Recently released for the Nintendo DS, the major music-simulation franchise Guitar Hero is now hitting the handheld circuit with Guitar Hero: On Tour. It was developed by the makers of the Spider-Man and Tony Hawk series for the DS, Vicarious Visions.
The game manages to successfully translate the genre to the handheld, with its innovative Guitar Grip attachment. However, some presentation issues and general hardware discomfort leave room for improvement.
Guitar Hero: On Tour plays with the DS held on its side, like a book. The touch screen displays your guitar, on which you strum by running your pick stylus (included) across the screen. On the regular screen appear the note chart and the band in action. Read More...
To whammy, players need to strum and repeatedly run the pick across the screen without lifting the pick, through held notes. This method actually feels pretty natural and is easy to incorporate in the game play. For star power, players now use the DS’ microphone, by either screaming “ROCK OUT!” like the game suggests, or by simply blowing softly in the microphone (like a normal person).
Lefty flip is still incorporated in the game, with a slight change to incorporate the Guitar Grip design. An added colour flip option lets you match the on-screen note chart with the coloured keys, for easier reference.
All your favourite Guitar Hero characters like Judy Nails, Axel Steel and Johnny Napalm are back to rock this latest edition. You will also find the usual customization options in the game’s store. You can buy new outfits, guitars and finishes for your characters.
As with all Guitar Hero games most of the content is played in Career Mode. Here you will play through the game’s 25 songs, which are now grouped as five “CDs” instead of the classic set list from the console versions. Each CD has four songs available to start with an unlockable encore.
There are lots of master tracks by artists like Nirvana, OK Go!, Doobie Brothers and Twisted Sister. There are also some covers, such as Kiss’ Rock and Roll All Night, Skid Row’s Youth Gone Wild and Santana’s Black Magic Woman. For the first time in the series, the game tells you who performed each cover, giving credit to long time collaborators Wavegroup and Line 6.
On Tour does feature a couple of repeats from previous Guitar Hero games, notably Higher Ground by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bloc Party’s Helicopter and Hit Me With Your Best Shot by Pat Benitar.
Guitar Duel Mode is On Tour’s version of guitar battles. This time, rather than fighting to the death, it is instead a tug-of-war or call and response type of match calculated by total score. A red and green meter measures your progress through the song. Stay on the green side and you’re sure to win.
On Tour introduces new battle items like “Signature” where you will be forced to stop playing to sign someone’s shirt, purse or fish. “Pyrotechnics” sets your guitar on fire and requires you to blow into the microphone to put it out. “Camera Flash” will blind you momentarily, while “Screen Flip” will do just that, forcing you to strum on the note chart and disabling your items. Items are triggered on the touch screen and it can be a little tough to try and use them while still keeping rhythm.
Duel Mode was a nice change of pace from the boss battles, and hopefully we will see this incorporated in future Guitar Hero console games. Beating Duel Mode unlocks the bonus song, the appropriately titled I Am Not Your Game Boy by Freezepop.
There are a number of multiplayer options available in On Tour, like co-op and Face-Off in addition to the Guitar Duel Mode. Unfortunately we only had one copy of GH:OT unit and were unable to test out these modes.
The Guitar Grip takes a bit of time to get used to and was initially uncomfortable. My pinky is also very short and did not reach all the way on the last key, which made me doubt my ability to play the game. But the keys are quite responsive and recognized my touch even if I was only pressing the edge of the key with my pinky finger. People with small hands or children may have a hard time using the Guitar Grip.
The Grip is overall a well built piece of equipment. It plugs into the Game Boy Advance port of your DS Lite and comes with an attachment for older DS models. It also comes with a Velcro wrap to secure your hand, though it can be hard to get on and off. We also found that the grip could have benefited from a clip to hold it in place. There were a number of times that I dislodged the Guitar Grip accidently causing me to have to restart the whole system.
Vicarious Visions' Alchemy Engine is put to great use here. The 3D backgrounds and band members look quite good for a DS game. The touch screen doesn’t become too busy even with the amount of information displayed. The note chart however looks bad by comparison. It seems to run at 10 fps with limited animation and generally has a cellphone game look and quality. It’s not enough to break the game play, but hopefully future versions will improve on this aspect.
For a music game, the DS speakers were thoroughly inadequate. I had to play with the volume maxed out most of the time. Headphones improved the volume but highlighted the audio flaws. Heavy compression was used to get the 26 songs squeezed onto the DS cartridge and the sound effects seem like they were mixed too loud.
It is clear that Guitar Hero: On Tour is a noble attempt to translate the game to the handheld market. However, I can’t help but feel that this game was not necessary and that it seems to want to cash in on the very popular franchise. Activision did succeed with over 300,000 units sold in the first week. While I must applaud the technology introduced here, the awkwardness of the controls and audio issues left me a bit disappointed.
Still as a Guitar Hero game, I did have fun playing it. But I don’t see this version having the same replay value that console Guitar Hero titles have had in the past. It currently sells for about $50 USD for 26 songs and the Guitar Grip, but we hope sequels will be offered at around $30 for a stand-alone version.
+ Guitar Hero on the go
+ Creative new Guitar Grip
- Playing the game can be awkward
- Compressed audio
Game Forward score: 3/5
Nathalie Caron > Game Forward
Guitar Hero: On Tour (NDS) Quick Facts:
Developer: Vicarious Visions / Red Octane
Release Date: June 22, 2008
ESRB Rating: E 10+ (Everyone 10 and up)