That's GuitarFreaks, a Japanese arcade game released by Konami in 1999. The gameplay was exactly the same as Guitar Hero: Players pressed plastic buttons and strummed a large plastic flipper on a guitar-shaped controller in time with the game's music. Every so often, the player could even raise the fake guitar in the air to gain extra style points. A small meter showed how well a player was keeping up with the song; too many missed notes and it turned from green to red to "Game Over."
Guitar Hero lacks the blue and yellow dongs from the Japanese version, though.
The game became a sensation in Japan and soon a PlayStation version was released, which came bundled with its own guitar controller. As Konami's music games started gaining traction in America, a company by the name of Red Octane began manufacturing controllers for them. Eventually Red Octane decided to make their own rhythm game using the same types of guitars ... and the same everything, really.
After hooking up with the developer Harmonix, who had a couple of music video games under their belt already, Red Octane grabbed the GuitarFreaks controller, added two more buttons and a whammy bar and called it a day.
"It was more of an afternoon, really."
They made the notes go down instead of up and changed the perspective of the "note highway," but everything was pretty much the same. Except for one small detail: Instead of using generic rock songs, Red Octane and Harmonix actually licensed rock classics like "Iron Man" and "Smoke on the Water." This strategy worked, and by 2009, Guitar Hero and its sequels had generated over $2 billion.
So what became of GuitarFreaks? It's actually still around, with sequels getting titles that are more convoluted and bizarre, like GuitarFreaks V5 Rock to Infinity, GuitarFreaks XG2: Groove to Live and GuitarFreaks V6 BLAZING!!!! Ultimately, though, it's still relatively unknown outside of Japan, while Guitar Hero, its knockoff, is the series that gets a South Park episode and talk of a reality show based around the game.
Ridley Davis is currently a student at Michigan State University. Give him a wave, if you can somehow track him down.
For more knock-offs that weren't so good at hiding it, check out 7 Classic Movies You Didn't Know Were Rip-Offs and 6 Iconic Scenes Ripped Off From Lesser-Known Movies.
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