In the span of a few s years, Guitar Hero has gone from sleeper hit to a full-blown cultural phenomenon. And it’s only going to get bigger and better this holiday season with Guitar Hero: World Tour, which promises to introduce drums and vocals to the franchise, not to mention the ability to create your own songs. In the meantime, Guitar Hero makes its handheld debut with Guitar Hero: On Tour for the Nintendo DS courtesy of developer Vicarious Visions. So grab your pick, it’s time to take this rock show on the road.
For the uninitiated, Guitar Hero is a rhythm music game that measures your timing against a number of colored icons that scroll towards a timing bar. You need to hit the corresponding button as it hits the bar to continue your progress on the song. Unlike the console editions, however, the Nintendo DS version doesn’t come with a guitar peripheral. Instead, Guitar Hero: On Tour includes a guitar grip that inserts into the Game Pak slot on the Nintendo DS. The guitar grip features an adjustable strap, to secure your hand around the system, and four colored fret buttons that correspond to the fret icons onscreen. It also comes with a cool pick stylus that you use to strum the strings of the guitar on the touch screen as the icons scroll down on the top screen.
Now you might be asking yourself, “What about the whammy bar and how do you activate star power?” Whammy is accomplished by wiggling the pick stylus on the touch screen during long notes, while Star Power is activated when you yell “Rock Out!” into the microphone. You don’t actually have to say “Rock Out,” any words will do, and if you’re shy about yelling out in public, simply blowing into the microphone will work just as well. You can also activate Star Power by pressing one of the face buttons or the control pad, but that would require you to remove the pick stylus from the touch screen and when you’re in the middle of rocking out to a song, that’s just not an ideal scenario.
While some of the game’s mechanics have been reworked to take advantage of the unique capabilities of the Nintendo DS, the core gameplay remains unchanged. The usual game modes are present, including Practice, Quick Play and Career. The Career Mode spans five venues, each with five tracks, making for a total of 25 songs. Some tracks, like Kiss’ “Rock and Roll All Nite” and Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Pride and Joy” were brought over from Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, but there are plenty of new songs from Nirvana, Ozzy Osbourne, No Doubt, The Doobie Brothers and Rick Springfield, just to name a few. Although it’s a little disappointing that not all of the songs are master recordings, the soundtrack is diverse and solid nonetheless.
Guitar Hero: On Tour offers local multiplayer via the Nintendo DS wireless connection where up to two players can team up in the Co-op mode or compete head-to-head in the Face-off or Pro Face-off modes. There’s also a new Guitar Duel mode, which is similar to the Battle mode from Guitar Hero III, only the distractions players temporarily create for their opponents require the affected player to use the unique functions of the Nintendo DS to remove them. For example, to fix a broken string you use the touch screen to drag the broken ends together. Other times you’ll use the touch screen to sign an autograph for an elated fan or you might even have blow into the microphone to blow out pyrotechnics gone wrong.
Guitar Hero: On Tour isn’t without a flaw or two. From a design standpoint, it doesn’t take much to dislodge and ultimately disconnect the guitar grip from its slot. You’ll know immediately when this happens because you’ll be strumming away thinking you’re doing great, only to realize none of your button presses are being recognized. In addition, the angle at which your wrist sits within the strap is sure to cause a lot of players discomfort after playing for a short time. I’m sure this issue came up plenty during QA testing which is why, both in the manual and during the initial loading screen, there are warnings and suggestions of frequent breaks in order to avoid any discomfort or cramping in your hands. Particularly on the higher difficulty settings and tougher songs that require repeated use of the button your pinky rests on, Guitar Hero: On Tour can be a carpel tunnel injury waiting to happen if you’re not careful.
There’s one more dilemma for potential rock stars, and that has to do with the portability of the game. If you’re stationary the game works very well but if you’re traveling, whether by plane, train or automobile, it better be a smooth ride. If it isn’t you’ll encounter two additional issues. First, a bumpy ride will cause more than a few accidental strums. Second, as soon as you have enough juice, you’ll find that the Star Power has a tendency to activate on its own (you might want to turn the microphone off in this instance, though activating Star Power without the microphone, as I said earlier, is not an ideal alternative). So if you do plan on playing Guitar Hero: On Tour while you’re on the move, know that it will be a challenge in of itself.
Wildly addictive gameplay: check. Eclectic soundtrack: check. The only thing missing from Guitar Hero: On Tour is the guitar peripheral, but then that wouldn’t exactly make it very portable would it? In its place, a guitar grip that while somewhat flawed from a design perspective still enables gamers to take the Guitar Hero experience on the road with them. It doesn’t offer nearly the same social experience as the console version, and you will have to learn to find a comfortable, still position to play the game in, but if you can work past those initial issues, you’re in for a rockin’ good time.