Guitar Hero: On Tour Review
As a fan of the ridiculously popular Guitar Hero franchise I was both nervous and excited about it’s debut on Nintendo’s portable platform; on the one hand, I was thrilled by the prospect of playing the addictive guitar-strumming sim anywhere I wanted, but at the same time I feared it’d be impossible to duplicate the series’ rock star-feeling formula on a handheld device. After conquering Guitar Hero: On Tour’s career mode—multiple times—I’m happy to report the transition to the DS, while not perfect, is a rocking good time.
Upon popping the game’s well constructed, four-fret peripheral and cartridge into the DS, I was subjected to a slew of scary instructions and warnings; first up, a series of images and text explained that I’d potentially be experiencing some discomfort due to the unconventional control scheme—you slip your hand through the peripheral’s strap, holding the DS like a book and working the four frets with your corresponding fingers—and offered tips on battling the upcoming hand cramps. Next, a message suggested I use headphones if the game didn’t “rock hard enough” for me. These buzz-killing disclaimers weren’t exactly setting the mood for my journey to rock and roll stardom, as I deciphered them as indirect warnings I was in for some sucky-sounding, hand-cramping gaming. While my concerns ultimately held some merit, it turned out neither issue posed a fun-sapping situation. The sound through the DS speakers definitely sounds a bit compressed and tinny, but headphones go a long way in alleviating this. And the discomfort factor isn’t nearly as bad as I expected; sure, I could barely bend my fingers after a few goes through my virtual rocker’s career, but we’re talking four-plus hours of non-stop gaming. Heed the game’s advice of taking the occasional break, and you’ll be fine.
In addition to the four extra buttons, On Tour includes a sturdy little pick-like stylus to strum across the touch screen. So, as the notes flow towards you on the left screen, you hit the correct frets while using the pick on the right screen to successfully string together notes. The new controls take a few songs to get used to, but whether you’ve been rocking since the first GH installment, or this is your on-stage debut, the gameplay and mechanics are super accessible. Same goes for the song selection; clearly aiming at the more casual DS crowd, On Tour is a little less edgy and a little more poppy. Sure, there’s some Ozzy (“I Don’t Want to Stop”), a Skynyrd cover (“I Know a Little”) and Stevie Ray Vaughn (“Pride and Joy”), but there’s also contemporary stuff from Daughtry (“What I Want”) and everyone’s Shrek soundtrack fave, Smash Mouth’s “All Star.” Others right off the Top 40 include No Doubt’s “Spiderwebs” and Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl.” Overall the selection is good, but limited (there’s only 25 tracks) and all songs—even the few covers—sound like the real deal.
Like its console cousins, On Tour encourages players to bring down the house with Star Power. Here, yelling something into the DS triggers the point-multiplying mechanic. It’s appropriate and fun to scream out while you’re rocking, but sometimes Star Power is set off unintentionally by other sounds. Those who enjoy singing along, for example, will find their accompanying vocals triggering it often. As far as sending your score soaring with a little whammy bar action, you’ll have to settle for some fast back-and-forth pick-stylus motions to get the job done, as there’s no actual whammy bar on the peripheral. Racking up points will allow you to purchase new guitars and outfits for your rock star (you can choose from several male and female head-bangers.) And while the blocky 3D visuals are not particularly impressive, it was cool to see my new items represented on stage. I enjoyed (in a non-creepy way) seeing Pandora, my goth female avatar, sporting her new naughty schoolgirl garb and Les Paul axe.
On Tour’s career mode is short, but multiple difficulty settings and the title’s addictive nature ensure you’ll be seeking rock stardom over and over again. Additionally, some nice two-player modes extend the experience; co-op lets you invite a friend on stage to play rhythm and bass, while you play lead. And Guitar Duel has you facing-off against each other while wacky obstacles, like your screens flipping or a string breaking (a quick mini-game has you re-connect the two ends) try to break your concentration. These modes, although fun, are sorely lacking online play, and generally just offer some brief diversions from the far more satisfying solo modes. Once you’ve completed any part of the solo career you can go back and try for higher scores, or simply access a quickplay mode to perfect your performance on a particular song.
As much as I like On Tour, it’s important to note it’s a very different experience from console Guitar Hero. For one, it’s missing the big plastic guitar, and for lots of fans this is an integral part of the rock star sim. Also, this portable effort doesn’t pack that “party game” feel; if your favorite part of previous GH games has been playing with a group of friends who are cheering or booing you from the couch, then you’ll likely be let down by this more intimate experience. But despite these major differences, On Tour stands tall on its own as a fantastic portable music game. And, even though it offers a totally different experience, both in its controls and gameplay, it still feels very much like a Guitar Hero game. I’d like to see more songs, a longer career and online multiplayer in the sequel, but in the meantime I’m happy to rock to the top on an airplane, in a car, on the subway, or anywhere else I can take my DS.