Guitar Hero II's basic premise hasn't changed much from the original. You have a plastic guitar for input that contains 5 colored frets, a plastic strum bar and a whammy bar. As colors head towards you on a horizontal music bar you hit the corresponding color(s) while strumming. Should you see a long, held note you hold the color down and can use the whammy bar to produce vibrato. You earn points for each note hit accurately; bonuses for long runs with no mistakes; and extra bonuses from the "star meter" - building up the audience into a frenzy then tilting the guitar to cause your avatar to perform amazing acrobatic feats that whip said audience into near ecstasy.
There are a "few" changes, however. The first is in the tutorial. There's now a much-needed practice mode. You can take a song, or any portion of a song, and play it repeatedly at any of four speeds. My youngest son was immediately frustrated with the increased difficulty of GH2 and without this feature I don't think the tears would ever have abated. Of course, Mom had no problem using it for a few songs in the more difficult levels, especially now that they've gone and added three-fingered chords. Ack!
In the previous incarnation you had to complete 4 of 5 songs per venue (as they got progressively more difficult) in order to continue. Now, it's 3 of 4 - although, the crowd will call for an encore. By the time you read this the entire song list will be all over the net but when I hit my first encore and agreed to it and it was Spinal Tap, I turned to my husband and we both looked at each other and said, "Spinal Tap? When's the last time I heard Spinal Tap?" Kansas at the second venue was a much more delightful (if familiar) surprise.
Yet, it's the multi-player improvements where GH2 truly shines. The delightful option to play Lead with Bass or Lead with Rhythm gives richness to the music that simply didn't exist before. Playing together now feels like well, playing together. The ability to change the difficulty according to the player makes playing within families of greater ease and true joy. Children of different ages can play together and no longer will Dad get bored playing with the kids. (Moms all over rejoice!)
The song collection of the first was incredibly impressive but I remember talking to RedOctane and hearing their frustrations at getting the talent they wanted on the title. They were thrilled with the selection they received (as were we all) but convincing big name talent that they had something truly BIG on their hands was difficult. It shows that bands were jumping to be on the sequel. More songs, bigger hits, it's mind-boggling. From the first my children gained an appreciation of The Ramones - they still sing "I Wanna Be Sedated". Now, they want me to find my Police albums. Well, their tastes have become more sophisticated in the past year!
I'm a fan of anything that gives me the opportunity to not only explain the term syncopation but show my children; to explain the significance of a base line and how important it is to any musical piece; to have fun as a family while playing and singing and watching my youngest dance.
Guitar Hero 2 is enormously fun. I can't recommend it enough as a game for people of any age. I plan to spend my own time head banging the next time I have company. But as a mom, it's great for laughter, singing and maybe, just maybe a little learning along the way. (FYI, my son has been singing Van Halen the entire time I've been writing this.)
My children both play games so I often play them first, getting to know exactly how something may effect my sensitive and easily stimulated older child vs. my stoic and imperturbable younger.
I like games for games; for the pure enjoyment of them and believe that no game is wholly bad, though some are real stinkers.
I also have the dexterity of a camel in mittens so find playing FPSs difficult (and I also don't like the gore) and RTSs at times can stump me. I just can't seem to move quickly enough to keep up with them. Some of my favorite games are arcade games and I'll spend 3-5 years on the same 5-6 levels because I just never get any better. But, I have fun.