Today's Praise: Kids, youth leaders join the band with ‘Guitar Praise’ computer game

By BRIAN BOWERS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 26, 2008

"Guitar Hero" and "Rock Band" have quickly become staples at youth events ranging from lock-ins to concert festivals.

Of course a youth leader tends to wince when a teen starts singing the lyrics to the Blue Oyster Cult’s "Don’t Fear the Reaper." I know, I’ve been there.

More than a few of us have wondered when the worlds of video games and Christian music would collide — aside from Flyleaf’s "I’m So Sick," which appeared in the first "Rock Band." We also wondered whether the results would be any good.

Thanks to Digital Praise, we can check it out. "Guitar Praise" is a computer game that incorporates more than 50 Christian hits into a game reminiscent of "Guitar Hero."

The hardware is very similar to that used in the mainstream games: a plastic guitar with five fret buttons, a strum bar and a whammy bar. There’s also a USB attachment that allows the wireless guitar to communicate with the computer. The game, which costs $99, comes with one guitar but can accommodate two for head-to-head or co-op play.

As with the other games, you press the fret buttons that match the colored notes streaming down the screen and hit the strum bar in time with the music. Players can test the skills in four different levels of difficulty, the easiest of which gives plenty of helpful feedback.

Of course the big reason to turn to "Guitar Praise" is the song list. It includes a lot of songs by current rockers, such as "Love Addict," by Family Force 5; "Breath Into Me," by Red; "Awake," by Seventh Day Slumber; "The Flame in All of Us," by Thousand Foot Krutch; "Reap and Sow," by Day of Fire; and "Perfect," by Flyleaf. There’s also a good dose of pop-punk from bands like Stellar Kart, Relient K and Hawk Nelson. There are only a few oldies, but most of those are goodies, such as "Jesus Freak" by dc Talk. And while grandma might not be able to tell the difference between these bands and Megadeth, there’s definitely a difference in the lyrics. Developers did a good job of selecting songs that are filled with a solid message — but are also popular and gameworthy.

One bonus is that the game can act as a sort of karaoke machine, with lyrics to each song scrolling down the screen along with the guitar notes. But unlike "Rock Band," the singer isn’t actually incorporated into the gameplay.

So far so good. However, the real test is how well all of these elements work and how they compare to their major competitors.

For me, the biggest problem concerns how the game interacts with the music. As in the other games, you get an electronic squawk when you’re slightly off on your notes. The big difference is how the game reacts when you totally miss notes — a frequent occurrence for most of us. In "Guitar Hero" and "Rock Band," you don’t hear anything when you miss a note, which gives you a lot of incentive to get it right. In "Guitar Praise," the music just keeps on rolling without a break, so you don’t really know how well you’re doing a lot of the time. To offset this concern, you can set your "guitar" volume so that it’s a little louder than the regular track. This lets you know whether you’re hitting the notes but the effect is very unnatural.

Some might think the background graphics are a bit Spartan — no views of your band performing — but I’ve always thought those scenes were more of a distraction than a help. A bigger problem for many players might be screen size. Computer screens are generally a lot smaller than TVs and it might be hard to see what’s happening on smaller models.

This highlights concern with "Guitar Praise": It’s not available on console gaming systems. It might be pretty tough to convince kids to switch systems.

I decided to take the game for a test drive during my church’s recent youth lock-in. Every teen who checked it out was thrilled with song list and asked to try it out. However, most of them found the gameplay wasn’t as satisfying as that in the other games — which happened to be available about 30 feet away.

Developer Digital Praise obviously has an idea that strikes a chord with Christian youth and a few tweaks would make this a popular item. Even as it is, it’s fun — just not as fun as the others. However, I suspect a lot of parents and youth leaders will be happy to check it out.

On the Web: www.guitarpraise.com

Today’s Praise is a roundup of news and reviews from the contemporary Christian music industry.

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