the game’s CPU-controlled roster, with seven possible difficulty settings. However, it’s bog-standard fighting game fare made to feel even more anonymous by the threadbare amount of story provided for each fighter. Plus, the fact that the game has launched with only eight maps means that they have a tendency to repeat themselves in this mode – sometimes even twice in a row.
In addition to local matches against both CPU and human combatants, you can take the action online for casual and ranked play. On launch day at least, player population appeared to be healthy enough; I was able to get into matches in around 30 seconds, though it remains to be seen whether the unconventional, unwieldy gameplay will find itself a mainstay niche of fans.
Elsewhere there’s a training suite for players to hone their skills as well as a track editor, where you’re able to create your own notation charts using the existing maps and songs. The mode’s appeal seems limited without the ability to import your own songs, though, which will hopefully become a reality post-launch.
Though God of Rock won’t knock anyone’s socks off on a technical level, it’s a decent-looking title despite its fairly ho-hum art style. The environments of the eight maps are sharp and evocative, and the character designs of the dozen fighters distinct if not too original; no points for guessing which musicians characters King and Ziggy are parodying.
Testing the game out on Steam Deck, performance was relatively inconsistent; some occasional judder was encountered when executing special moves, which in a game of this type can be hugely problematic if not ironed out long-term. It’s also worth noting that playing handheld on the Steam Deck presents the added hurdle of the console’s buttons not being coloured, making it much easier to lose track of your button presses compared to using, say, an Xbox controller with colour-coded buttons.
Aurally there isn’t much among the tracklist that sticks out, but for a modestly assembled rhythm game it absolutely does the job. Characters are also voiced for the bafflingly unskippable pre-game introductions, and again deliver the basically effective goods, even if they’ll hardly make you fall in love with any of them.
Rhythm game enthusiasts on the lookout for something new will surely get far more out of God of Rock than fighting game obsessives, though whatever your preferences, there’s a sure ceiling placed on the fun by some of the game’s more questionable design choices. God of Rock feels like a decent first draft of a great idea, but lacks the finesse to fully exploit its inspired mash-up of rhythm and fighting games.
+ Inspired fusion of two distinct genres.
+ Decent tracklist.
+ Appealing art style.
– Gameplay isn’t very intuitive.
– Performance could be better.
– Track editor needs custom song support.
Reviewed on PC (also available for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and Nintendo Switch).
A review code was provided by the publisher.
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more video game rambling, or e-mail me here.