Guitar Hero: On Tour Review

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Graphics: 8.0
Sound : 7.0
Gameplay : 8.5
Multiplayer : 7.0
Overall : 7.5
Review by Chris Matel
“I wanna rock!”...while on a bus...

In their rock-infused domination of gaming, RedOctane and Activision have brought the their popular Guitar Hero game to the Nintendo DS. Downsizing the peripheral-focused title into portable portions might cause you to wonder if it's possible to recreate the finger-frenzy fun of the console versions. While Guitar Hero: On Tour makes a few concessions for the limited resources and handheld portability of the DS, playing guitar, on the move, has never been this much fun—has it even been possible? On the other hand, there are still some issues to be ironed out for the future.

It's like a guitar synthesized into a small black box...kind of...


By now, you should be accustomed to the general idea of Guitar Hero, but if not: You create a band (name only), and progress through setlists to earn money, unlock songs and other purchasable items for your character, and just have a good time strumming along, in-time, to guitar-laden licks. Vicarious Visions' Guitar Hero: On Tour doesn't change things up from the general scheme; you could basically consider it a little brother to the Neversoft-developed Guitar Hero 3. All that has changed are the number of polygons on the screen, the number of color-coded frets to press, the strumming mechanic, Star Power activator, and the amount of tracks playable; all of this accountable to the format on which you're playing.


Hell yeah:

Size isn't everything, you know...


Whether you've rocked out on any of the console versions or not, On Tour offers you the same Guitar Hero experience—just smaller and more compact. All of the essentials are there to make you want to keep playing. You'll have to play through a career to unlock all of the 25 songs (plus one bonus track), as well as score well enough to open up guitars, clothes and guitar finishes to buy with the money you earn while...on tour. The difference with the DS version of the game: you just have a fewer number of things to unlock and buy.

It wouldn't be Guitar Hero without the essentials...


Though a bit pricier than your average DS game ($59.99), you're not simply paying for a small cartridge. Included in the DS version of the bundle, is the Guitar Grip. The peripheral plugs into the GBA slot of your DS Lite and includes a guitar pick-shaped stylus, which is stored in the Grip itself. Luckily, if you're still holding on to your original DS, there's an adapter packaged with the bundle so no matter what version of the Nintendo handheld you have, you'll be able to play. Guitar Hero veterans will notice the lack of a fifth fret, but rest assured, things still are difficult on the Hard and Expert settings.

It may seem a bit gimmicky, but without the Grip, there really wouldn't be any feasible way to play a handheld version of the game; if there was, however, it just wouldn't be as satisfying.

Strumming on a touchscreen is definitely cooler than playing an air guitar...


Although the solo mode can be beaten in an hour or so, mastering the new style of play will keep you going long after you've played through your career. The accessibility and portable nature of the game brings a new dynamic to the series. On a resource-reserved format, On Tour still manages to pump out some impressive graphics with moving locations and characters rocking out, and all without any technical hiccups.

Basically, the book-oriented gameplay, with touchscreen strumming, whammy baring and Guitar Duel distraction activating, is spot-on. You do have to use your discretion when wailing on the whammy bar, as using it on shorter-held notes may cause you to lose your multiplier, but you'll learn your own strategies. The touchscreen really works well during multiplayer duels, on the other hand, as you have to sign autographs and fix broken strings.


Oh, hell no:

You have to wonder how seasoned artists do it...

One of the more annoying trip-ups with the game, if you've played through Guitar Hero 3, is the use of recycled songs. Even though the fingerings have been redone for the four fret version, you're buying a new envisioning of the franchise, and it would have been nice to see a completely new list of songs instead of those which we've already played with for months: Bloc Party (“Helicopter”) and the soulless cover of ZZ Top's “La Grange,” included—surprise us!

It's a music game, on the DS...


Perhaps it's the recordings, but I'm pretty sure it's just the hardware: For a game centered around music, don't expect an aural powerhouse either technically or stylistically. As the Guitar Hero franchise has gained popularity, it seems to have drifted from the real guitar-heavy classics towards to the more pop-infused songs of recent years. There's a wide audience to appeal to, this is understandable, but Smash Mouth and No Doubt don't really come to mind when you think “guitar rock ballads.”

As for how things sound, no matter what song you're playing, remember this is the DS. It's hard to completely discount the quality of the music, since the developers are working within the confines of the hardware, but it's still impossible to avoid the gritty fidelity of the music from either the speakers or earphones.

Guitar Grip, doesn't grip so well...

Though a novel way to play the game, the Guitar Grip can be problematic. The game advocates for shorter stints of play to avoid hand crampage, and while your hand will most likely seize up if you rock too long, it might be hard to last that long since you'll have to constantly readjust the Grip back into the GBA slot. During our playtime, the frenetic motions of the harder levels made the Grip shimmy out of place, causing the game to stop abruptly. For a game experimenting with a peripheral, it's disappointing to see it so vulnerable to basic gameplay.

Okay, Duels, so, um, heeeeyyyyyy brother...


Unless you have a quickly-accessible sibling, also with a DS and Grip bundle, you won't get much life out of the multiplayer side of things. While you can play through a Duels mode by yourself, against a computer AI, doing so kind of nullifies the social aspect of the game. With only LAN play, you could have some fun battling it out with a friend, like you can on the console versions of the game, but you just have to find someone with all of the necessary hardware, first.

“Rock out!!” Maybe something you don't want to scream in public...


While the console versions of the game have you tilting a controller to activate the multiplying multiplier, Star Power, the DS's activator may make you look a bit more foolish while on a trip somewhere. According to the game, you're supposed to scream “Rock out!” into the microphone to boost your points after filling up your Star Power gauge. While in-theory the mechanic might be as raucous as the guitar flick, it's ultimately a bit too over-the-top. Call us “square,” but blowing into the microphone produces the same results, in a much more inconspicuous way.


That'll do...


Making the move to a handheld format was a bold, yet not-so-unexpected move by RedOctane/Activision; it's just interesting to see how it's been done. While the fret play has been ported almost seamlessly, with perfectly-integrated touchscreen controls, there are still things missing from the general character of the game to put it in the same realm as its console-based forerunners. A weak song selection and poor audio quality make On Tour a good travel-friendly game, but not a standalone franchise maker. Yet, it's more than worth it to have around for road trips or other travel activities.

One thing to consider: It will be interesting to see if, and how, the library of music gets expanded for the game.